f Friedrich NietzscheSocrates has undoubtedly had a major impact upon western philosophy and society in general. Plato, whose work is essentially an elaboration and expansion upon that of Socrates, has had a similar effect. Naturally, these two philosophers have been subjects of immense academic interest for over two thousand years. With this great interest comes both praise and criticism. One of the most critical writers to attack these legendary philosophers was Friedrich Nietzsche. Here I will examine Nietzsches arguments, draw evidence to support such arguments, and discuss his notion of Christianity as an extension of such philosophy.
From Nietzsches viewpoint, Socrates and Plato were to Greek society symptoms of societal decay, or as Nietzsche usually puts it decadence (Nietzsche 39). In his attack on Western Philosophy throughout Twilight of the Idols, he purports the main weakness of Socrates to be evident in the delivery of his philosophy, or more specifically dialectics. Socrates was never a rich man and belonged to the lowest of the socioeconomic classes in Athens. Nietzsche claims that, With dialectics the rabble gets on top, the rabble in this case being Socrates (Nietzsche 41). Socrates repeatedly takes on the government in various matters such as the weakness of democracy the connection of justice and holiness. He uses dialectics with such techniques as elenchus to use complex arguments to loosely back up his statements or to confuse his opponent into submission. Before Socrates, the dialectical manner of argument was widely looked down upon. The good society considered dialectics as bad manners. Parents warned their children against such arguments purporting that such arguments were not to be trusted. Nietzsches rationale for this mistrust was that honest things should be able to stand alone as honest without the implication of a complex argument. In Athens, where authority lay primarily in commands as opposed to reason and discussion, the dialectician is not usually taken seriously (Nietzsche 41). According to Nietzsche, dialectics are such cowardly weapons that they should be used only as a last resort. He believes this cowardice to lie in the way the opponent must prove he was an idiot rather than the dialectician proving his wisdom (Nietzsche 42). Socrates used dialectics as a substitute for true superiority over his stronger opponents, and thus made his way to the forefront of Greek philosophy.
Nietzsche asserts that Socrates ideas, rather than working toward their intended purpose of developing thought and bringing wisdom to a new level, instead worked against the progress of society. This problem stems from Socrates equation of reason with virtue with happiness. By this, Socrates was merely trying to suppress his dark desires by producing a so-called permanent daylight of reason (Nietzsche 44). He, as well as many other philosophers of his time, believed that in attacking that which was commonly thought to be this moral decadence, he could somehow elude such decadence himself. The way in which he combats the decadence is simply another, disguised expression of decadence. He seemed to bask in a sort of rational daylight in a bright, circumspect, life (Nietzsche 44). He believed himself to be living without instinct and in opposition therein. This rationalism at any cost was simply another sickness, and certainly not a path, as it was intended to be, back to health and happiness. Socrates even seems to realize this in retrospect towards the end of his life: Socrates is no physicianDeath alone is the physician hereSocrates has been a long time sick (Nietzsche 44).
Socrates may have finally realized that, as Nietzsche believes, As long as life is ascending, happiness and instinct are one (Nietzsche 44). Socrates endeavors to escape basic human instinct, as it could easily be labeled as the root of societal decay towards a more barbaric society. However, Nietzsche believes that one must accept and embrace this intrinsically influential element of the human psyche to be able to deal realistically with the rest of ones self and ones peers before societal advancement can occur (Nietzsche 49). For someone, such as Socrates, to acknowledge and hope for another higher world (e.g. the afterlife) does nothing but brings about decadence in the tangible, more important world by trying to escape it. Socrates