Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Nietzsche and the Art of Insightful, Unhinged Polemic

Nietzsche is the most entertaining of philosophers, and certainly very insightful, but it frightens me to think that philosophical neophytes might start with him and be taken in by some of his unhinged polemics. Insight blighted -- and made entertaining -- by unhinged polemic such as this from Hollingdale's translation of Twilight of the Idols:

1. In every age the wisest have passed the identical judgement on life: it is worthless... Everywhere and always their mouths have uttered the same sound -- a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness with life, full of opposition to life. Even Socrates said as he died: "To Live -- that means to be a long time sick: I owe a cock to the saviour Asclepius". Even Socrates had had enough of it. -- What does that prove? What does it point to? -- Formerly one would have said (-- oh, and did say, and loudly enough, and our pessimists most of all!): "Here at any rate there must be something true! The consensus sapientium is proof of truth." -- Shall we still speak thus today? are we allowed to do so? "Here at any rate there must be something sick" -- this is our retort: one ought to take a closer look at them, these wisest of every age! Were they all of them perhaps no longer steady on their legs? belated? tottery? decadents? Does wisdom perhaps appear on earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?...

And then:

3. Socrates belonged, in his origins, to the lowest orders: Socrates was rabble. One knows, one sees for oneself, how ugly he was. But ugliness, an objection in itself, is among Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is frequently enough the sign of a thwarted development, a development retarded by interbreeding. Otherwise it appears as a development in decline. Anthropologists among criminologists tell us the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? -- At least that famous physiognomist's opinion which Socreates' friends found so objectionable would not contradict this idea. A foreigner passing through Athens who knew how to read faces told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum -- that he contained within him every kind of foul vice and lust. And Socrates answered merely: "You know me, sir!" --

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