Dear Professor Nietzsche,
Thank you for considering The Journal of Morals and Ethics for your MS “On The Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic” submitted 2/14/87. As you may know, we are an international journal with a wide subscription base, currently servicing academics in both German-, French- and English-speaking universities. We receive a great number of submissions, and currently accept only c.5% of papers. I found your MS extremely interesting, and it contained much of value, but after considering referee reports have decided that on balance it is not appropriate for the Journal. Below I have appended reports from readers. I hope this does not deter you from seeking to publish with us in future.
Referee 2: Report for the Author
This MS proposes to uncover the “origins” of contemporary morality by investigating their “genealogical” development through and out of Christian and pre-Christain practices. The author seeks to displace several current strands in thinking about morality, albeit frequently by implication: utilitarianism and Kantian deontology appear to be central, if unnamed, targets. The argument proceeds by three sections: the first investigates the origins of putatively different concepts “bad” and “evil” and their relationship to “good”; the second the origin of something called “the bad conscience” which is the product of ethical socialisation and the victory of what the author calls “slave morality”; the third the role of “ascetic priests” in morality and the replacement of religion by the worship of science and the will to truth.
The author seems intent on needlessly denigrating scholars in the field: English “psychologists” (I assume the author means philosophers; he has a tendency to confusingly elide the two terms) are referred to early on as “cold, wet, boring frogs”. I do not see the value of this. Quite aside from the fact The Journal has a large number of English subscribers, it does not behove the author to engage in such ad hominem remarks. A German, one would have thought, would have learnt not to throw stones when sitting in such a large glass house.
As for the intellectual content of the MS, I found it mostly fallacious in reasoning or defective in point of fact. Take the author’s claim that the etymology of the words “good” and “evil” reveal their alternative origins and rival meanings. This is flagrant nonsense, as any basic grasp of their linguistic roots shows. I understand that the author is a former professor of philology: it is therefore difficult to conclude whether he is being wilfully disingenuous, or has simply taken leave of his senses.
The author claims that the origin of punishment is in a “creditor-debtor” relationship, and makes the unbecoming claim that “watching suffer feels good, making suffer feels better”. The first claim is a historical absurdity; the second, frankly disturbing. The author may feel this way, but he really ought not to presume to speak for well-bred and decent folk. More generally, I am unconvinced by the idea of a “slave revolt” in morality. The story presented is in itself incoherent. If “masters” lack culture and art, then the Roman Empire must have been one of slaves – and yet we are told that the paradigmatic example of the age-old battle of slaves versus masters is “Rome versus Judea; Judea versus Rome”. More generally, the historical story of a “slave revolt” originating with the Jews and inherited by followers of Christ beggars belief: is this meant as real history, the “grey” science the author promises in the Preface? Surely not. But if not, how is this a genealogy of anything other than fantasy? In which case, what can it possibly tell us that will be of use to contemporary scholarship?
As for the author’s debunking project, I fail to be convinced. This seems to me a clear example of the genetic fallacy. Even if what our authors says is true about the origins of morality (and I see no reason, not least as a Christian, to accept that), it would not follow that the light of truth revealed to us by our Saviour was in any way impugned. The project is thus a failure at both levels.
The third section is both incoherent and unconvincing. The long digression regarding the work of Richard Wagner is hardly appropriate; again, the author’s personal animosities are unpleasant to have to wade through. I would much rather see a return to the style of his earlier The Birth of Tragedy, which seemed to me altogether more sure-footed in its following of the transcendental achievements of Schopenhauer and Kant, which the author has sadly turned away from.
More generally, what are these “ascetic priests” introduced in the final treatise? Earlier we were told that mankind was either master or slave, and that a dialectic engagement between the two forged modernity. So what is this mysterious third class of persons? As for the suggestion that the Christian pursuit of truth undermined itself and now finds expression in the futile search for objective “truth” under the banner of scientific enquiry, I simply do not share the author’s sense of outrage. Perhaps it is because he appears to subscribe (though, again, it is difficult to be sure) to some form of “perspectival” theory of truth. If this is the case, then so much the worse for the author. I would be happy to introduce him to my physicist colleagues: they could set him right about the propositional content of the laws of natural mechanics!