Plato, Nietszche, Inspiration, and the Instinctual Gravitation for Truth

 Finally I decided to get off my posterior and get this paper ready. The first part (as I mentioned) is “Plato on Truth”, so you can either read that part or skip it. If you do want to skip it, I have marked the place where new content starts, so you can start from there, but I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. As always quotations for Plato are in Stephanus pages and, as always, if you steal my work, I will find you and I will kick you. Seriously though, do not plagiarize, if for no other reason, because these things are very easy to find.That being said, enjoy, everyone!

Looking at instances of inspiration in the work of Plato is rather difficult, because of the not-so-straightforward manner Plato puts everything in his writing. As pointed out in the Letters, which, if not his, have to have been written by someone who was familiar with his work, he is reluctant to write openly, so one must take all of what Plato says with a grain of salt. That being said, we need not bury ourselves in the pit of skepticism, because Plato also assures the reader that, if he take to heart the philosophy of the dialogues, he will be able to understand and uncover what Plato is really trying to convey. For the purposes of this paper, inspiration will be looked at under two different fields, inspiration as witnessed by Socrates within himself and inspiration witnessed by others within themselves, though with the help of Socrates. After this, it would be useful to compare Socrates to Nietzsche, whom some philosophers hold to be the philosopher that defines our age, and see if Socrates, Plato, and his followers have any words of wisdom for the modern age.

One obvious dialogue to look at in this matter would be the Ion. In this dialogue, Socrates encounters a rhapsode, a man who has mastered the art of retelling Homer’s epics and performs in various functions. In addition, Ion claims that he can explain Homer to his listeners, which immediately grabs Socrates’ attention. Socrates first asks Ion about whether he can apply his knowledge universally, i. e. recite other poets’ works just as well as he can recite Homer’s, but Ion rejects the idea, saying that he is an expert in Homer and Homer only. Socrates then turns to ask Ion about whether he has any expertise in any of the matters that are discussed in Homer and Ion surprisingly claims that he does. Ion goes as far as to say that he is the best general in the land, since he is the best rhapsode in the land. Socrates asks whether the best general in the land would also be the best rhapsode in the land, but Ion denies it. It seems that Plato decides to do the reader a kindness here, because he does not go into further detail about whether the converse of Ion’s statement must be true, partly because it does seem quite obvious to the reader that Ion’s claim is nonsense from the beginning. Socrates then logically asks Ion why he is not leading the Greek forces. At this point, Ion decides the hide behind the fact that he is from Ephesus, claiming that the Athenians would never let a foreigner command their army. Of course, Socrates shuts this argument down, too. Socrates then returns to the “magnet” imagery, where he claims that the magnet is a metaphor for the gods, who input their magnetism into the poet, who then magnetizes the rhapsode, who, in turn, magnetizes the audience. Ion seems to look kindly on this view, however, it seems that he forgets the implications made by his statement (541b-542b).

If, as Ion claims, he is simply the second iron ring in the system of a magnet magnetizing three rings, then he has no magnetism of his own, i.e. Ion really has no knowledge of what he is talking, he is simply wrapped up in a pseudo-Bacchic frenzy when reciting Homer, who is himself wrapped in a similar frenzy by the gods. In saying this, Socrates is going after Homer’s inspiration, as well as Ion’s (pg. 937). Despite the radical claim that Socrates is making about Homer, i.e. that he has no knowledge, this idea could fit in well with the understanding of Homer in Ancient Greece, which is that he was inspired by the Muses, except for the fact that Socrates makes it very clear, in the Euthyphro among other places, that he is not quite a believer in regards to Homer being inspired by the gods or conveying any truth about them. The question then becomes, who is the magnet? If it is not the gods, then who is putting words in Homer’s mouth? One could easily, at this point, draw on the Republic and Plato’s critique of poetry (Books II, III, and X), but matters are made even more complicated by the fact that Socrates himself, in the Phaedo (61a-c), is writing poetry, seemingly inspired to do so by his “daimon” (of course, the presence of the daimon itself is a further complication, in addition to the apparent contradiction between the Apology and the Phaedo about whether the daimon is ever a source of negative knowledge for Socrates, but this will be treated in the second part). It does not seem, therefore, that Socrates’ argument here is simply another critique of poetry. Once again the question at hand is, who is the magnet? If such a thing as “the magnet” exists and Socrates has it, what does that mean about Homer, considering Socrates claims he relies false information about the divine, and what does it say about Socrates?

