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words of long dead men and standing beside them, quoting them and defending them without, sometimes, knowing their true meaning, or what kind of man was he who originally uttered them. “What kind of man was Socrates?” Some could be asked, and one of the standing answers you'll receive is, “ A great man.” Why? Because he is a classic. Frederick Nietzsche argues against this answer, in general, and the basic idea behind it. He draws conclusions on who Socrates was, and how he should be remembered, based on Socrates' words, and actions, and contracts both the good and the bad of the ancient thinker. Great man or cowardly trickster, Nietzsche will decide. Nietzsche believed that pre-Socratic Grecians were the epitome of what a man should be. They were not only both physically, and intellectually superior to most (if not all others) at the time, but they also had a deep understanding of life that surpassed that of most. They believed that life was a thing to be played out in its fullest with no apprehension. They didn't look for fulfillment in an afterlife, but thought their reward was life itself. They praised mental stamina and capacity, striving to learn and teach the sciences, ethics, and thought. They held competitions and sports as well, cherishing physical fitness and the perfection of the human form. These, the Greeks, are the people Nietzsche referred to with his Übermensch, his supermen. That is, they were until Socratic thought took over. Nietzsche, in his work Twilight of Idols, lays out clearly the reasons he has for
Cory 2 holding both admiration and disdain for the man Socrates. He begins, however, with questioning the outlook on life, the “world-view,” of many “great-thinkers” of past ages. He finds that so many of them agree that life is a sickness, a weariness, and wonders why that is so, how so many could have a deep pessimism as this about their very lives. His explanation comes in the form of a metaphor, “Could it be that wisdom appears on earth as a raven, attracted by a little whiff of carrion?” (Nietzsche) He means to suggest that wisdom, the minds of the great thinkers before us, is cultivated by experiences known through poor lives, or at least from less than desirable moments in these great thinkers lives. It would certainly seem as such, with the for mentioned world-view of those recorded minds before us. This idea of pessimism is only brought to attention to highlight the specific ideas of one man: Socrates, or at least, how he is recorded. His ideas and judgments about life were, to Nietzsche, false. It is Nietzsche's view, in fact, that it is impossible to make a true judgment on life, “Judgments, judgments of value about life, for it or against it, can in the end never be true: they have value only as symptoms, they are worthy of consideration only as symptoms; in themselves such judgments are meaningless.” (Nietzsche). We, as humans, will always be bias whenever making judgments about life, since we ourselves are living in this life. Making any judgment about how it is, or how we ourselves are tempered towards it, can not be sound just as a small child telling people about how much he enjoys or hates his parents can not be made. One moment, the child could profess his undying love and complete joy over his parents, and the next
Cory 3 (after being denied a third delicious slice of cake) he'll explain with utmost anger and rage how much he hates his parents and wants them to go away. This is, in no way, the traditional Greek view on things, and here is where Nietzsche states that Socrates is not a true Grecian. Socrates, a plebeian, was, as Nietzsche puts it, a particularly ugly man, and ugliness, to Nietzsche, is, “ in itself an objection, [and] is among the Greeks almost a refutation.” (Nietzsche) Nietzsche states a Latin phrase used by criminologists of his era, monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. It is translated to “Monstrous in appearance, monstrous in spirit.” Nietzsche then makes the analogy that criminals are both ugly and decadents. Since Socrates is ugly (and admits openly to this,) he is also a decadent. This decadence is further made obvious by his humorously exaggerated personality, and his incredible logical abilities. He uses this logic in a very underhanded, anti-Greek way, as Nietzsche explains. He hides his motives in the many questions he continuously asks his fellow Grecians, and must explain every question and action taken before finally revealing his hidden motive behind the entire conversation. This, as Nietzsche tells, is in and of itself untrustworthy. He explains,.”… Any presentation of one's motives was distrusted. Honest things, like honest men, do not have to explain themselves so openly. What must first be proved is worth little.” (Nietzsche) This brings Socrates now even further from the ideal Grecian, which is very much, to Nietzsche, a synonym for the very essence of an ideal man. He continues to infer that Socrates used his riddles and “truths” to prove himself a Grecian, and, in doing so, furthered to reduce the pure meaning of what it was to be Greek. He changed the entire Greek mindset,
