What are the major differences between Nietzsche and Plato?



What are the philosophical and hermeneutic implications of the various ways of writing a philosophical text, in particular Plato's didactical and dialogical style versus Nietzsche's emphatic and "intimate" style?

Taking for granted the different emphases of the oeuvres, what are the major differences in style between the works, and what are the philosophical implication of these differences? In particular how does each participate or not in social analysis and/or the construction of a theoretical framework?

Could one of these styles possibly be considered more critically "rigorous" or "robust" than the other? What are some major criticisms (and terms of criticism) of both?


Posted 2011-07-05T19:08:15.610

Reputation: 221

Okay I changed the question. Is it possible for you to unclose it? Thanks! – InquilineKea – 2011-07-06T00:03:16.057

1Okay I see - thanks for the welcome! I just edited it again to make it more focused. – InquilineKea – 2011-07-06T00:40:45.153

1Hrm... "Advantages/disadvantages" is sort of a weird criteria to use. Advantages and disadvantages in terms of what? What types of answers are you looking for here? – Cody Gray – 2011-07-06T09:17:45.160

Hm, in terms of learning insightful things about the world, especially human psychology and the social sciences – InquilineKea – 2011-07-06T16:56:16.053

1I have performed a major reformulation of the question in the hopes of clarifying and getting it some attention -- I wanted to let you know so that you could rollback if you must, but I would encourage you to try to keep it this specific at least, and improve and clarify it further if you can. – Joseph Weissman – 2011-07-06T20:31:49.130



To reformulate the question bit in more familiar terms:

"Which type of argument is more robust to error: deductive or inductive?"

(I'm not overly familiar with Nietzsche's work so I'm going to cheat and assume that since he stands against holding ideas a priori, he tends to reason from an inductive stance. I assume that's what you mean by "social analysis". Plato's Republic also does what I'd call "social analysis", but as you imply he tends to rely on first principles.)

To answer: it depends. I disagree, for instance that the inductionist's "entire analysis doesn't collapse if he's wrong". Afterall, empirical evidence suggested that atoms were the smallest possible unit of matter (hence the name) until further evidence showed that smaller entities existed. As time goes on, the Atomist Theory becomes increasingly incorrect as more data is gathered.

Meanwhile, many of the practical conclusions of Plato have been shown to be wrong in the sense of accuracy, but his works are still very relevant today despite being built on assumptions that are no longer commonly held. Many of his ideas can be recast into contemporary terms without disrupting his reasoning process drastically. His theories of social stratification don't have much traction today, but his idea that society ought to be governed by rational principles holds up very well.

Perhaps a better criteria for robustness is that general claims tend to be more robust in the face of error than specific claims, but specific claims tend to be more useful when correct. "Diamonds are hard" is a general claim likely to survive any new information, but "diamonds are the hardest material" is a more specific (and useful) claim that may not survive new information. Note that both these claims are inductive based on observation and not a priori assumptions.

Not at all an answer to your question, but a personal opinion: Nietzsche (like Tolstoy and Pascal) seems far more a product of his time than Plato. He seems like a niche philosopher who appeals to specific personalities and cultures more than to others. His way of looking at the world doesn't appeal to me and therefore I have a difficult time following his lines of reasoning. Pascal is the opposite for me: I get where he's coming from although I know many other people don't. Meanwhile, both Plato and Aristotle, who come from opposite sides of the deductive/inductive spectrum, seem to hold up well from many people. I have no direct evidence for this assertion, however.

Jon Ericson

Posted 2011-07-05T19:08:15.610

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Although thoughtful, your answer, Jon, seems to me to bastardize both Plato's and Nietzsche's philosophies (not to mention Tolstoy's and Pascal's). Seeing that you don't explicate the reasons for your analysis of Plato's Republic, I can't say exactly how you came up with it, but I would suspect that it is born out of the sort of post-Kantian analysis of the ancients that prevailed from the 1700s-early 1900s. That is, your taking Plato literally, which, as he says in his 7th Letter and Aristotle says when commenting on his old teacher, should not ever be done. – Jon – 2013-07-30T22:21:32.063

@Jon: I recently re-listened to The Republic and I honestly don't see why we should not take it's social theories as literal suggestions. Of course, we have a variation of the Socratic Problem here. Did Plato put words into Socrates' mouth or is this an accurate reflection of his mentor's thought? Looking at the question and my answer now, I think the question was way too broad and the answer is making a bunch of unfounded guesses. I'm not sure how much value there is in either post.

– Jon Ericson – 2013-08-02T14:33:34.103

@JonEricson. Again, I would look at the evidence through antiquity (from philosophers, of course) that Plato was present his "theory" (or Socrates's) in his dialogues. (Again when he remarks about Dionysios's education in his Seventh Letter shed some light on the fact he does not write treatises, Aristotle's Metaphysics, Emperor Julians writings about the esoteric character of Plato's writings, and the list goes on). With the Republic, you must remember that the city is an analog of the man (and is not about founding the "best" city in speech, but rather to see the best man...). – Jon – 2013-08-02T20:19:30.537

But if you're interested in Socrates's (as opposed to Plato's Socrates), I'd suggest looking at Aristophanes's Clouds and Xenophon's Socratic Dialogues, and you'll find that both Aristophanes's and Xenophon's characterizations of Socrates are quite different from Plato's (of course, the Clouds is a comedy); so, with that said, Plato's Socrates should never be read as the word of Socrates; he is a Plato's character. Of course, Plato's Socrates may, or may not, be a standard bearer for the historic Socrates; I would presume that Plato's creation is both his and also based on the real guy. – Jon – 2013-08-02T20:27:12.220

4I strongly disagree with this characterization of Nietzsche; just because you don't find it appealing or find it difficult doesn't mean it lacks broad appeal or is "niche." Nietzsche's work is some of the most popular and widely read of any philosopher and I find it difficult to swallow the claim that he "belongs" only to some select group of people (that is to say, he is widely read even among laymen.) – Joseph Weissman – 2011-07-06T19:17:11.830

The rest of the answer is great, though :) – Joseph Weissman – 2011-07-06T19:18:21.390

@Joseph: I concur with your disagreement. I wish I knew how to express my vague feeling that Nietzsche is more specific (and thus less robust) than Plato. Tolstoy would be another example: he's still widely read, but not because lots of people agree with his philosophy. I wonder if part of why Nietzsche is widely read is that he's interesting in the extreme positions he took. But I'm just digging my hole of ignorance and unsupported assertions deeper, so I'll stop. – Jon Ericson – 2011-07-06T19:28:37.823

1I appreciate the Nietzsche - niche duality there. Clever. I also think this is a great answer. – davidlowryduda – 2011-07-06T20:36:17.113

Great last para. – boehj – 2011-07-07T01:36:31.270


Not correct to compare the master creator with a follower - even if the follower is a dear admirer. The whole works of Nietzsche comment, compare, reply to Plato (e.g. Zarathustra's opening, the descend from the cave etc. etc.)

In addition, Plato lived his era to the extreme; having been expelled three times by despots and democrates, chased from three city-states, constantly on the run, he was hardly a secluded theoritician/professor, as Nietzsche was.

These my two-pence, no further knowledge-alas.


Posted 2011-07-05T19:08:15.610

Reputation: 259