In order to make sense of this, we must modify the metaphor of the magnet and the rings and, for a second, try to be Socrates in his absence. If the true magnet is the daimon and Homer does not, in fact, have a daimon, then he himself must be the magnet. What of this? Homer is then giving out his own knowledge to the divine. Except, of course, that Socrates would claim he has no knowledge of the divine (let us compare magnets, if we accept Socrates’ to be right, then Homer’s must not be a real magnet). It seems, therefore, that Homer is the predecessor of Euthyphro, in that he claims to speak knowledgably about a subject in which he has no knowledge (of course, the fact that Euthyphro draws on Homer for his own argument brings it into a very nice circle), a trend which Socrates sees very commonly among the Athenians of his own day. The question of Socrates’ person concerning the magnet, however, still stands. If Socrates has a magnet also, (if he did not, then we cannot judge Homer’s to be wrong) then does Socrates also have no knowledge? One could here draw on the Apology and argue that Socrates claims from the beginning that he has no wisdom, but also knows himself to have no wisdom, which makes him wiser than the rest, but I believe that making that argument would leave us to forever wonder about whether the teachings of Socrates through Plato have any meaning at all.

Rather, I believe that there is an alternate route one could take. Having found the real magnet, one must, for a second, ponder the rings. Some may consider stretching the metaphor past its breaking point with this, but the results might grant us some deeper understanding of Plato’s corpus. It is obvious to most people that not any ring would fit to make the system work, i.e. that in order for the ring to channel the magnetism of the magnet, it must have a special property, conductivity. Whereas rings of iron complete the system, rings of bone would make it fall apart. It seems, then, that the magnet cannot use any ring, but only a certain type of rings, i.e. conducive rings.

This means that the ring, quite differently from being ordinary, must, in fact, be extraordinary. It seems then, that Socrates is the true teacher of the divine (in the Platonic sense, of the Forms and the Good which balances them all), not because he has no knowledge, but because he is a very specific type of a knowledgeable person, i.e. one made out of iron (one made adapt for the understanding of philosophy, a lover of knowledge and one who knows himself). This knowledge is then passed on to Plato, the true disciple if that title can be placed on him, the second ring, which, like the first, must be made out of iron. Plato then serves as a “rhapsode” to us, not only reciting Socrates, but also interpreting and expanding his teachings. Plato, then, conducts Socrates’ teaching to the reader, who must change his essence from bone to iron (i.e. the imagery of “bone” was intentional, indicating a change from corporeal to super-corporeal, from physical to spiritual) in order to gain the deep meaning of the teachings of Socrates.

That being said, the question of Socrates’ daimon still remains. In the Apology, Socrates claims that he hears a voice that always dissuades him from doing certain things, but which never encourages him to do anything (31d1-4). Even then, one can argue that this passage is not set directly at odds with the passage concerning poetry in the Phaedo (61a-c), if we do not first look at a similar passage in Crito. When Crito comes to Socrates’ room at the beginning of Crito, Socrates is glad that Crito did not wake him up from his dream, since he believes that it has given him some hints concerning his death (44a3-b1). It is quite clear that Socrates regards the dream as objectively true, so one must assume that the reader is supposed to take this dream as it being divinely inspired. In this light, one must also treat Socrates’ sudden disposition to write poetry in the Phaedo as divinely inspired.

The only way to explain this situation, then, is to claim that the daimon evolves as the story goes on. In the Apology, Socrates’ daimon has dissuaded him from going into public life, but there is a perfectly rational explanation for it, i.e. that Socrates would not have lasted nearly as much if he were involved in politics, which means that his philosophy may never have taken off and that modern Classicist would be reading Plato’s tragedies instead of Plato’s dialogues. On the other hand, once Socrates’ work is done and his death awaiting, the daimon changes its role, from guiding Socrates to carry out his work to giving him one image of comfort and one instance of positive knowledge. As far as the dream in the Crito goes, the greater meaning of it will not be discussed in this paper, but as the meaning of the one in the Phaedo can help the reader make sense of a general trend in Plato’s corpus.

Anyone who has read a fair amount of Plato would realize that Platonic dialogues can be divided into three large groups, dialogues which end in positive knowledge, dialogues which end in negative knowledge, and dialogues where Socrates is either present at the beginning or not at all, where the reader is perhaps invited to judge according to his own mind. Of these, the ones that end in negative knowledge, i.e. learning about what something is not (or, rather, about the reader’s own ignorance), are the earlier dialogues, then the dialogues that end in positive knowledge (where the reader actually learns from Socrates), and lastly dialogues where Socrates is not present for the bulk of the argument (where the reader is perhaps invited to take Socrates’ position on his own). This fits in quite nicely with the progression of the daimon, from negative to positive information.

