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Is the hard-headed Callicles from Plato's dialogue Gorgias the type of person who exemplifies Nietzsche's Übermensch (overman)? What about the hedonistic sage of Epicureans? Is he a Übermensch?

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  • Callicles is indeed hedonistic (see SEP, point 5), but the hedonistic sage is not Nietzsche's over-human.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:49
  • Also, it seems that some apparent similarities between Callicles' and Nietzsche's thoughts are spurious and a result of the usual caricature of Nietzsche's work. However, I am myself an amateur so for now cannot provide further insight.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:54

3 Answers 3

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Well, in some ways Callicles comes close. One easily recognizes some of the key themes of Nietzsche's master morality there: the strong dominate the weak by nature, laws protecting the weak are unfair to the strong, morality is not established by gods but by men with their own petty interests, etc. According to Urstad's Nietzsche and Callicles on Happiness, Pleasure, and Power:

"Although there is no mention of him in his published works, there is little doubt that some of Nietzsche’s most famous doctrines were inspired by the views expressed by the character Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias".

However, we should be careful with transplanting concepts across centuries and philosophical systems, especially as heterogenous as Nietzsche’s and Plato's, or we will end up, like some commentators, with Plato's Republic as a Marxist manifesto. There is more rational "Realpolitik" in Callicles than Zarathustra's Dionysian passion and exaltation.

As for hedonism, that is cold, very. In Nietzsche's picture hedonism is a sign of decadence. "An overman as described by Zarathustra, the main character in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is the one who is willing to risk all for the sake of enhancement of humanity. In contrast to the "last man" whose sole desire is his own comfort and who is incapable of creating anything beyond oneself in any form", see Nietzsche's Idea of an Overman and Life from His Point of View. If a hedonist is Nietzsche’s anything it would be the last man, not the Übermensch. Urstad concurs:

"Nietzsche clearly rails against the pursuit of pleasure where pleasure is understood as a particular sensation marked by the absence of any pain or discomfort. He, for instance, describes Epicurus, who conceived of pleasure (ataraxia) as the absence of all physical and mental discomfort, as “representing a state in which one is neither sick nor well, neither alive nor dead”... For Nietzsche, pleasure cannot be divorced from pain, rather, they are “twins”, in so far as one cannot have one without the other. He states that pleasure and pain are “so knotted together that whoever wants as much as possible of the one, must also have as much as possible of the other...”"

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yes, we may say that because Calliclus say "Nature, he says, separates people into two kinds: the naturally superior and dominant, and the naturally inferior, who can gain dominance only by restraining the naturally superior people by means of laws and conventions. Nature smiles upon the man who is able to defend himself against all comers; this man is fit by nature to dominate inferior persons (483c–e), taking what of theirs he desires without payment and with impunity, as Heracles drove off Geryon’s cattle (484a–c). This is why conventional ideas about justice are wickedly mistaken: the run of common people subvert the natural order and establish laws and norms which would keep superior men from asserting their natural right to dominate (483b–e). This natural order, Callicles says, is true justice, not the sham justice of common lawmakers and moralists.

and Hence the ideal person must not restrict or curb these desires, for to do so would be to succumb to the inauthentic, unnatural values embraced by common people; rather, he must pursue self-indulgence with impunity, as a dictator (491d–492c).

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  • On page 75 (491) Soc.: I mean that every man is his own governor. ... Cal.: What do you mean by governing one's own self? — Evidently Callicles isn't fit to govern anything, but I don't think Nietzsche meant the Superman to be so wanton, (although may have meant ruthless). So Callicles is similar but different; unqualified. Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 19:20
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Judging from this Wikipedia quote:

Callicles argues the position of an oligarchic amoralist, stating that it is natural and just for the strong to dominate the weak ...

and from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Callicles has said that nature reveals that it is just for the ‘superior’, ‘better’ or ‘stronger’ to have more: ...

Callicles sounds rather callous. This is nothing like Nietzsche's overman, described here (Off the Beaten Track, page 189) by Heidegger.

It is easy but irresponsible to be outraged by the idea and the figure of the overman, which was designed to be misunderstood; it is easy but irresponsible to pretend that one's outrage is a refutation. It is difficult but for future thinking unavoidable to attain the high responsibility out of which Nietzsche reflected on the essence of that humanity destined (in the destiny of being as the will to power) to undertake mastery over the earth. The essence of the overman is not a warrant for a fit of capricious frenzy. It is the law, grounded in being itself, of a long chain of the highest self- overcomings, which alone will make man ripe for beings which as beings are part of being.

(My emphasis.) Taking the point of view that human beings are responsible for their own determinations of reality is no invitation to immoralistic vandalism.

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  • +1 I emailed FNS because I had a related question, and they told me to be careful because scholars that couple Callicles with Nietzsche are usually his detractors, since they don't have a proper understanding of Nietzsche' complex metaphysical Will to Power details.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:28
  • I should have said ontological instead of metaphysical, I am still a neophyte and get easily confused by philosophical categories.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:41
  • @irecorsan A partial reading of Heidegger in Ruins has made me rethink my opinion. Heidegger may say "... not a warrant for a fit of capricious frenzy" but what he means by "It is the law" may well align with Callicles. Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:57
  • I personally cannot say because I am just starting to get familiarised with Nietzsche myself, and in any case FNS could also be biased. There seems to be room for further debate, that is for sure.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 12:03

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