The Genealogy of Morals is widely considered to be the masterpiece of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
This astounding work represents the full maturity of Nietzsche's ideas, and consists of three distinct essays, or treatises. In each, Nietzsche isolates and expands upon the ideas first expressed in his earlier epic work, Beyond Good and Evil.
The topic of the first essay ('Good and Evil', 'Good and Bad') is duality - the opposing moral poles of good and evil. To begin with, Nietzsche offers a historical explanation of the origins of both, demonstrating that each has very different roots. Gradually, we receive Nietzsche's argument that the notion of 'good' is absurd since their original definition of what is 'good' originated with powerful, influential people in antiquity with their own ideas on what is good and bad.
From here, Nietzsche juxtaposes his ideas of weakness and strength, and the notions of human preconception as generated over thousands of years of hierarchy inclusive of slavery, to demonstrate the final evolution of his ideas beyond traditional ideas of duality. This essay is also controversial for introducing the 'blond beast' which has become a forebear for Nietzsche's posthumous association with Nazism and racial superiority.
In the second essay ('Guilt', 'Bad Conscience', and Related Matters) Nietzsche examines the idea of justice and punishment, explaining that the quality of forgetting wrongs and poor judgment is developed in order for individuals to not be ensnared in their own inevitably flawed past. Memory is held up as a counter to this, whereby good recollection can lead to more control over future events.
Nietzsche continues by explaining the notions of conscience. The societal remedy for bad deeds is punishment. However the force behind punishing others can be diffused into a single ineffable part of the human being: the 'will to power'. Many examples of the will to power in action are listed, and Nietzsche notes that punishment often hardens and alienates those who receive it. The stated purpose - of awakening remorse - is never achieved. The worst instincts of man, of dominance through torture, may even be unleashed as an extreme form of punishment.
In the final essay ("What do ascetic ideals mean?"), Nietzsche focuses upon asceticism, arguing that those who put aside material splendour do not do so out of a desire for spiritual ascendance but instead from ulterior motives. The motivations of the philosopher, artist and priest who hold asceticism as a noble and virtuous pursuit are brought into question by Nietzsche, who identifies such practices as a means to power and influence over the weakest.
Nietzsche continues by demonstrating how people with allegiance to ascetic ideals have gained much traction in society. He proceeds to discount science as an opposing influence, together with historians and idle thinkers, before advocating for a criticism of what is accepted as truth, and a replacement for such flawed definitions.