Another useful way to look at the instance of poetry in the Phaedo is as an apology for poetry in its own right. Though Socrates critiques poetry in the Republic and other dialogues, it is the eternal question of having a material in Greek in the original form to ask whether Socrates is talking about poetry in general or the poetry existing at the time (a similar problem arises in Latin, one instance of which is in the Aeneid, where it is impossible to discern whether Lacoon in Book II is speaking about all the Greeks or the Greeks at Troy’s beaches when he says, timeo Danaum…). Of course, the fact that Plato’s corpus is filled with references from Homer in itself should be a pointing hand toward the fact that poetry, even in the form that Homer gives it, may be useful in illustrating a principle. However, one is left to ponder whether there can be poetry which one may regard as “Homer as it should have been.” A discussion in the Symposium may offer some help in this regard.

Toward the end of the Symposium, Socrates is discussing with Agathon (a poet) and Aristophanes (a comedian) that the skilled dramatic artist should be able to also write good comedy (223d4-5). This may be poetry’s saving grace. Though it is quite clear that poetry for poetry’s sake may not offer much help in one’s pursuit of philosophy, poetry guided by philosophy may be a useful tool in learning philosophy. Part of the point in Socrates saying that a good artist should be able to write both comedy and tragedy is that a good artist should be able to rise to universals (a point made in Ion), but also a two-fold path to knowledge, either through somber, academic discussion or through a more entertaining, titillating discussion. The emblematic examples of these two very different approaches to philosophy, which are both present in the Platonic corpus, are the Republic and the Symposium, respectively. In fact, all of Plato’s writing, whether in the genre of the Republic or the Symposium, are filled with drama and poetic language, though they are written in prose. This is not to add the fact that many Platonists throughout the ages have written in poetical language (C. S. Lewis and Tolkien not the least).

It seems, therefore, that inspiration has a very important place within the Platonic corpus, but, at the same time, within the corpus itself, are included many decoys, to condition the reader to understand that is not “inspiration.” From all of it, only what one can gather from Socrates is to be regarded as genuine inspiration, but the reader is cautioned that what the many who hold to be inspired may, in fact, be fakes. Inspiration, therefore, is both used as a form of irony, when it comes from people other than Socrates, which he discredits, as well as a true guide to philosophy, indeed, as the true spirit and muse of philosophy itself, when it comes through the ring of Socrates.

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It is interesting to see that Nietzsche, too, claims divine inspiration. However, quite differently from Socrates, who claims an anonymous inspirer, Nietzsche pledges his life to the god Dionysus. Within the context of him beings familiar with classics, Nietzsche’s choice of a divine patron is quite astonishing. Going by the traditional myth—there are, of course, others, because Greek and Roman religion were concerned with orthopraxis (right way of doing things) as opposed to orthodoxy (right belief)—Dionysus is not even one of the original Olympians. The story goes (as described in Latin by Ovid, but there a earlier texts corroborating this version), that he was the child of Jupiter with Semele, a human. It seems that Jupiter was truly in love with Semele, which undoubtedly upset his wife, Juno. Hoping to destroy the child that Semele held inside of her, Juno disguised herself as an old woman and went into Semele’s chambers, where she cautioned the young girl against sleeping with a common man who is deceiving her into believing he was Jupiter. To test whether her lover was truly Jupiter, the disguised Juno told Semele to have him swear by the water of Styx (the only oath a Classical god cannot break, because doing so would cause them to temporarily die for a period of seven years) that he would show her his true self, come to her as he came into Juno’s chambers, in full glory. When Jupiter comes into her chambers next, Semele tells him to swear by the waters of Styx that he would fulfill one desire of hers, whatever it would be. Without asking, Jupiter accepts and Semele asks him to reveal himself to her as he does with Juno. At this point Jupiter realizes that if he does this (he would have to bring his lighting bolt with him) Semele would disintegrate, but he must keep his promise or roam the Underworld for seven years. He takes the tamest of the thunderbolts, but even this causes Semele to disintegrate as soon as he comes back. Only the unborn child’s divine heart remains in the aftermath and Jupiter hurries into India with it, where he inserts the heart into the womb of an Indian princess. Thence comes the well-recognized image of Dionysus/Bacchus riding a tiger-drawn chariot from the West.

