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||||notes to self:

Maybe try and cite some of things that read as


though they should be cited. possible source:
stanford ency of philosophy

maybe scan to check for consistency of style

also check the last paragraph to see if you can beef it


up at all. i ran out of steam!||||||||||| <3
“Socrates was the buffoon who got himself taken seriously: what really happened there?”
- Section III.5, The Twilight of the Idols

“The very word 'Christianity' is a misunderstanding--at bottom there was only one
Christian, and he died on the cross.”
- Aphorism 39, The Antichrist

Throughout his writing, Friedrich Nietzsche attempts to debunk and destabilize what he thought
of as the dominant modes of thought in the Western tradition. Whether it be the Judeo-Christian system
of morality, or Europe's grand metaphysical endeavor, he made a point of exposing the weaknesses in
the attitude that came to prominence in intellectual tradition. His attacks, however, often take the form
of aphorisms, like the one atop the page; rarely does he engage his opponents on a traditional
philosophical level with theses or doctrines or axioms. Instead, Nietzsche's texts take on a
performative aspect, uncovering problems from a poetic stance rather than a strictly analytic one. He
doesn't, for example, explicated a syllogistic, logical argument against the existence or relevence of
Christianity, but poetically renders his point, evoking the picture of the crucifix, and claiming (without
a concern for formal logical validity) that Christians don't exist after Jesus. Another such instance of
Nietzsche's challenging of his intellectual predecessors comes in his 1888 book The Twilight of Idols
(TI), in which he outlines his criticism of Socrates, the great Greek philosopher. In this paper I'll first
outline Nietzsche's criticism of Socrates as it appears in TI. Next, I'll consider how this argument
extends to those who might be thought of as the contemporary Socratics: Western metaphysicians and
Christians. Finally, I'll consider the power of Nietzsche's presentation of this criticism, and the
presentation of the criticism's connection to the substance of the claim itself.
Nietzsche, despite my introduction's characterization of him, doesn't hate every thread of
thought that preceded him. His job, before stepping back into a life of writing his philosophical texts,
was teaching and studying philology, the discipline concerned with classic history, literature and art.
Nietzsche had a great deal of admiration for many of his philological subjects, particularly the pre-
Socratics. He thought that the pre-Socratics were sucessful at balancing a passion for and action in life
with a reasoned reflection of life. He highly valued the courage, lively engagement with life—'honor'
in Nietszhean terms, perhaps—of the Greeks depicted in Homerian epics. Believing that Socrates had
seriously diverged from this tradition, Nietzsche lambasts Socrates for overstressing the rationality of
the human experience: “With Socrates, Greek flavor tastes in favor of logical argument,” (TI III.5).
This abandon of the honorable, active Greek life, as Nietzsche sees it, coincides with Socrates' turning
reason “into a tyrant” (III.10). Whereas the Helens are praiseworthy for their 'in-tuneness' with human
will and ability to act, Nietzsche indicts Socratic rationalism as crippling; the Socratic, he says, is
unable to act out the true, aggressive, instinctual, and respectable human life, because all his worrying
about the logic of it precludes this. This intellectual 'decadence', as Nietzsche terms it, is entirely at
odds with “every instinct of the early greeks” (III.4), and sent Western thought spiraling further and
further away from the desirable balance between the Appollonian and Dionysian forces that Nietzsche
identifies in his previous work, The Birth of Tragedy. It is not natural or good for people to try and
suppress their instincts. Socrates was at once repugnant and captivating: physically ugly and ornery to
the Athenian nobles, yet proclaiming a solution to life's curiosities (as 'a physician' or 'a savior.')
Ultimately, says Nietzsche, Socrates failed in achieving his deepest goal. The extrication from life into
an objective standpoint, and the subsequent analysis and categorization of life from such a standpoint is
not only impossible, but laughable.
What then, as the number of authentic Socratics has significantly dwindled as centuries have
passed (and had even by the time Nietzsche worked,) is the relevance of Nietzsche's attack now? Two
possible more recent victims of the machinery set out in 'The Problem of Socrates' in TI are Western
Metaphysics and Christianity. One obstacle that Nietzsche's notion here presents to those engaged in
the metaphysical project in the tradition of Descartes and Kant, is this problem of extrication from one's
individual experience with the end goal of achieving an objective viewpoint. Descartes' attempts to
address the skeptic by appealing to a host of 'a priori' arguments that he could access from an objective
stance obviously touts the impossibilty of this type objective position. Descartes' followers too are
guilty of this tresspass, as they continually make this leap into the objective sphere, concerning
themsleves with 'metaphysical quandries' and 'a priori truths', which are said to exist independently of
the philosophers' existence themselves. Whats more, Descartes & co surely would fall victim to
Nietzsche's complaint that the sort of value judgments to which metaphysicians are prone are useless as
the “value of life cannot be estimated”. The metaphysicians' for and against life could “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,” (III.2). The sort of statements made by Leibniz about
the perfection of God's monadic world, or by Kant about the categorical imperative are not valuable,
according to Nietzsche, in the way in which these philosophers would have you think. They are not
valuable in their purported truth about the patterns and truths about the universe. Instead, Nietzsche
tells us that these statements' value lies merely in their evidence of life-conditions; they are valuable as
symptoms.
Christianity too is a liable target for this sort of Nietzschean criticism. Nietzsche dismisses
Socrates' grand effort to categorize and determine the value of life and wordly things as decadence.
Christians too engage in this type of decadence. Christians expend vast amounts of efforts making
judgments about the value of life: that it is spiritually significant, that certain attitudes are more holy
than others, etc. These judgments, says Nietzsche, are only valuable as symptoms of a decadent life.
Furthermore, Christians, like Socrates, go to great lengths to combat human instinct. The labeling of
certain instinctual actions as 'sins' and the Christian demands for chastity, purity and abstinence from
vice would be, to Nietzsche, instances in which the passionate, Dionysian are unhealthily restricted. In
the same way that he rejected Socrates' teachings as absurdly reverent of logic and rationality,
Nietzsche rejects Christianity as dogmatic and restrictive, and as an injurious concession. Further
paralells exist between the Socrates-savior picture that Nietzsche problematizes in 'The Problem of
Socrates' and the narrative of Jesus. Both operate in the duality of repugnant (to the Athenian nobility
for Socrates, to the Pharisees and Romans for Jesus) as well as seductive (through Socrates' offering of
the savior of logic, Jesus' offer of redemption.) In the end, Nietzsche vehemently denies the offerings
of Socratic rationalism and Christian salvation, slamming both as being false hope predicated upon
unhealthy fixations.
Finally, an extraordinary thing about 'The Problem of Socrates' is the way that it is delivered.
Nietzsche's technique of splitting the narrative into twelve short, aphoristic sections is central to his
communication of his claim. Here he attempts to break out of the confines of traditional
philosophizing and express his point in a more poetic way. This methodology is in line with his
alliance with the passionate, naturalistic side of things: by attempting to create meaning via poetry and
aphorism instead of with strict, theoretical verse, Nietzsche follows the tradition of the pre-Socratics,
and effectively espouses the Dionysian tendencies that he praises. Moreover, Nietzsche explaining the
story and problem of Socrates instead of merely arguing against the Socratic technique, has tactical
advantages. Drawing out the contradictions and the unsettling consequences of the Socratic view
through aphorisms distinguishes Nietzsche clearly from his philospher contemporaries, whom he
despises. Nietzsche would argue that his fluid writing style is less restrictive and more creative than
Plato's method of persistent Socratic rational questioning or others' thesis- and axis-writing approach.