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Friedrich Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality with Michel Foucault's Views on Power

“Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions” -Nietzsche

The geniality of morals by Friedrich Nietzsche focuses on his theory of man’s development of bad conscience. According to Nietzsche, the will to power was the will to truth. it cannot be categorised as something that is good or bad. It is a basic drive in someone that can manifest or express itself in many ways (Janaway 2007,138-154). A central concept in philosophy that basically refers to irrational force that can be found in all individuals, that can be channelled toward different ends. He describes it as the main driving force in humans.

In his first essay, “Good and Evil, Good vs Bad” Nietzsche points put the differences between “master morality” and “slave morality”. Master moralist usually think about how their actions will build a consequence for them. they are not concerned with how it looks, or how right or wrong it is. Master moralists can often just go ahead and do something that slave moralists might consider wrong, simply because it benefits them.

It emphasized on qualities like free will, strength, optimism and ambition, and anyone who did not possess these was called weak or slave moralists (Dhamal et al. 2017). Slave moralists wanted to do what was kind. Most of this is based on archaic societies that had master and slaves. Masters were considered good because they tended to be strong powerful and wealthy whereas the slaves were considered bad, because they were poor, weak and cowardly. But in the turn of events when there was slave war the masters were considered evil because of the atrocities they inflicted on the slaves. The slaves then became good because they had ben oppressed by the masters.

In his second essay, “Guilt and Bad conscience”, Nietzsche talks about our main reasons for feeling guilt are rooted in setting up a high standard for behaviour and the consequence of not measuring up to that. He said that they are rooted in our instinctual desire to cause suffering and cruelty in order to have dominance over others. Because we feel this desire, it leads to guilt. However, when we become upstanding, cultured members of a society, we are not allowed to or prevented from indulging in such behaviour. In such instances, we have to find ways to express our power in different ways. so instead of actually inflicting pain on others we turn our gaze inwards and this is what is called “bad conscience”. Instead of inflicting cruelty on others in order to show our dominance, we inflict cruelty on ourselves. It is common knowledge that in this infliction we take joy (Shermer 2019, 42-49). There is a certain pleasure in causing ourselves to suffer, however it does not mean that we have to commit to the belief. It simply implies that we must enjoy the suffering too. Nietzsche calls this process internalization.

In his third essay, "What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?" Nietzsche confronts asceticism, the most powerful and paradoxical force that dominates contemporary life. It is the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and spiritual self-discipline. This enables a person to exercise a certain level of power over themselves as it leads them to believe that they alone have mastery over their mind. By following a strict set of ideal that includes deprivation, a set of rules and boundaries that are set according to those personal beliefs, they exercise this power.

According to him it is the ultimate expression of a weak, cowardly and sick will. The ones who cannot cope with strife of being alive or exercising a strong will and constantly give in to their animal instincts, the earthly nature, as vile, as sinful and horrible come under this category (Leezenber 2017, 111-128). They are unable to free themselves from these feeling or instincts and therefore constantly subdue, suppress and tame themselves in the face of society. In conclusion, Nietzsche states that "man would rather will nothingness than not will."

According to Michel Foucault’s Critique of Power, he insists that power is a creative and pervasive force that must be analysed in its totality, he politicized power itself and freed it from the philosophy to track its movements (Kelly et al. 1994). It sought to understand its heat and fury of it desire to control the working and order of things.

Foucault’s political philosophy comes from his scepticism about the assumption that sovereign power is the only real power. He argued that in order to make a transparent and firm analysis of the relations of power, one must abandon the conventional model of sovereignty. We should move away from believing that power is only used for coercion that in fact, it exists everywhere. Especially in knowledge, discourse and regimes of truth.

Foucault challenges the idea that power exists only with those that we deem as powerful or with groups that practice it in forms of coercion of sovereign episodes. When he says that power is everywhere, or that it comes from everywhere what he means is that it lacks any structure or agency. Hence, the conventional belief that assigns power to acts of sovereignty only, now stands invalid.

According to Foucault- truth is a thing of this world and it is produced by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And of course, it then produces the usual effects of power. Every society has its own regime of truth or what it considers as the general rules of politics, this implies that it accepts certain types of discourse as true and valid (Giltner 2019, 46-63). The techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true’. Thus, in this manner he concludes that power is diffused and not concentrated, embodied and acted rather than possessed. Power can be cunning as its basic forms can change in response to the efforts we make and liberate us from its grip.

When it comes to studying the impact of Nietzsche on Foucault’s view, we can derive Foucault sought Nietzsche’s way as an escape to get out of the realm of Marxism discussions. He believed that there was not one authoritative way to study Nietzsche but numerous perspectives that would help one understand philosophy. While Nietzsche says that power is something that we inherently possess while Foucault argues that power is everywhere. He implies that power is about efficiency and autonomy led by knowledge. According to Foucault, power is in a way always at work on us through various mediums such as education, psychiatry, sexuality, religion, science and the justice system. In a situation like that, assigning power to only certain people because of their so-called position does not make any valid sense. In fact, Foucault believed that those who are in positions of power are enacted upon by mechanism of power then those who aren’t as their very position depends upon the acceptance of that very power and authority.

In a way we are taught to internalize mechanism of power very early on, therefore we can evade the realm of power. According to Nietzsche, power is something that we possess and Foucault says that power is something that works on all of us at all times (Nietzsche 1967).

But Foucault uses Nietzsche’s analysis of power as framework for his findings and this helps him analyse his definitions of power more closely. Foucault looks at Nietzsche’s concept of self and draws a more holistic angle after that. Rather than just focusing on the art of living and vigilant mindfulness about what one thinks and does, Foucault introduces a political dimension into the equation (Westerink 2019, 81). Wherein man, is supposed to look at the role he plays in a society too. The art of living then becomes a sustaining notion that entails not just concepts of self but also ethics and entailed obligations to the environment and its people.

In his work – the use of pleasure- Foucault defined art of living with undertones of style. According to him, the set intentional and voluntary actions a person decides to go through with, design his life, they create a certain over for him wherein aesthetic values meet with stylistic criteria. These do not just give him a code for conduct but also transform him for good.

Foucault actually wants to free oneself from any constraints. His take on art of living is to basically detach oneself from the conventional cultural and historical modalities of life that have been set for a long time. To figure out their own actions complete self-analysis and devise their own philosophy instead of just accepting what they have been habituated to. For this, Foucault looks not just as Nietzsche but numerous other philosophers such as Bataille and Blachot- philosophers who have done the work of wrenching themselves from the clutches of their own thoughts, and bringing them to desubjectification. This analysis for the work of other philosophers enabled Foucault to discover his ideologies some more.

What Nietzsche describes as “self- overcoming “which was his take on desubjectification, he said “ to overcome his time in himself to become timeless” was truly essential for the growth of an individual. This was Foucault drew from when he came up with his powerful image of “permanent critique of self”. Both of them in a way believed in detaching themselves o\from the historic tenets of thinking that were not subjective.

“The critical ontology of ourselves must be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.” –Michel Foucault.

For Nietzsche the world is will to power according to Foucault power is everywhere. Btu in this context, liberating oneself from any religion, Temple, idols, open up space and gives them the freedom to truly discover themselves (Philo 2016, 353-380). Here, they get to become a free spirit and master their themselves and get complete control of their activities. They get the freedom to act in accordance with their higher goal and the absolute freedom to fashion self.

So much of what Foucault believes was because of the framework that Nietzsche had set. Though some of the ideas of Nietzsche’s theories with populations may have been tongue in cheek, they were not completely racist. The racism in of the late 19th century was on a decline (Richardson 2019, 1-20). The spiritual vacuum preceded the political one, and religious nationalism was succeeded by racism, so the notions associated could get muddled.

 Nietzsche’s take on the marginalized, weak or the supressed through his essay could have slight undertones that contradict the political obligation that Foucault emphasizes on but none of this suggested in the context of aggression by Nietzsche. He was merely pointing out an explanation for his theories. And though his theological thoughts may have been studied, his prejudices or social life was not monitored, hence context is extremely important in tis situation. But in many way more than one Nietzsche did provide Foucault with the ultimate framework to discover his own thoughts regarding the concept of self, subject and power. Most of which form the backbone of many philosophical discussions and discourse till date.

References for Friedrich Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality

Janaway, Christopher. "Guilt, bad conscience, and self-punishment in Nietzsche’s Genealogy." Nietzsche and morality (2007): 138-154.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. "What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?." On the Genealogy of Morals (1967). Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/nietzsches-genealogy-of-morality/the-third-essay-what-is-the-meaning-of-ascetic-ideals/F75C8D5997CE60B975200B35B9DDC6C1

Kelly, Michael, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas, eds. Critique and power: recasting the Foucault/Habermas debate. MIT press, 1994.

Leezenberg, Michiel. "Power and political spirituality: Michel Foucault on the Islamic Revolution in Iran." In Michel Foucault and Theology, pp. 111-128. Routledge, 2017.

Philo, Chris. "‘Bellicose history’and ‘local discursivities’: An archaeological reading of Michel Foucault’s Society Must be Defended." In Space, Knowledge and Power, pp. 353-380. Routledge, 2016.

Richardson, Tina. "Space, Gaze and Power: A Foucauldian Methodology for Fashion Advertising Analysis." Fashion Theory (2019): 1-20.

Westerink, Herman. "Thinking Spirituality Differently: Michel Foucault on Spiritual Self-Practices, Counter-Conducts, and Power-Knowledge Constellations." Religions 10, no. 2 (2019): 81.

Giltner, T. Alexander. "The power unto glory: a Bonaventurean critique of Foucault's critique of power." Scottish Journal of Theology 72, no. 1 (2019): 46-63.

Dhamal, Swapnil, Walid Ben-Ameur, Tijani Chahed, and Eitan Altman. "Good versus evil: A framework for optimal investment strategies for competing camps in a social network." ArXiv e-prints 1706 (2017).

Shermer, Michael. "Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God? Notes from a Debate on the Problem of Evil." Skeptic (Altadena, CA) 24, no. 2 (2019): 42-49.

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