On the Genealogy of Morals

Language and Nietzsche's Critique of Suffering

In his book On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche explores the relationship between suffering and guilt. Nietzsche argues that humans react to suffering by thinking that “someone or other must be guilty” (Nietzsche 94) for their suffering. Nietzsche critiques this phenomenon -- that a sufferer feels a need to blame someone for their suffering -- through an analysis of why sufferers feel the need to assign guilt, how this need can turn inward, and why this need is self-destructive. In his critique, Nietzsche employs a deconstructive and figurative approach to language. He explores word origins, analyzes the implications of grammar, and utilizes multiple metaphors. Nietzsche’s unique approach is critical in the construction of his critique.

One important part of Nietzsche’s critique is his explanation of why sufferers feel the need to assign guilt. He begins his explanation by exploring the reactive tendencies of powerless beings through a metaphor: a powerless lamb constantly preyed upon by a powerful bird of prey. The lamb, powerless to stop the bird, concludes that the bird of prey is evil because it preys upon the lamb and that the lamb is good because it is nothing like the bird. In this reaction, the lamb...

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