Cory 4 and the way they approached all things, which would leave the formerly superior Greek environment, and individual, only to a fleeting memory. Nietzsche does, however, revisit Socrates before he seals his fate. He delves into the reasons for admiration in the man quite abruptly. Though he did not hold the same views and understandings of how a man should act and think with the Greeks, he still held the Grecian admiration for exemplifying physical and mental prowess. He also understood and accepted his ugliness, his monstrum. He admitted his impairment openly, then continued in explanation, “"This is true," he said, "but I mastered them all.“” (Nietzsche) Nietzsche accepts that he must be impressed by this mastery over self control and decadence. Another aspect of the change Socrates helped bring about that Nietzsche cites is what Nietzsche seems to describe as a mental preparedness and the training needed to combat those who do not think clearly or rationally, basically, an origin of Professor Johnson's Logic class. “When one finds it necessary to turn reason into a tyrant, as Socrates did, the danger cannot be slight that something else threatens to play the tyrant.” (Nietzsche) In doing what he did, Socrates led the people of Greece towards finding reason and logic, and away from anything else. The alternatives to this could be anything from any kind of behavior where very little reason is used, to pure action out of hatred towards another and only self-gratification. By acting upon his decadence, he basically helped to keep the rest of Greek society from falling too far into their own decadence. In the end, Socrates took it upon himself to end the problems of his decadence.
Cory 5 He had become the embodiment of acting upon something other than instinct, which, to Nietzsche, was life through non-life anyway. Nietzsche believes that this may be why Socrates was sick of life, and in the end said, "Socrates is no physician. Here death alone is the physician. Socrates himself has only been sick a long time." (Nietzsche) In this, Nietzsche believes there is something to be admired. By choosing death, Socrates was removing himself from life (of non-life) and, in doing so, perhaps did the most honorable thing of his life. It is wrong of Nietzsche to chastise Socrates so much for his understanding of and views on the world. Socrates, a war hero, understood that it was necessary for the advancement of society to think as he did. The Socratic method is still used and understood well as a method of teaching and learning. Logic, if nothing else, is a way of truly understanding the world around us, and the logical argument is a way of finding the true meaning behind the words of any individual, something Nietzsche should have understood the value of. The logical argument is not a way of trickery and cowardice, as Nietzsche described it. He claims also that, “Nothing is easier to nullify than a logical argument: the tedium of long speeches proves this.” (Nietzsche) Perhaps that's why he wrote his works in short, frustratingly vague statements? To set up a good, important logical argument, one must spend time analyzing possibilities and refutations. To deliver it is to lay out pointedly each and every specific position you are taking. Easy to nullify? On the contrary, impossible to destroy if done correctly. How Nietzsche could hold this stance is beyond me.
Cory 6 He states that, in proper society, arguments were looked down upon, and any motives that need to be explained are distrusted, so this led to the immediate downfall of noble taste. If noble taste discouraged arguments, however, it seems that it is a good thing, and something that should be praised and blessed. Society needs arguments and debates. Without them, there would be very little progress made, personal and otherwise. To argue is to learn, and to open your mind to the views and standpoints of other. It is an important learning tool which should be cultivated, not a social disgrace. This does fall under the view of Nietzsche's racist, aristocratic want for society, however, in that, if the plebeians, or the proletariat as later society's may understand them cannot argue, they cannot revolt, and thus whoever the aristocracy, bourgeosie, or Übermensch, whichever word you may choose to use, are safe to live their uninteresting, inactive lives without any chance of change or evolution. Nietzsche's outlook on Socrates can overall be described as a respectful distaste.
Cory 7 Works Cited Nietzsche, Friedrich. "Nietzsche: Twilight of Idols." Handprint.com. Handprint, n.d. Web. 1 May 2011.
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