This being done, Dionysus is regarded as a source of inspiration within the Classical world, but not inspiration to knowledge. For example, when he comes to Thebes, as Ovid’s myth continues, and the women of the city worship him by being extremely drunk, the women of the king’s household are inspired to tear limb from limb a man coming toward them. After they accomplish their deed, they realized that they have murdered none other than the king himself. Within Classical myth, such examples are bountiful, Dionysus brings inspiration, but it is irrational inspiration, not inspiration to knowledge, but inspiration to follow one’s most animalistic desires as a release from life’s stress. As Dionysus makes his way to Olympus, his desire to become one of the Olympians is denied (which would mean Dionysus would be considered a second-class divinity), which brings father and son into a heated argument. At this point, Hestia (or Ceres in Ovid’s tale), being the goddess of the hearth and the family, cannot bear to see such a familial feud, so she offers to give up her own spot in Olympus for Dionysus. The offer is grudgingly accepted.

As far as Roman history is concerned, the Bacchanalia were violently oppressed by the Roman government in the second century BC. This came after the cult developed into having males and females together for the rites (i.e. heavy drinking), which was seen both as a dangerous environment for breaking familial ties (i.e. men and women may be inspired to have relations with each other outside the bonds of marriage) and as emasculating to the young males. Of course, the danger of irrational crimes was also a factor. From these myths and historical sources come the negative connotations that the term Dionysian or Bacchic frenzy carries over to this day.

But what would Socrates say about these myths? We must fall back to the Euthyphro, where Socrates says that he disbelieves a lot of the myths about the gods gone wild as simply the fabrications of poets to explain away their or their societies’ irrational behaviors. When taken together with the idea that epics carried religious importance in the ancient world, the modern mind finds such actions erroneous (after all, it would be a lot like adding a book to the Bible to explain our own mischievous deeds). However, we have at least two well-documented cases where such behavior went on, namely the Aeneid and the works of Pindar.

The Aeneid was publicly sponsored by Augustus to have a standard tale of the founding of Rome and his own genealogy, through Julius Caesar, from Venus. Such myths existed before the Aeneid, of course, partly because the Julii had been a powerful player within Rome for a while by Augustus’ time. This standardized myth was then used to create the two rows of statues at the temple of Mars Ultor (the Avenger) in Rome during Augustus’ time, starting on one side with Romulus through the various heroes of the Republic and on the other side with Aeneas and his son Ascanius/Julus all the way to Julius Caesar, Augustus’ adoptive father and granduncle. Pindar, on the other hand, made his living by writing short poems commemorating the victories of people who participated in the Olympic games, where in many examples he “traces” their lineages to divine ancestors, thereby “proving” that they had always been fated to win and could parade their Olympic victories as their birthright.

From this, one would assume that Socrates would most likely argue that the myths of Dionysus would most likely be fabrications of poets used to explain away the extreme in which people took the good of drinking (after all, Socrates was not against drinking in itself, in the Symposium he drinks; the same can be said about the Bible, where, in the Psalms, wine is describe as God’s gift to “gladden man’s heart”). But what of Nietzsche himself? Why would he choose to be associated with Dionysus? Clearly, it is not out of a heartfelt devotion to traditional Classical paganism, because that disproved itself with the advent of Constantine.

The Roman Emperors Dio and then Diocletian believed, most probably after consulting the most notable pagan theological names of the time, that the Roman Empire had come into constant war from the outside and inside because of a decline in (their) sacred rites, which led them to believe that policy had to be drafted to force all Romans to sacrifice to the traditional Roman gods. This started a redoubled effort to persecute Christians, who were seen as the ultimate source of the trouble. Of course, with the ascent of Constantine to the throne and the subsequent peace that ensued, the pagan theory was debunked. A few decades later, the pagan senator Symachus would plead with the Christian Roman Emperor to return the altar of Victory to the Curia (the Roman Senate house) for the sake of traditionalism, since pagan tributes to Victory would harm neither the Christian faith per se, nor the peace (we can see that the theory that it was irreverence toward the pagan gods that caused chaos was flipped around in Symachus’ mind by this point).

