My scope is mathematical philosophy and, generally, epistemology. Hence, Nietzsche's style is quite alien to me, and I started reading his book "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". I am trying to decipher this:

Even the wisest among you is only a conflict and mix of plant and ghost.

I am not entirely sure that I understand this. I looked up the quote and did not find satisfactory results (mostly amateurs and everyone seems to interpret it in a different light). I am looking for a response from someone who has studied Nietzsche closely and can provide an explanation based on that.

  • 1
    Hello. Just a short comment "Nietzsche accepts what we may call a “Doctrine of Types” (Leiter 1998), according to which, Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person. Call the relevant psycho-physical facts here “type-facts.” Type-facts, for Nietzsche, are either physiological facts about the person, or facts about the person's unconscious drives or affects. The claim, then, is that each person has certain largely immutable physiological and psychic traits that constitute the “type” of person he or she is."
    – user6917
    Aug 23, 2016 at 18:23
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    Here is from Price's thesis:"Zarathustra thinks modern scholars share the ghostlike existence of their intellectual ancestor, Socrates... in that they mimic or ape his application of the dialectic method to synthesize conscious phenomena. The suggestion is that the mode of reasoning considered authoritative is similar to photosynthesis, an automated process of which even plants are capable insofar as they convert sunlight into nutrition just as the light of reason, by way of dialectic, produces knowledge" repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/2166/…..
    – Conifold
    Aug 23, 2016 at 19:37
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    No matter how smart we are, we're still only a human being.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Aug 24, 2016 at 13:34
  • He might have meant that what we are is a body (plant) and mind/spirit (ghost) and the contradiction between them. But this reading may not be plausible for Nietzsche. . .
    – user20253
    May 2, 2020 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


You won't find a definite, unambigious answer. Here's my stab at it.

Context: in the third prologue, Zarathustra is teaching the people about the Übermesch. A human is somewhere between a monkey and the Übermensch. The human is something to be overcome, Z. teaches the goal of Übermensch.

Let's break down the quote:

  • Z. says 'even the wisest'. Wise people are sometimes referred to as philosophers.

  • The most open to interpretation is 'plant and ghost'. It may be reference to Aristotle's teaching of the soul: the vegitative soul, the animal soul and the mental soul. Plant refers to the vegetative soul, ghost to the mental soul. And worm and monkey from earlier in the speech to the animal soul, but plant and animal are drawn together in my interpretation here.

  • Philosophers have fixed their interpretation of the human as a combination (mix) of the vegetative/animal, and the mental. Formerly this is called: the human is a zoon logon echon in Greek, animal rationale in Latin and rational living being in English.

  • And as a conflict between them, remember Plato's famous Chariot allegory: the mind controls the two horses of passions. In philosophy, an opposition between the body/passions (plant) and the mind (ghost) is common. Somewhat further, one can extend this conflict of plant and ghost as reference to the conflict between matter and mind, between body and spirit, between realism and idealism, between empiricism and rationalism.

Nietzsche/Zarathusta, however, does not want humans to be plants or ghosts, to be hedonists or rationalists. Why? Because in that way humans remain fixed as a rational animal. In other words, the human as a rational animal is a current or old value. If a philosopher preaches you to indulge in your desires (i.e. be a plant) or on the contrary to be rational (i.e. be a ghost), he accepts the characterization of humans as rational animals.

Z. preaches the reevaluation of all values, including this one. Humans (or, perhaps better, this fixation of human beings as rational animals) should be overcome. Human as conflict of plant and ghost, of matter and spirit, should not be merely assumed and taken as a starting point for a debate where one chooses one side or the other. Rather this value itself should be questioned, and perhaps thereby be overcome. To a new self-understanding of the human being.


Even the wisest=everybody

plant=being tied to physical world, man is partly on the remorse of his surroundings

ghost=individual's quest and need for meaning; expressing and cultivating inborn inclinations

the conflict is that every man needs to fit into/ compromising between the necessities of the world (obtaining nourishment, sleeping, having a shelter, being tied to requirements of other people) and his need to find cultivate himself.

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