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June 15, 2009



Writing that is very clear is much harder to "use ... for sport" than is murky and indeterminate rhetoric. It seems that the mud, in this case, was intended to protect Nietzsche from antagonists, not 'truth.'


I actually have two copies of "Beyond Good and Evil", neither of which I purchased; I don't know how we came to own them. I just started reading one of them last week so that I can discuss it here with Nathan. So far I'm not impressed, but I'll have more to say when I'm further along.

Joyless Moralist

So strike Nietzsche from the Nathan Smith Hall of Philosophers -- I don't really care, and I'm sure Nietzsche wouldn't either. But talking about "condoning" him misses the point entirely. I don't "condone" him in the sense of thinking that he is either wholesome or substantially right. He is wrong about many things, and sometimes dangerously so. I have met people who seem to regard him as a kind of oracle or prophet... and I find that a very worrisome thing indeed. But I have to recognize Nietzsche as a thinker of a very high order, because he simply is. Very few have had such deep insight into the character of modern philosophy, or levied such cutting criticisms.

As for Nato's accusation, it is highly implausible. If his intention was to protect himself from criticism, it wasn't such a good idea to go around offending practically everyone, and if you're implying that he was mainly trying to mask insecurity about the soundness of his ideas, then you just don't understand in the least what kind of person he was. He most certainly was not afraid of being savaged by the superior intellects of others. His teachers recognized his brilliance from a pretty young age, and by the time of Beyond Good and Evil, his confidence in his own intellectual superiority was pretty gold-plated, I'd say.

Clarity certainly has its virtues, but the clearest writing is not *always* the best. In this respect at least, Nietzsche reminds me of nobody so much as Plato, who also employs a more fluid style, feinting and jabbing and always forcing the reader to try to keep up. It's nowhere near so straightforward as what you find in Aristotle or Aquinas, and sometimes I do certainly prefer that kind of plain jane clarity, but there can be an art to more cryptic styles of writing, too. Poets can be pretty cryptic sometimes. Prophets, too, for that matter. Christ certainly wasn't always inclined to explain himself in the most straightforward of terms.

Nathan Smith

It's a question of condoning Nietzsche's mode of argument. I can refute Nietzsche. If you want to say, Nietzsche's not really a philosopher, he's a poet, fine. A poet can be refuted and be none the worse for it. But if Nietzsche is to be ranked as a great *philosopher* his defenders should not change the rules for him. Of course, there is no "Nathan Smith Hall of Philosophers," and that's not the point. I'm saying that to the extent that the first half of *Beyond Good and Evil* is representative of Nietzsche's work I object to others ranking him among the great philosophers, and it strikes me as a form of malpractice for philosophers to grant this honor to one who relies chiefly on sneering rather than argument as a means of persuasion.

I think Nato's point is not that Nietzsche was protecting himself from criticism, which one feels he must rather have liked, but that Nietzsche was protecting himself from *refutation*. The position Nietzsche is maintaining could not hold up if it were stated clearly; only through willful obscurity could Nietzsche elude refutation, while relying on the preference of cowardly readers to be on the side of the scorner rather than the scorned to be the chief means of persuasion. That Nietzsche was recognized as brilliant from a young age proves very little. People decline. And it's precisely because Nietzsche was so invested in his belief in his own intellectual superiority (and contempt for everyone else) that he would fear to venture onto the level playing field of argument, where he might be worsted by "the bungled and the botched."

Nietzsche is nothing like Plato, the very opposite. Plato-- or Plato's Socrates-- was profoundly humble and skeptical, always questioning, always hesitant to claim knowledge, and a good citizen of democratic Athens, submitting to the laws to the end, moral and upright. Nietzsche is the opposite, forever making groundless claims with supreme arrogance, burning with contempt for his fellow man. A better comparison would be to Thrasymachus.

Joyless Moralist

I think you need to read the Platonic dialogues again, friend, if you think Socrates was "always humble." He does plenty of sneering and toying with opponents. But in addition, it's not necessarily right to assume that Socrates is Plato's mouthpiece simpliciter. That's just one of the questions that Plato leaves us to ponder.

But it does seem pretty funny to me that you want to insist that Nietzsche isn't really a philosopher when pretty much the whole philosophical world agrees that he is. Perhaps you should lay out more clearly and exactly what the guidelines are for being a philosopher.

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