Since it cannot be traditional pagan theology that drives Nietzsche, this without even mentioning his famous quote, “God is dead,” the only reason why Nietzsche must have picked Dionysus as his divine patron must be out of mockery for Socrates. In fact, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche puts Apollo (the god that classical theology would point out as Socrates’ “god at Delphi”) at odds with Dionysus, so there seems some corroborating evidence to this claim. If, however, Nietzsche picks out Dionysus as his divine patron in mockery of Socrates, he must also be implicitly mocking Socrates’ philosophy. Sadly, Socrates is no longer around to engage Nietzsche in reasoned debate (nor is Nietzsche at this point, for that matter, hence giving rise to the humorous theist response to Nietzsche’s famous quote, “Nietzsche is dead. –God”). However, if the theory I have put forth above is to be correct, Socrates has left within Plato’s works the blueprint for his argument against Nietzsche, so the following shall be my try to engage Nietzsche’s shadow in reasoned argument with the help of Socrates and his students through the ages. I do admit that my argument may have holes in it, after all, I am not the best of Plato’s students, but if one does not dare to put themselves in such situations, they can never even hope to become even one of his mediocre students. For one thing, this will be a brief argument against Nietzsche, since there would be much more time needed to argue against Nietzsche’s philosophy in its totality, so I shall use as my source of Nietzsche’s side for the time being Barret’s chapter on Nietzsche in his book Irrational Man.

One useful beginning for our argument against Nietzsche would be his own version of inspiration as put forth against Socrates. One of Nietzsche’s “prophetic” dreams, which Barret says would define his philosophy and life struggle, was one he had as a young man. In this dream, Nietzsche had been in his way to Eisleben (Luther’s town), when, upon wandering in a gloomy wood at night he met up with a hunter, who bade him go to Teutschenthal (lit. German Valley, according to Barret a symbol for paganism) instead. Nietzsche was then terrified by a shriek coming from a nearby insane asylum, which caused the hunter to blow his whistle, waking Nietzsche up from his dream. Barret argues that this symbolizes Nietzsche’s parting ways with Christianity, the contemporary moral tradition that shares a surprising amount of thought with Socrates.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche claims himself to be intellectually possessed by Dionysus, at some point actually speaking of himself as Dionysus, much like the oracles of Apollo would speak as Apollo at Delphi (one must believe that we are supposed to make the connection at this point). In fact, the very title, Ecce Homo, is mockery, not toward Socrates, but toward Christ, since “behold the man” are Pilate’s words about Christ. After his psychotic breakdown, Nietzsche signs some of his letters as “The Crucified One” and whether this be mockery or Nietzsche subconsciously running to Christianity as a possible remedy to his state of affairs is anybody’s guess. Barret, for one, asserts that no matter how much Nietzsche tries to run away from Christianity, it creeps up under his nose, which may be an instinctual drive back to the moral structure of his day. Of course, if one looks kindly toward the point of those Christian philosophers who argue that Christ is the fulfillment of Socrates’ philosophy, in other words that Socrates’ daimon is the voice of God, to mock one is to mock the other. However, one need not rely upon that point to see that Nietzsche is out to mock the whole moralist tradition, since Thus Spake Zarathustra has much the same function, i.e. poking fun at Zarathustra, the Persian moralist figure. It is obvious, therefore, that Nietzsche cannot claim any direct inspiration from any superhuman source.

However, that need not be the end of the debate, since Nietzsche can be right without being inspired. After all, within the moralist tradition, outside the Judeo-Christian spectrum, Socrates is the only authority that claims to have something divine advising him, but there are other figures who do not that still reach many of his conclusions. Nietzsche mentions in his letters that “[m]an must live without any religious or metaphysical consolations.” The argument behind this point is what he puts forth in So Spake Zarathustra, the idea that God is dead. Of course, he does not mean this literarily, but rather he argues that God as a concept cannot have any acceptance within the modern world, since the contemporary lifestyle does not allow for the category of God to fit in. Of course, Kierkegaard makes a similar argument (i.e. that the people of his time had very much left Christianity), but he calls for a return to Christendom as a solution to it. Nietzsche’s conclusion is the exact opposite, since God does not fit in anymore, man must become his own god.

The situation of being bereft of the comfort of the old gods is, quite interestingly, familiar to Socrates and Plato. In fact, Socrates is brought to trial and then put to death precisely because he cannot believe in the gods of the state. Socrates argues that knowledge of the divine cannot be founded upon the uninspired words of the poets, so he professes that he cannot believe in the gods of the state. Instead of throwing the category of the divine altogether, however, Socrates simply says that he believe in Him/them, but as non-physical perfect beings. In fact, the goal of life is life, eudaimonia, mystical union with the divine. The term eudaimonia is first used in the Phaedo, but the Phaedrus, though not directly referencing the word, contains the imagery of souls as chariots, riding in harmony with the divine. This seemingly instinctual push for believing in ascent or union with the divine as the meaning of life is quite interesting and will be developed further shortly. At any rate, Socrates argues for the existence of the Forms, universal ideas that encompass the world.

