“Beyond Good and Evil” by Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche

With a philosopher nothing at all is impersonal.

As an armchair Platonist, I had a personal aversion to Nietzsche, whose whole purpose in life seemed to be to overthrow Platonism. After reading “Beyond Good and Evil”, however, my attitude changed from aversion to pity, that is, pity in the Nietzschean sense.

To illustrate what I think of Nietzsche and his relation to Plato, let me introduce a Chinese fictional/mythical character, Sun Wukong (孙悟空), also known as the Monkey King. The Monkey King challenged the authority of the gods, stormed their dwelling, The Heavenly Palace, and proclaimed himself an equal of the gods. They appealed to the Buddha for help, after repeatedly failing to subdue the Monkey King. The Buddha made a wager with the Monkey King, who could travel 108,000 miles with one somersault, that the latter could not jump out of the former’s palm. In order to prove his power, the Monkey King traveled as far as he could, and reached what he thought were the Five Pillars of Heaven. When he returned to confront the Buddha, he learned, to his chagrin, that those pillars were actually the Buddha’s fingers. He lost and was imprisoned by the Buddha under a mountain for 500 years.

An attentive reader would have no difficulty guessing at my meaning: Nietzsche was the Monkey King, Plato the Buddha.

Firstly, Plato derived the notion of an eternal cyclic nature of the universe long before Nietzsche stumbled upon it and gave it a different name, “eternal recurrence”. Apparently, like the Monkey King, Nietzsche was not immune to self-deception and illusions of grandeur, when he claimed that his philosophy was new and free of metaphysical presumptions.

Secondly, there is nothing new to the idea of “order of rank” either. Plato made a division of classes in his Republic. Nietzsche seems to share Plato’s contempt for democracy, which is based on the assumption of equality among man. Both would assert that some men are fit to rule and others to be ruled.

Thirdly, Christianity has long inculcated the notion that suffering is necessary for the character development of human beings. Nietzsche borrowed the idea again, without acknowledging the source.

Fourthly, Nietzsche’s philosophy is not grounded in biological facts, but rather, it is another subjective interpretation with assumptions and leaps. To use his own simile, the text may have disappeared under the interpretation, but it is still there, and each interpretation shall be evaluated according to its relation to the original. The philosopher can no more place himself above the standard of good and evil, than a translator can place himself above the original.

Fifthly, the ancient Greek philosophers believed that the ultimate purpose of philosophy is the attainment of the Good and the True. Nietzsche rejected the notion as utilitarian and ignoble. What noble value did he create by will to power that would set him above those philosophers he satirized? None.

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12 thoughts on ““Beyond Good and Evil” by Friedrich Nietzsche

  1. Pingback: Friedrich Nietzsche & Philosophy | The Leather Library
  2. “What noble value did he create by will to power that would set him above those philosophers he satirized?” The love of life – the gay science – which is diametrically opposed to the loathing of life expressed by Platonists. Life being this life, not an after-life.

    1. Speaking as a Platonist, I’d say that, Life, if it be true, is the same both in the here and now and in the afterlife. The consideration of the afterlife put things in their proper perspective, without which a person cannot “love life”, for he doesn’t even know what life is.

      1. “Life, if it be true, is the same both in the here and now and in the afterlife.” As a Platonist, you must know that Plato would disagree with that statement. I cite his entire canon as evidence.

        To take one example, the Allegory of the Cave demonstrates the contempt Plato had for this world relative to his metaphysical realm of the Forms.

        He saw this life as a disease from which he desired to be cured. The body and its innumerable desires were merely hindrances to attaining the Good. Plato despised this life.

      2. “The body and its innumerable desires were merely hindrances to attaining the Good.”

        Plato despises the body, for the body is not ‘life” (I welcome you to prove to the contrary. 🙂 ) The life of man lies not in his body which is transient and perishing, but in his soul which is immortal. To love life, for a Platonist, is to love the soul and the good of the soul, i.e. Virtue.

        The Allegory of the Cave, as I understand it, is to demonstrate that this world is a mere shadow of the real world, a reflection as a person’s face is reflected in a mirror. If a person loves life, he would love the real life, and not the mere image in the mirror.

  3. “The life of man lies not in his body which is transient and perishing, but in his soul which is immortal.” Exactly! Plato hates THIS life. By THIS life, I mean this transitory earthly existence. Nietzsche, on the other hand, was not as pessimistic as Plato. He found value in THIS life.

    1. Not quite. The immortal life of the soul is present in “this transitory existence” also, as the whole is present in the parts. As the saying goes, “Do you love life? Then cherish every moment, for they are the building blocks of life.” Platonists love life and every part of it! 🙂

      1. In the Phaedo, like in many of his other dialogues, Plato praises life in his metaphysical realm and condemns this earthly life. He realizes that many of his students will be persuaded to commit suicide. Thus, he presents an argument against suicide. His argument is that we are the property of the gods. As property, we do not have the right to kill ourselves.

        How depressing! Plato’s only reason for not committing suicide is that he is the property of another.

        He refused to recognize that goods could exist in this earthly life. Such goods, according to him, were illusory. The true Good only exists in his metaphysical realm.

        I do not deny that Plato was a brilliant man. He raised and discussed many of the same philosophical questions that are discussed today. But I find his pessimistic attitude towards life pitiable.

      2. There are three types of goods: 1. external goods, e.g., lands and wealth; 2. goods of the body, e.g., health and fitness; 3. goods of the soul, e.g., wisdom and justice. All three types exist in this earthly life, but only the goods of the soul are everlasting, and therefore most worthy of possessing.

        In Plato’s dialogues, he always draws his interlocutors (and readers) to pursue the highest goods, and participate in virtue and justice as much as possible in this earthly life. I see nothing pessimistic about it.

        As for the “property of the gods” argument, one of Plato’s meanings of the word “property” may be understood in the sense that people who are in love sometimes speak of being owned by another. A virtuous soul would not do anything stupid or unjust that grieves his beloved gods. Leaving one’s appointed station in this life by suicide would be unjust, like a soldier deserting his post.

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