Nietzsche’s Muse

The blond beast

We are reading Plato’s Gorgias in my ethics class, and I am reminded again how much of Nietzsche’s arguments about morality (in BGE and OGM) are lifted directly from Callicles, Socrates’ main antagonist in these dialogues.  Callicles says that conventional morality is a scheme invented by the weak to trick the strong into not using their power.  By this ruse, he says, “men tame lions,” an image that echoes Nietzsche’s “blond beast.”  Callicles goes on to hack at the foundation of Plato’s entire worldview–which is that people should use their reason to tame their desires–arguing instead that we should not repress our appetites but let them grow strong, and then we should use our natural powers to satisfy our appetites by any means necessary.  We should, in other words, live fully by discharging our strength into the world.  When Plato objects that this would amount to little more than perpetually scratching an itch, Callicles responds that Plato’s ideal life, in which we moderate and temper our desires through reason, “is the life of a stone.”

It is almost as though Nietzsche, a keen student of the Greeks, built his whole moral and political philosophy by scouring Plato’s dialogues, finding the characters whose arguments Plato was clearly most threatened by, and rearticulating them with a German accent.  Maybe!


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