In the Timaeus, Socrates argues that these were created by an infinite, perfect, all-Powerful Being, which he calls the Demiurge or the Craftsman (needless to say, this description sounds strangely familiar to the Judeo-Christian God). He creates, Socrates argues, because He is perfectly good and wants to share His goodness with everything. It seems, therefore, that Socrates and Nietzsche take opposite stances when faced with the impossibility of the existence of the “old gods,” one using logic to prove that the divine, though not as described by his contemporaries, must exist, the other arguing that in God’s absence we must become our own god.

If one is to argue that Socrates is just creating a comfortable dream world for himself, being faced with having no gods, instead of facing the truth, as it were, painting a blue sky and a sun above him and a green field below him, to make himself believe that his cold cell is really a beautiful field, then why does Nietzsche try to knock it down? One would instinctively respond that Nietzsche’s motivation is to bring the truth to the forefront, but by saying this they would be most radically disagreeing with Nietzsche himself. Nietzsche argues that Truth is simply God without a face, so for one to be considered a true atheist, he must spit in truth’s face, deny truth outright. If so, then what is Nietzsche’s motivation? One cannot give any other answer, other than, perhaps, more mockery.

However, we can at least wonder if there is some force that keeps pinching Nietzsche towards the truth, whose existence he denies. It is interesting to see that Nietzsche writes a poem “To the Unknown God” which does not at all sound like mockery. Barret also argues that in Zarathustra, the words of the magician in Chapter IV are an aspect of Nietzsche that he “wants to exorcise,” (IM, 187) “… And smitten / By thee, cruelest huntsman / Thou unfamiliar—GOD.” It seems that Nietzsche’s mockery may be a barrier, a barrier that he builds up because his mind is telling him that God is dead, but his heart hears the steps of the Hunter close behind him. It is interesting to see Nietzsche in this light, especially coupled with him saying that “we” killed God because “we” could not bear to have anyone look at “our” most ugly side. Perhaps Nietzsche’s philosophy is meant to be as a barrier from God so that Nietzsche can build a cell upon the green field, where the sword is the only means of progression and invite us all to believe that the cell is real and the field is fiction, hopping against hope that the deep walls of this cell can hide him from the Divine.

In any case, Nietzsche argues that man must go beyond good and evil, in fact, that he must marry good and evil. Barret points out Goethe saying, “The tree that would grow taller must send its roots down deeper.” Let us look at this metaphor for a second and see if it stands. It would indeed be beneficial for a tree to set it roots deeper, which, of course, it would do by its own nature. However, trees that have very long lives start growing their roots sideways rather than further down. Why would this be? As far as physics is concerned, this is all natural. Past a certain point, it would be harmful for a tree to keep its roots growing vertically, because it would hit harder ground which it cannot go through, which is why the roots bend sideways, but suppose it could, the reason why the ground is harder is usually because it is clay, not soil, which would not allow for water to get through. If this happens, the tree’s conquest of clay would turn into clay’s conquest for the tree. If the tree went on digging deeper and deeper into the clay it would not grow above ground very much (this would be because the water collected from the roots and food made by the leaves would have to be sent to the roots in the clay to produce growth there) and, eventually, the roots that could not get water would eventually start rotting when the roots above the clay could not support them and onward to the whole tree.

For the desire of having deeper roots so that it could grow taller above ground, the whole tree would be lost. Of course, this never happens in nature (what could happen is the roots could not collect enough water from the ground and start rotting, but as we already said, they cannot go through clay). At this point, the other side could obviously claim that metaphors can only go so far and that is a valid point, but maybe what happens to trees could illustrate a very complicated concept. Trees obviously cannot “drill” into clay (we have said this three times now), but we can, our roots are free to do as they please. However, when we drill into our clay, when we try to extract objective power from evil, the whole enterprise turns to evil. There can be no marriage of heaven and hell, they are like two horses riding in different directions, we can either hop on one or the other, but a chariot where both are strapped on would result in the chariot being torn apart (this is not to be meant as a reference to the chariot metaphor in Phaedrus, it deals with desires and intellect in one’s soul, both of which are objectively neither good or evil).

The obvious point is that good and evil in themselves are not “plugs of power” we can plug into. My physical power is my own, whether I used it to carry a wounded man to a hospital or to wound the man across the street from me. If it is political power that we are talking about, which I could increase my a mixture of good and evil actions, Machiavelli, the foremost scholar on the subject (as he would like to think of himself) shows us that Fortuna may ride tomorrow and bring me down from atop the mountain. If not Fortuna, I can do it myself. Socrates points out to Thrasymachus in Book I of the Republic that a leader can himself undermine his own power. It would seem to be pointless for me to leave the path of good for the sake of political power, of which I can have no surety.

