*This was first published in Philosophical Confessions, but seems more apropos to this new blog.
So here I am attending to Epictetus’s Enchiridion and Nietzsche’s The Twilight of the Idols. Strangely I find solace in both these authors despite the contrariety of their underlying philosophies. Happiness, said Socrates, is the end of all human activity; no one would, as it were, ever pursue her own unhappiness. Indeed, this is what set him on his track to that all-too-unfortunate qua Nietzsche triadic arrangement: virtue=knowledge=happiness. For if Socrates is astute in this aforementioned assertion, then engaging in actions, and/or adopting beliefs, that run the pursuit of happiness aground cannot be performed in full cognizance. Knowing that causing harm to others inadvertently harms oneself and hence jeopardizes one’s own happiness, one would not betray, deceive, humiliate, rob, demoralize, exploit others. So members of the 30 Tyrants must assuredly have acted from ignorance, or at the very least involuntarily. A life of happiness would then be a life epistemically charged. Everything is riding on acquiring knowledge. But knowledge of what exactly? Well, knowledge of what it is to live a virtuous life dummie! 😉 Stoic philosophy would have no qualms embracing this general position. But in my estimation it is here that they part ways, for Socraticism (dare I call it that!) makes good use of the role of reason but to my knowledge this rests not in any attribution to the workings of the world or the natural order of things. Indeed, despite Nietzsche’s ad hominem attack on the man in The Problem of Socrates, his ambivalence, noted as early as Walter Kaufman’s 1974 seminal work Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton University Press 1974), suggests at least the possibility of other features at work in this text. (FYI: In my book The Pedagogic Mission: An Engagement With Ancient Greek Philosophical Practices, much is said to distance Socrates from that monochromatic view of rational deliberative inquiry. Link here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739126530/The-Pedagogic-Mission-An-Engagement-with-Ancient-Greek-Philosophical-Practices) I would submit that Nietzsche acknowledges in Socrates the spirit of the overman, albeit trapped by an unfortunate state of circumstance that would have him riding in on his white horse flagging reason as the great emancipator from the elusive hegemonic trail of false idols.
Socrates ennobled reason and thereby made a tyrant of her. She stepped in as if to nullify the power of the instincts that threaten to unhinge everything at its joints! What chaos! What disorder! What disharmony! What vicious self-annihilating force is this?! For once unleashed there is no limit to what the human spirit might discover!! Decadence everywhere! HA! Did the Socrateses and Platos think that they could just trot in and deliver humankind from herself and not thereby lose humanity in the process?!
“Happiness equals instinct”!? And yet everything we seem to now “know” of the Greeks – from Socrates to Plato, Plato to Aristotle, Aristotle to the Stoics – aims to expunge the instincts, and with reason as our guide, arrive at a proper understanding of “things” and a will unhampered by the seductiveness of the passions to frame that eudaimonic life we all aspire to!
Nietzsche, the agitator of reason, was not also unreasonable, nor irrational as such. He resented Socrates, or perhaps this ill-framed variety of Socraticism (which he too in part is responsible for popularizing), for exaggeration. For Nietzsche defamed Socrates not only for his aesthetic profanity (so ugly was he, that he was an insult to the good taste of the gods! :)) but for levelling humankind in the service of that counter-tyrant, reason. He says of Socrates:
My Twitter handle is no accident – gignolatry – and hence my opposition to ontolatry is real ( 😉 ). In Reason in Philosophy, Nietzsche is emphatic and decorative in his descriptors of ontolatries. He says:
‘Being is that empty fiction’, which even Heraclitus, knew too well was the imposition of the mind on what was evinced rawly by the senses. The fable of the essentialists comes in four basic propositions. Now I won’t be able to elaborate these here, for each requires special attention to distinct parts of his philosophy, but enough can be said to counter the Epictetean position with which I began. So what are these propositions? Here they are from the man himself:
Plato with utmost clarity (well maybe not that clear!) has distinguished the Sensible World from the Intelligible World, and though numerous arguments are offered, a couple are well known and clearly on Nietzsche’s mind. The sensible world is one with which we are acquainted through our senses, and since the objects of this world are changing and ephemeral, it stands to reason ( 😉 ) that these appearances cannot tell us how it is to truly be a chair, or doorknob or anything else. After all, the colour, distinct markings, spatial-temporal locale, are particular to a “thing” but not to its kind. Hence, it follows, that these items do not speak to how things themselves are, but only to accidental occurrences or contingencies. But it is equally true that sensory perception is prone to run wildly off course given the attachment of the ear, of the eyes, of touch to circumstance, to the particular, itself also unshielded from common error (e.g. an item seen from afar looks small until seen up close). So what happens to the world of things upon exit? Plato (and others) would contend evaporation! Poof, they disappear! Quite literally, the “characteristics that have been given to the true Being of things are of non-Being”. Namely, these characteristics don’t exist, are not to be found anywhere, and hence essentially ( 😉 ) are concocted from the imagination of man! A fable worth telling again and again for care of human endeavors that might cash in on aspiring to live for a world uninhibited by ephemeral preoccupations and fleeting (HA!) objects of hedonic value.
A world concocted is a world that simply does not exist, and tis a fable told to suppress and contain the human spirit unadulterated by confusions interspersed by impositions of the mind. And yet, Nietzsche, often misunderstood, does not address the instincts as wildly out of control, drawn indiscriminately in any direction as a dog is to a bitch in heat! NO! Nietzsche speaks to how one might “spiritualize, beautify, deify a desire”. Though this is a complex notion, it is at least clear that Nietzsche equates the castration of the passions with nay-sayers of life, and the beatification of the passions with the affirmation of life. For Nietzsche says:
Nietzsche does not take sides with crude displays of affection, or aggression (as he is often criticized for), but favours the beautification of the passions! This comes not from the objects themselves, of course. Recall, there are no facts, things out there to be apprehended in themselves! It is rather in the delicate nurturing, inter-personalized engagement with, and invested concern for the passions that beauty is brought forth so that in screams of contained rapture one can appreciate, say, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in silent discourse.
So what is his meaning and how does this set the record straight with Epictetus? Another timeout for Pirocacos as she gets her unhinged self together….to be continued…I promise!