Zarathustra and the History of Western Philosophy


Zarathustra is famously invoked by Nietzsche to sweep away a univocal theology - Western Christian monotheism; in the history of religions Zarathustra is famous as the founder of Zorastrianism; this a theology of the Two rather than a One; postulating two independent powers: asa (truth) and druj (lies).

One notes a similar doctrine of duality advocated by the pre-socratic Empedocles of Philia (love) and niekos (strife); and one can trace the voyage of this duality to contemporary times:

Nothing & Being - by Sartre

Being & Time - by Heidegger

Gravity & Grace - by Simone Weil

and possibly

Being & Event - by Badiou

though probably not (the two concepts are not 'oppositional' in some sense, as they are in the others mentioned; ie Time erases Being; though Heidegger does place Time in essential relation to Being too).

Should Zarathustra be considered an emblematic figure in the history of Western philosophy, despite his indubitably Eastern origin? Raphael, for example thought so - he placed Zarathustra in his fresco The School of Athens in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican; which rather suggests that there was a current of thought in the Renaissance that positioned him as such.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2014-10-27T06:35:44.480

Reputation: 1

Can you clarify how you are defining East and West in this question? – virmaior – 2014-10-28T00:18:30.113

Well I don't think there are precise boundaries but I'd take Hellenic/Roman civilisation as Western and Persia, Egypt, India as Eastern. – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-10-28T00:29:01.950

Obviously, he is part of history of philosophy, but emblematic? It depends on the criteria of considering someone 'an emblematic figure'. – jeroenk – 2014-10-28T08:34:45.813

1RE Nietzsche. Nietzsche invoked the name Zarathustra because he considered him 'the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery of things' (Ecce Homo 3). I.e. the moral and hierarchical duality between good and evil (Böse), contrary to the the Greek 'meritocratic' duality of good and bad/common (Schlecht). Nietzsche thought it fitting to use Zarathustra as undoing this moral duality again. I don't think more influence, e.g. on Christianity, of Zarathustra is implied. – jeroenk – 2014-10-28T08:37:39.780

Why the equivalence between bad and common? – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-10-28T14:26:21.600



I think to classify Zarathustra's influence on the West as through the Greek philosophers is limiting. I think the real influence was his influence on Judaism and consequently the entire Abrahamic tradition. Persia had a much greater influence on early Palestine than on the Greeks.

Zoroastrianism had the concept of the good and evil god and the fight between the two. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) in his writings refers to Zarathustra's influence on these very points and points out it also had a small influence on early Hinduism, but the concept of the good and bad gods was also rejected by Hinduism very early on.

An interesting side note is some word etymologies; the English word devil and the Sanskrit devi (literal translation 'shining one', loose translation 'god') and both are derived from the same same source as did the English word paradise (heaven) and the Sanskrit paradis. I don't remember if they were both originally from the Sanskrit or from the Persian.

Swami Vishwananda

Posted 2014-10-27T06:35:44.480

Reputation: 3 667

You mean "etymologies", not "entomologies" (that's about insects :) – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2014-10-29T11:07:23.397

And I think "devil" comes from the Greek "διάβολος". (when you say Sanskrit devil, which word do you mean?) – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2014-10-29T11:10:31.710

Read my post again, I explained the Sanskrit 'devi' in it. And it's derivation from the Persian or Sanskrit is much older than the Greek. Thanks for the correction on etymologies.:) – Swami Vishwananda – 2014-10-29T13:17:55.587

Wait, are you talking about the word "devil" or a Sanskrit word (that is translated as devil in English)? If it's the second, add the word you are referring to and not the translation. Otherwise it's totally confusing. – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2014-10-29T13:21:41.900

Oh, you mean the Sanskrit "devi" (no "l" there.) I'd be delighted to see the source of this etymology of "devil". – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2014-10-29T13:25:59.543

corrected the spelling and clarified the sentence. Hope it makes better sense now. – Swami Vishwananda – 2014-10-29T13:28:08.850

My source is secondary, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). – Swami Vishwananda – 2014-10-29T13:30:35.940