Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality (GM) is now a recognized masterpiece, but there are widely varying views about its historical aims and methods. One point of agreement among scholars is that it serves a critical function, as Nietzsche himself declares that we need a critique of moral values and a knowledge of the conditions and circumstances out of which they grew, under which they evolved and changed. It is taken to be strikingly successful in this respect. Yet a genealogy must serve not only to critique but also to transform social phenomena—otherwise, it is a destructive and potentially nihilistic tool. I argue GM is also a constructive project by showing that its historical approach is best understood as developed from Nietzsche's earlier theory of history. “The Utility and Liability of History for Life” contains a theory of historical interpretation that elucidates GM.

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