Thursday, 20 July 2017

Nietzsche's False Courage

According to Nietzsche, his philosophy was a form of inverted platonism. 
"My philosophy is inverted Platonism: the further a thing is from true being, the purer, the lovelier, the better it is. Living in illusion as a goal!"
Thus, just as Marx claimed to have stood Hegel's system on its head with his concept of dialectical materialism, so Nietzsche identified wholly with the physical, material realm where Plato had emphasised the metaphysical, ideal realm above all else.

This led to various consequences. 
  • Morality based on the ideal of justice and the good in Plato gives way in Nietzsche to immorality and the glorification of animalistic will-to-power.
  • Plato's ascetic suspicion of the bodily vehicle is replaced in Nietzsche's philosophy by the body and its physiology taking centre place.
  • Plato's focus on eternal truths as opposed to the ephemeral nature of the physical realm contrasts with Nietzsche's genealogical method and the importance he places on the so-called 'historical spirit'. 
  • Where, for Plato, there is only one absolute truth, Nietzsche emphasises the concept of perspectivism, which is to say the relativity of point of view. 
  • Where Plato viewed art with suspicion to the extent of even banning poets from his ideal city because of the artificial deceit of their craft (as opposed to philosophy), Nietzsche exclaimed 'art nothing but art' since he saw it as the great stimulant that compelled us to life and prevented us from perishing from the truth.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt was of course right to point out that in merely inverting Plato, Nietzsche left Plato's conceptual apparatus pretty much intact and it took Martin Heidegger's controversial (and arguably unsuccessful) deconstruction of the 'metaphysical tradition' to really begin to transcend Platonic metaphysics.

My point in this post is really to highlight the problem with over-identifying with the physical as Nietzsche does. For if one lives to embrace illusion and forgo any higher power then, human existence being the existential challenge that it is, this can lead to a psychology of fear, in the sense that the physical is transient, often violent and harmful, and that refusing to see the underlying metaphysical unity behind the variation of sense perception and the diversity of phenomena rids one ipso facto of the grounding and redeeming power of that which does not lie before one.  

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once mused that one of the things that might lead one to forgive a great deal of humanity's folly and cruelty is that it has invented the concept of what does not exist. 

Nietzsche, in other words, was a victim of his own materialism and the courage and honesty he felt as a thinker was proportional to the degree of fear he felt in his person having forgone the comfort blanket and consoling solace provided by the invisible realm and its supremacy over the physical realm, whether as a higher power ('God') or as Natural, Moral Law.   

This is why Nietzsche's philosophical courage was in my opinion a false courage which was merely experiencing the failure of his rejection of metaphysics as a sustainable and durable spiritual stance without the self-insight and honesty of admitting as much. 

Like Heidegger after him, Nietzsche dug himself into a hole and trapped himself just as Arendt thought was the case with her one-time mentor (Heidegger) when she penned the little prose tale 'Heidegger the Fox' (available to read in The Portable Hannah Arendt).  


  1. I love this post. It takes me back and puts beautifully and succinctly things I once felt strongly but didn't articulate (though should have done, as I feel there's more to be expressed).
    I'd like to read it in the context of earlier posts about Nietzsche.
    Could you explain more why you consider his courage in rejecting the redeeming power of ideals to be false?
    Also, I can't remember enough of his works, but can the individual's will to power as a creative force be seen as a way to reconnect with the absolute - looking at it psychologically as an escape from externally imposed values? (That's probably vague and naive as I don't remember enough of Nietzsche's writings, so it's just a half-remembered sense I have of how I felt about it.)

  2. Thank you for the kind words. 'False' is of course a value judgement but then Nietzsche considered ideals to be false and the strength they could afford the individual as also meretricious. I think that the more I have understood the occult, Mystery Tradition roots of metaphysical evaluations, something Nietzsche wasn't as aware of as I am, the more I have seen the powerful rationales and, indeed, courage in metaphysics and the ideals it gives rise to. See for instance my post Philosophy and the Occult. In short, Nietzsche's rejection of metaphysics was born out of an ignorance of the wealth of esoteric knowledge that has covertly and implicitly sustained the history of Western (and indeed Eastern) philosophy for millennia. In these regards, I am most indebted to Mark Passio as well as, in a less conspiratorial fashion, Manly P. Hall.