How to Win Any Debate: Reflections on “Twilight of the Idols” by F.W. Nietzsche
January 9, 2013 § 3 Comments
In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche boasts of his philosophizing with a hammer, purportedly demolishing the philosophical notions that came prior to him and proclaiming a new philosophy. Whereas the old philosophers were concerned with such non-entities as Truth and Virtue and the Good and, gasp!, God, Nietzsche was unconcerned with any of these things. Why? Because these things were, in his opinion, fabrications, falsehoods rooted in the minds of men who were ill-suited for life. Their philosophical notions arose from a physiological sickness that caused them to detest the real world and seek for the unchanging realm of Plato’s Ideas, where they would no longer have to deal with the unrelenting energetic force of life, the unstoppable production of new and different forms and appearances. Life, in other words, was too much for them to handle – so they identified it as deceptive, bad, etc. The following quotes make this quite clear:
You ask me which of the philosophers’ traits are most characteristic? For example, their lack of historical sense, their hatred of the very idea of becoming, their Egypticism. They think that they show their respect for a subject when they dehistoricize it sub specie aeternitas — when they turn it into a mummy. Everything that philosophers handled over the past thousands of years turned into concept mummies; nothing real escaped their grasp alive. Whenever these venerable concept idolators revere something, they kill it and stuff it; they suck the life out of everything they worship. Death, change,old age, as well as procreation and growth, are to their minds objections — even refutations. Whatever has being does not become; whatever becomes does not have being. Now they all believe, desperately even, in what has being. But since they never grasp it, they seek for reasons why it is kept from them. “There must be mere appearance, there must be some deception which prevents us from perceiving that which has being: where is the deceiver?”
“We have found him,” they cry jubilantly; “it is the senses! These senses, so immoral in other ways too, deceive us concerning the true world. Moral: let us free ourselves from the deception of the senses, from becoming, from history, from lies; history is nothing but faith in the senses, faith in lies. Moral: let us say No to all who have faith in the senses, to all the rest of mankind; they are all ‘mob.’ Let us be philosophers! Let us be mummies! Let us represent monotono-theism by adopting the manner of a gravedigger! And above all, away with the body, this wretched idée fixe of the senses, disfigured by all the fallacies of logic, refuted, even impossible, although it is impudent enough to behave as if it were real!”1
Nietzsche’s thoughts concerning Socrates are much along the same lines: Socrates was powerless against the powerful, he was ugly, he was jealous, and he was, consequently, ruthlessly logical, revenging himself against his superiors by means of his use of dialectical argumentation. Nietzsche:
Socrates’ decadence is suggested…by the overdevelopment of his logical ability and his characteristic thwarted sarcasm.
One chooses logical argument only when one has no other means. One knows that one arouses mistrust with it, that it is not very persuasive. Nothing is easier to nullify than a logical argument: the tedium of long speeches proves this. It is a kind of self-defense for those who no longer have other weapons. Unless one has to insist on what is already one’s right, there is no use for it.2
Hence, the use of reason, of logic, of giving an apologetic for one’s position is only a symptom of a deeper lying physiological illness, in Nietzsche’s opinion. And thus, in one fell swoop Nietzsche effectively places himself out of the reach of his critics. You see, if you disagree with Nietzsche and you set out to write about it, you are openly displaying the symptoms of a weak and dying mind. If you set out to refute Nietzsche logically, then you are merely a plebian who can only revolt against his superior by means of logical argumentation.
Do you doubt that Nietzsche’s materialism is true?
Then you are sick in the head.
Do you think that Nietzsche should be rejected because his philosophy is irrational?
Then you are dying and a waste of life.
Do you want to refute Nietzsche?
Then you are ugly and powerless.
Pretty effective, if you ask me. In essence, Nietzsche was leveling a circumstantial ad hominem against all philosophers and Christians who sought to utilize logic in a precise manner, and who sought to establish a clear distinction between truth and error.
Nietzsche’s appeal to today’s academics is not surprising, therefore, when we consider the fact that all men know the God of Scripture has created them, given them the task of bearing His holy and perfect and image, that He holds them accountable for their success or failure in this task, and that they are complete failures. Like Nietzsche, they know that they will stand before Christ and be cast into hell – so they froth and foam at the mouth cursing Logic, Truth, Good, and God Himself. They innately know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, but God has blinded them, darkened their understanding, and has given them over to a delusion so that they may not believe the truth and be saved.
By claiming that all counterarguments to his theories were merely resentful and impotent attacks on him by the weak, symptoms of lesser minds that were decaying and useless, Nietzsche taught his followers how to win every argument: By not arguing at all.