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Volume 18, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Aesthetics In The Latin American Tradition

Martine Béland
Pages 143-163

Nietzsche’s Greek Ethics: His Early Ethical Symptomatology Reconstructed

This paper seeks to circumscribe the concepts, sources, and limits of Nietzsche’s early ethical thought through a reconstruction of his ethical "symptomatology." In the 1870s, Nietzsche stressed that the Greeks understood the true nature of the political phenomenon, and that this could correct fundamental errors that were responsible for the illness of German culture. His definition of the Greek ethos radically challenges modern democratic politics through a reassertion of aristocratic, heroic, and agonistic values. But because Nietzsche did not systematically describe his early ethics, a reconstruction is necessary. His metaphor of the philosopher as a “physician of culture” is a guide for this reconstruction. Using concepts of wellness and illness, Nietzsche identified different symptoms and possible remedies, and hoped to cure German culture through a therapeutic transvaluation of modernity. To reconstruct this symptomatology I turn to The Greek State, Homer’s Contest, and The Birth of Tragedy. First, I define the notions of “agon” and “eris” that are central to his reading of Greek ethics. I then describe four ethical symptoms and their remedies. I conclude with interpretative hypotheses that address issues that were left unanswered by Nietzsche. This symptomatology shows that his reading of Greek ethics functions as a radical—albeit fragmentary—normative critique of his time, and of our democratic age.

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