Nietzsche recalls the story that Socrates says that 'he has been a long time sick', meaning that life itself is a sickness; Nietszche accuses him of being a sick man, a man against the instincts of life, and hence a 'monstro animo' (a monstrous soul); Nietzsche is for war.

And because Socrates is the beloved of Plato, his reed-flute which his words and thoughts are refracted through he is against Plato too.

But far from being an ascetic Socrates married late, and then a much younger woman (Xanthippe); he says of her in Xenaphons Symposium:

And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.

He had three sons, and served in the army in three campaigns and with valour; he was a master-mason and ran a sophist school; and as Epistates (president of the assembly) in the Battle of Arginusae he resisted the judicial murder of the Generals for the failure to rescue sailors during battle.

This is hardly a man it seems who is against the instincts of life; so why Nietszches polemical calumny?

  • 1
    Nietzsche's relationship with Socrates is complicated. There are relevant pages (e.g. 84 in Smith's edition) of The Birth of Tragedy, and in Twilight of the Idols (e.g. §§1-12) that you should take a look at. Jun 24, 2014 at 20:32
  • 2
    I found the following passage from Twilight of the Idols particularly helpful: "the whole morality of improvement...was a misunderstanding. The most glaring daylight, rationality at any cost, a cold, bright, cautious, conscious life without instinct, opposed to instinct, was itself just a sickness, another sickness – and in no way a return to "virtue", to "health", to happiness. To have to fight the instincts – that is the formula for decadence: as long as life is ascending, happiness is equal to instinct" (TI, §11). Difficult question. Good luck. Jun 24, 2014 at 20:32
  • @Rostomyan: I've come across the passage you've quoted - sounds like the Romantic reaction to the excesses of Rationalism; Jun 24, 2014 at 21:42
  • I think a very short answer tot his question is: because Socrates (or rather Plato) is an idealist. I.e. a dogmatist and a foundationalist. Nietzsche believes truths are many and they are socially constructed. For Plato there is one truth - the Truth. Jun 26, 2014 at 19:37

5 Answers 5


I think Nietzsche uses Socrates as a strawman for all kinds of ideas he wishes to counter.

For instance, in The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music he laments the passing of an archaic time when both Dionysian and Appolonian influences determined art (and life) and he criticizes Euripidean drama, in which he sees the influence of Socrates:

Thus, the Euripidean drama is simultaneously a cool and fiery thing, equally capable of freezing or burning. It is impossible for it to attain the Apollonian effect of the epic, while, on the other hand, it has divorced itself as much as possible from the Dionysian elements, and now, in order to work at all, it needs new ways to arouse people, methods which can no longer lie within either of the two individual artistic drives of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. These methods of arousing people are detached paradoxical ideas—substituted for Apollonian objects of contemplation—and fiery emotions—substituted for Dionysian enchantment. The fiery effects are, to be sure, imitated with the highest degree of realism, but the ideas and emotional effects are not in the slightest imbued with the spirit of art.

Hence, if we have recognized this much, that Euripides was not at all successful in basing his drama solely on Apollonian principles, that, by contrast, his un-Dionysian tendencies led him astray into an inartistic naturalism, we will now able to move closer to the essential quality of Socratic aesthetics, whose most important law runs something like this: “Everything must be understandable in order to be beautiful,” a corollary to the Socratic saying, “Only the knowledgeable person is virtuous.”

I think what Nietzsche has against the strawman is that he (as well as Nietzsche) investigates a domain besides the simply known, the rational (starting from "I know that I know nothing"), but instead of respecting it is as raw and un-knowable (i.e. Dionysian) he wishes to analyze and penetrate it. So as far as I can see, Nietzsche blames Socrates (or "Socrates") for raising a veil.

Of course and as always there are multiple threads in Nietzsche's argument, and some of them contradict each other: it is perhaps the author's way of supporting Dionysian principles against the strawman (who does not like logical contradictions and wants to get rid of them).

  • I'd agree that he uses Socrates as a straw-man possibly as a stand-in for Plato; but he also uses Euripides in the same way; his Bacchae figures in Dionysius as a vengeful god; and he destroys Oedipus when he demands the truth; N's Dionysus is enchanting - perhaps he was after is a happy ending? Who knew he could be so Disney...? Sep 26, 2014 at 7:50

Most philosophers - esp those who focus on Nietzsche do not believe that he disliked Socrates - see Kaufmann among many others [including me].

Kaufmann, Walter A. "Nietzsche's Admiration for Socrates." Journal of the History of Ideas 9, no. 4 (1948): 472-491


Actually, in response to the comment about the rooster, Asclepius is the god of healing in Greek mythology.

Nietzsche's complaint in this respect is that Socrates is basically saying death is his cure. Nietzsche's interpretation of that is that Socrates secretly hated life and welcomed death. Socrates' arguments for the virtues of death in other parts of the Phaedo support this as well.

  • If you have references to sources taking a similar view this would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Regardless, welcome to this SE! Dec 5, 2018 at 17:03

Like the comments above suggest, N. is fond of rhetoric but let me try to respond to his "being a long time sick"

“O Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster.” This ridiculous and terrible “last word” means for those who have ears: “O Crito, life is a disease.”

the exact complaint is opaque [does Nietzsche dislike chicken farmers?] but can be introjected into making sense, I feel.

Simply: at the end Socrates chooses to sum his life in terms of [presumably some kind of contractual] obligation - to pay someone back for their kindness. Moreover, he regrets not being able to meet it. Moreover [I think] is bemoaning death stealing the chance to pay back his debts and duties, rather than the loss of his life - or indeed willing the return of his life with all its broken promises etc..

One could go on. Here is an article I came across a few months back


remember, Nietzsche was an amoralist - he did not believe in moral facts and thought that the trans-valuation of the strong would make them stronger, not poison them into some weak death.

  • 2
    Nietzsche, I think, was supremely a moralist; which is why the attacks on Christianity & Socrates - and a series of books in a prophetic mode; compare with Blakes prophetic books; its just that both didn't care for the conventional morality of the time. Aug 26, 2014 at 3:20
  • "there are no moral facts"
    – user6917
    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:21
  • likewise, whether or not he behaved immoral he described himself as an "immoralist". your understanding is pretty hetrodox - as i understand it [which is not be condoning complete nihilism - i wouldn't anymore than condone violence]
    – user6917
    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:28
  • "an entirely reckless amoral artist god" Birth of Tragedy. Reading his herd / overman critique as anything but amoral is slightly disconcerting - at least in today's world
    – user6917
    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:38
  • In Phaedo, it seems clear to me that N. hit the nail on the head. Asclepius was a healing god. Socrates is basically saying that he owes A. gratitude for curing him of life. The interpretation is in line with the contents of P. up to that point. S. tries much of P. to convince his friends that he's happy to leave this life; that he is being cured of an illness; that "the body is the tomb of the soul"; that philosophy leads up to this moment; that philosophy is practice for death. It's this rejection of this life and belittling of the "veil of maya" in the Platonic S. that got on N.'s nerves.
    – Adrian
    Mar 18, 2017 at 15:30

the reason why Nietzsche hides his disgust for Socrates in sarcasm is because of Socrates' views on the forms. Nietzsche did not believe in God, he came to shake up systematic philosophy. Socrates was about ideals, which the realm of the forms was. Nietzsche was a sceptic who said "God is dead" life is imperfect, why search for something out there--an ideal, which cannot be proven? Once the walls of idealism fell, God fell. This led to the deconstruction of all things, from literature, art, and music in the 20th century. Man finds himself in a precarious delima, looking for anything to latch on to. Freedom comes with a price.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .