6 Questions with Rex Welshon, author of “Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality: A Guide”

Robert “Rex” Welshon, PhD. Department of Philosophy Professor

Welshon’s latest book, “Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality: A Guide” introduces readers of all levels to the major arguments found in Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morality” while demonstrating how arguments Nietzsche develops elsewhere clarify and support what he says in the “Genealogy.”

Welshon’s text goes over Nietzsche’s life, identifying some of his major intellectual influences and tracking his influence on subsequent thinkers, before beginning a detailed examination of the preface and essays Nietzsche’s “Genealogy.”

Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality: A Guide” was published by Oxford University Press in 2023.

To share more, Welshon answered six questions about his book below.

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

In this book, I try to the best of my ability to lay out the arguments contained in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality, a book that Nietzsche dashed off in less than three months as an introduction to a much longer, but never finished, book. The Genealogy (as it is known) is perhaps Nietzsche’s single greatest philosophical book (The Joyous Science is competition) and displays all of his considerable argumentative power, historical and scientific knowledge, and astonishing writing skills. However, many of Nietzsche’s arguments remain cryptic, so the book unpacks them in greater detail and shows how others of his books before and after the Genealogy buttress what he says in it. So, in one way of thinking about matters, the book tries to show how the Genealogy can serve as a reliable introduction to some of the best of what Nietzsche has to say about some of the topics he thinks are most important.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

I was invited to write the book by the good folks at Oxford University Press.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

Not really. I struggled, as I always have, to understand some of Nietzsche’s arguments about the psychological, sociological, and cultural dimensions of the human belief in monotheistic deities. I did gain a new appreciation of Nietzsche’s understanding of the importance of resentment in human psychology: his insights about resentment were not only remarkably prescient for their time, but useful for understanding some of what’s happening in contemporary society and politics. Neither these struggles nor this new appreciation amount to a change of focus, unless one stretches the meaning of ‘change’ so that it includes confusion and deepening appreciation.

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

I’ve been writing about the neuroscience of conscious experience and about joint attention and collective intentionality for some years. Recently, under the influence of Tom Wynn, Fred Coolidge, and Leee Overmann, I’ve become interested in the phylogenetic evolution of various subtypes of conscious experience (monitoring consciousness, reflective consciousness, self-awareness, etc.) and in the social dimensions of Paleolithic era hominin on- and off-line reflective planning and cognition. I’ve published a couple of articles on the role of joint attention in stone toolmaking and am currently writing an article on the social conditions required for the transition from non-verbal gestural communication to verbal communication and the emergence of symbols. A new book project on these and related matters is a predictable outcome.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

I write in my campus office on the fourth floor of Columbine. It has a great view of Pikes Peak and the Rampart Range, and it is quiet most of the time. Working at home has never been productive.

I’m a creature of habit and try to get to work between 8 and 8:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. Teaching days are for prepping, teaching, grading, committee meetings, and socializing. Writing days are for writing. After answering emails, I start writing by 9 a.m. with background music playing to create a familiar soundscape to write inside of. It takes about an hour to get to the required concentration level to produce anything worthwhile, but then there’s three or four hours of being in the zone before focus lapses. Then I typically return to edit what’s been written earlier. 1,000 words of finished product in a day is a good day. Many days are not so good: I’m too distracted or too disinterested or too this or too that. On those days, I tinker more with what’s already been written.

6. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered?

Being a philosophy professor is a great gig: if you get bored writing about one thing, there’s always something else to write about. In the last five years, I’ve published articles on free speech and safe spaces at public universities, anti-intellectualism in the MAGA socio-political world, the Robber’s Roost country in Utah, dynamic embodied cognition and mental representation, joint attention in the Middle Paleolithic, and the Nietzsche book. In the next little while, there will probably be more nature essays, more philosophy of mind and consciousness articles, and a book on the evolution of consciousness and language.

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.