But what is so valuable about the path of justice that I could possibly give up power for? Peace. Desiring to acquire more and more power leads someone toward a dangerous dynamic. You can never have enough of it and if you stagnate for one second, you fill fall prey to the other predators seeking power. In Ricky Bobby’s words, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” and only being first ensures that no one will take over you. In the end, it all goes back to Plato. Desire for power is a desire, which is neither good nor evil in itself. However, if I follow a desire for its own sake, or, as we may rightly put it, I am addicted to a certain desire, I am like a broken jar, eternally trying to be filled up, but never reaching it. This is where the chariot metaphor from the Phaedrus comes into play. The will (the charioteer) must keep the disobedient horse (the desires) in check and in course with the obedient horse (reason).

Of course, Nietzsche could at this point say that reason bears no meaning, since there is no truth (if there is no person, how can the tailor tailor the suit to conform their body?), but then why is he trying to reason himself into getting power? One could obviously say that Nietzsche does not, in fact, offer any logical reasoning for the will to power. This is true, but then why will to power, why not will to lilies? Why is not the only meaning left in the world collecting lilies? It seems that Nietzsche’s mind betrays him in the end, because he draws from Dostoyevsky, who is a deep believer in Christianity and morality. It seems that the hunter’s arrows pierce through the walls of his cell in the end.

Dostoyevsky argues that if there is no God, everything is permissible. Of course, the other premise for him is that not everything is permissible, so then God must exist. Nietzsche takes “there is no God” as his undoubted premise, so he reaches the conclusion that everything is permissible and, if so, then the highest thing a man can pursue in God’s absence is power. However, using the language of “highest thing” presupposes God, because if there is no end to hang the chain on, the whole chain falls to the ground, where it lies horizontally and any link is as high as the next one, so will to lilies is equivalent to will to power. But if will to power presupposes a hierarchy, which presupposes God, then will to power is not the highest thing we can pursue.

Of course, one could claim that the chain hangs on will to power, but why? Because, as Nietzsche argues, most men in the past have been driven by will to power? Have not most men in the past believed that there is a God also? Why can I take them at their word, or take their irrationality as truth, in one case, but not the other? If there is no reason, if atoms are all that is driving you to the conclusion of will to power, why must I trust your atoms, or, indeed, most other men’s in the past, who show will to power is the way, over my own, who say will to lilies is the way? Nietzsche says that he can psychoanalyze most men in the past and I will grant him that, but can he psychoanalyze me? Besides that point, if there are no objective standards, why must I believe that psychoanalysis can objectively judge men?

It seems that Nietzsche here has made the same mistake that Ivan Karamazov makes in The Brothers Karamazov when delivering his poem about the Grand Inquisitor. He has tried to disprove God, but he has, inadvertently, praised Him. The same has happened with Nietzsche. He has tried to mock Truth, to spit in His face, but in doing so, in truly spitting in Truth’s face, he has shown us that Truth is. HE IS.

One other point about Zarathustra needs to be made. Barret makes a point about Nietzsche’s knowledge of Greek tragedy, of heroes with tragic flaws. In the case of Zarathustra, and Nietzsche himself, Barret asserts that the tragic flaw is Zarathustra’s desire to climb the mountain. However, modern classical scholarship has proven that the flaw of heroes in Greek tragedy is not a “tragic flaw,” but a simple error in judgment. For example, Oedipus’ error in judgment is that he assumes his real parents are in Crete when he hears the oracle tell him that if he goes back to his parents he will kill his father and marry his mother, but this is simply not true. His parents are in Thebes, because he was abandoned as a baby (hence his father’s error in judgment, believing that he can alter fate), where he was brought to Crete to be raised. Deciding that he can ditch fate, Oedipus decides to go to Thebes instead of Crete, where he meets his father on the road, kills him, sets himself up as king and marries the widow of the former king (his father), which is to say, his mother. So, in trying to alter fate, both he and his father have aided in its completion. Oedipus doesn’t have a character flaw of wanting power; he simply makes a wrong judgment, which is why he blinds himself, to show outwardly what he knows inwardly, that he has no knowledge. The moral is either do not try to outsmart fate or life is a female dog and then you die, the optimist and the pessimist will pick accordingly.

