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2 November: Bob Guay

“What’s the Damage? Nietzsche on the Harms of Morality”

Abstract: Nietzsche’s critique of morality, especially in On the Genealogy of Morality, takes morality as one system of values among many possible alternatives, and then asks what the “value” of maintaining it is; this (dis-)value is explicated in terms of the genealogical analysis showing that morality is in some way harmful to humanity, and the harms give us a reason to reject moral values. His approach accordingly requires an explanation of what the past and ongoing harms that are distinctively attributable to morality are, and how they are conveyed. In this paper I consider a number of ways of trying to making sense of the harmfulness of morality, and then develop an account of the criteria that the harms of morality must meet on any adequate reconstruction of Nietzsche’s views. After reviewing and rejecting some of the preliminary accounts of the harms of the morality, I offer my preferred account, in terms of what I call “dynamic self-misunderstanding.” I argue, that is, that the ongoing harmfulness of morality is effected not primarily on occurrent psychological states or prevailing social relations – although these, too, are subject to harms – but on the conditions under which persons make sense of themselves.