David Owen's Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morality" is a welcome addition to the general direction of recent scholarship on Nietzsche's critique of morality in On the Genealogy of Morals and his related project of a revaluation of all values. Indeed, it is an important contribution to the ongoing debates, first shaped by the efforts of Foot, Geuss, Ridley, and Leiter, about the nature, style, and purpose of GM, one that pays careful attention to Nietzsche's use of rhetoric, his genealogical method, and conceptions of ethical agency. The work, however, is slightly less successful in situating GM within the larger context of Nietzsche's revaluation of all values.
Owen divides the work into two parts. In the first, he traces the development of Nietzsche's call for a revaluation of values and his eventual turn toward the genealogical method. He pursues this line of inquiry because he believes that if we can get clear about what motivates Nietzsche's turn to genealogy within the context of his revaluation of all values, we will be able to understand what this mode of inquiry is ultimately intended to accomplish. In the second part, he provides an analysis of GM itself. Here, Owen offers an interpretation of each of the three essays in GM and situates his own reading within current scholarly debates. He concludes with an attempt to contrast Nietzsche's historical analysis of morality with the ahistorical approach of analytic moral philosophers, where morality is simply taken as a given.
In the second part of the work, the author turns to GM itself, dividing his analysis into five subsections. After some introductory remarks that sketch the overall structure of GM and stress the way in which Nietzsche offers an internal critique of Christian morality, Owen delves into the contents of the first essay of GM. In a move that is a bit surprising given his overall interest in the project of revaluation, Owen focuses not so much on the emergence of the self-sacrificial love that completed the initial Judeo-Christian revaluation of all nobler ideals (GM I:8) but, rather, on the conception of agency that emerged with the slave revolt in morality. For Owen, the contrast between noble and slave is therefore defined not so much in terms of self-affirmation and self-effacement but, rather, in terms of competing conceptions of ethical agency. In contradistinction to the noble who experiences himself as an agent, where agency is defined as "how one acts is what one is," the slaves "do not experience their agency as intrinsically their own" (78). The slaves, however, do eventually come to experience themselves as agents by constructing a new account of agency. According to Owen's analysis of GM I:13, the slaves invented the freely choosing subject not only so that they could hold the nobles responsible for acting the way that...
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