Is it possible then that Zarathustra’s failure does not come because of a perceived tragic flaw of wanting to go to high, but because of an error in judgment? Is it possible that Nietzsche has written a Greek tragedy keeping true to the type without knowing so? Is he Ivan Karamazov in real life? If so, then what is Zarathustra’s error in judgment? I would put forward that Zarathustra’s failure comes due to the fact that he does not kick the dwarf down the mountain, he does not say, “Get thee behind me, devil.” Though he keeps thrusting away the thoughts of his own devil, he does not completely break the tie with it and eventually gives way. If so, then the arrows of the Hunter that Nietzsche has in his mind when he mentions the unknown God later in the same book must have pierced him, without him knowing and Nietzsche as well as Zarathustra fall for the same reason, not because they cannot unite good and evil, but because they cannot completely thrust away evil, which would allow the thought of God to resurrect within their heart.

One last point about Nietzsche’s argument for will to power, which does not matter considering the previous argument against it, but to show that his psychoanalysis is, indeed wrong in one case at least. Barret argue that the word for virtue in both Greek and Latin implicitly means virile power. This is simply not true.

First, let us examine the Latin word, virtus. Virtus is etymologically related to the word vir, meaning man. As so, virtus means, in its most basic sense manliness. It is used, especially in its military context (from Caesar’s Gallic Wars) to denote courage in men. Indeed, courage is the most desirable thing in an army, but courage is not the same as brute force. In fact, the Roman military ideal absolutely despises unchecked brute force. The Roman military model was so successful specifically because it valued method over brawn. In a legion formation, each soldier strikes the man to his right (who thinks he needs to defend himself from the soldier directly in front of him). Everything is cool, calm, collected. Roman soldiers do not run, they walk in a straight line, never breaking formation (except for in a rout, but that is a specific exception). Everything is method, not rage, not violence efficiency is the guiding principle. In addition, virtus is used to denote a quality in men as well as women. In Livy’s history of ancient Rome (which is closer to a myth, much like the stories of George Washington and the silver dollar or the cherry tree), Lucretia, the sister-in-law of the king of Rome is denoted as having virtus when she kills herself because the king rapes her. Her sacrifice is the catalyst Rome needs to assassinate the king and give back power to the people. Courage does not denote power, it denotes the ability to make the right choice under a lot of pressure, which means that Nietzsche does not miss the point in his classical etymology, but he misses the point in understanding the definition of courage outright (of course, this could simply be Barret’s supporting argument to Nietzsche, in which case I would hope he sticks to what he knows and does not try to make himself a classicist over night, which, if it were that simple, everybody could do).

As far as for the Greek equivalent term, aretē, its etymological roots are far less grandiose than Nietzsche (or Barret) imagines. He claims that the etymological root of this term comes from Arēs, the Greek god of war (carnage would be closer to the term), but this is simply folk etymology. Arete is closer to meaning “perfectness” or “excellence” in Greek, but it is also used to denote courage. Its etymological roots come from the Proto-Indo-European h2erH1-, which means “to plow.” It would make sense that, within an agricultural culture, the word regarding perfection is connected to farming. Even besides this fact, however, the LSJ Dictionary of Classical Greek shows that the first time the word arete shows up in Greek, in Homer’s works, it denotes excellence in men as well as in women, so once again, the point about virile power is moot. Perhaps reading the Cratylus would have helped understand etymology a little better.

When comparing Plato’s philosophy to Nietzsche’s one claims that the other builds a cell in the field and the other claims that the first paints a field in his cell. However, whereas it would make sense for Socrates to shake the foundations of Nietzsche’s cell, Nietzsche’s instinctive drive to mock all moralists shows something hidden about him, he is trying to overcompensate. He has succeeded in building a cell, but he can feel the Hunter’s arrows piercing through it, whether this be the Demiurge, or the Father, so he keeps throwing more concrete at the walls, trying to keep his whole building from falling. In the end, it seems as if Nietzsche drove himself mad, trying to hide from the truth. However, in terms of him specifically being inspired, what he claims is simply mockery, however, through his writing we can see that he is haunted by a voice that constantly pricks him toward the Truth, but to Whom he does not give way.

I realize at this point, by looking over at the notes in the margins I have for Barret’s chapter alone, that I could have gone on for twice the length, but every paper must end at some point or another and one cannot completely refute Nietzsche’s philosophy without writing twice as much as the sum total of all his works, which is, I must say, a tall order for any class-related paper. However, I believe I have pierced Nietzsche’s dwarf’s jugular, or rather that Socrates has guided my hand to do so, which may not save him, but perhaps can help someone else from his trap.


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