By stating that he knows what he does not know and that he does not pretend to know what he does not, Socrates established the foremost theoretical premise of scientific skepticism, which even today lays at the foundation of a so-called ‘scientific method’.
Apparently, Socrates was well aware of the fact that, in order for people to proceed with accumulating objective knowledge, they must know what represents the empirical limits for such knowledge’s continuous accumulation. At the same time, according to Socrates, the process of people growing ever more knowledgeable of surrounding reality and their place in it has the value of ‘thing in itself’.
That is – the fact that our perception of surrounding reality can never provide us with fully objective insight on such reality’s actual essence, should not prevent us from indulging in intellectual pursuits as our foremost priority. While in the process of gaining knowledge, we get closer to God: “Inasmuch as the soul is manifestly immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest wisdom.
For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education” (Plato 488). The usefulness of Socratic idea that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’ is being concerned with the fact that it exposes the sheer counter-productiveness of just about any religion that thrive upon people’s blind faith and shows that it is specifically science and not religion, which accounts for the actual pathway towards divinity.
Given the fact that, even today, many people continue to profess a variety of utterly outdated religious beliefs; the enlightening value of ‘Socratic wisdom’ can hardly be underestimated.
Sophists used to promote an idea that rationale-based reasoning and perceptional empiricism could not be considered adequate instruments for assessing reality. For example, they used to point out to the fact that, when assessed through the lenses of rationale, flying arrow will never reach its target, because there can be no limit to dividing arrow’s pathway to the target on ever smaller segments – hence, arrow’s constant suspension in the air.
Sophistic argument, in this respect, can be best addressed by Plato’s suggestion that, even though our rationale-driven cognition cannot possibly provide us with the full understanding of universe’s workings, it nevertheless does bring us closer to understanding the metaphysical significance of these workings’ empirically observed manifestations.
Nevertheless, Sophist reasoning in the domain of morality/ethics appears fully valid. Therefore, I do agree with the suggestion that, given the fact that morality and law are merely abstract conventions, they should not be looked upon as absolutes.
Just as it used to be the case with Sophists, I do believe that the conventional morality and law remain valid only for as long as they correlate with the laws of nature. And, as we are now well aware of, the foremost law of nature is survival of the fittest. Thus, if law and morality prevent a particular individual from trying to realize its full existential potential, there can be no good reasons for him of her not to consider bending them to its own advantage, or to disposing of them altogether.
According to Plato, the four levels of reality account for: a) Opinions/emotional judgments (in regards to physical objects’ qualitative emanations), b) Sensory experiences (in regards to the nature of physical objects’ materialness), c) Mathematical reasoning (in regards to physical objects’ ‘ideal’ essence), d) Philosophical understanding (in regards to how the ‘ideal’ manifestations of physical objects provide us with the insight on the nature of divinity).
Hence, Plato’s understanding of objective reality as such that consist of two realms – the realm of ‘becoming’ (physical reality perceived through senses) and the realm of ‘being’ (metaphysical/true reality perceived through philosophizing). By adopting a proper methodology for assessing physical reality, we establish objective preconditions for catching the glimpse of metaphysical reality, which in turn should provide us with completely new understanding of how physical reality is being reflective of the ‘ideal’ one.
The ‘allegory of sun’, in this respect, explains the subtleties of cognition – we can only gain an awareness of reality particular emanation’s true significance when we assess this emanation through the lenses of idealistic philosophy. In other words, according to Plato, even though there may be no concrete indications of particular physical/metaphysical phenomenon’s purposefulness, we nevertheless must be willing to assume that eventually such purposefulness will be revealed.
According to Nietzsche, the main flaw of metaphysical philosophy is the fact that, while presenting their opinions as thoroughly objective, its advocates never cease acting on behalf of their own animalistic anxieties: “The actual ‘interests’ of the scholar are… in the family, perhaps, or in money-making, or in politics; it is, in fact, almost indifferent at what point of research his little machine is placed” (Nietzsche 13).
This is the reason why it is in the very nature of philosophical concepts to be highly opinionated – no matter how hard philosophers try; their doctrines can never be thought of as such that represent an undeniable truth-value. It is namely people’s irrational will to power, which motivates them to indulge in intellectual pursuits.
The same can be said about philosophers’ quest for an ‘absolute truth’, which is being fueled by their irrational longing for self-realization. Such state of affairs, however, is perfectly natural, because people are essentially primates who never cease being driven by a number of purely animalistic instincts. Therefore, those philosophical doctrines that deny one’s instinctual will to power as a valid source of philosophical inspiration, are innately fallacious.
According to Nietzsche, the defining characteristics of ‘master morality’ are -unemotionalness, ‘pathos of distance’, aesthetic refinement and cynicism. The defining characteristics of ‘slave morality’, on the other hand, are – sentimentalism, strong adherence to the provisions of conventional ethics, religiousness and intellectual shallowness.
People, who enjoy a natural right to rule over others, must be intellectually honest enough to be able to recognize their own beastly nature and to never feel ashamed for acting in the way mother-nature intended them to. This is exactly what makes ‘masters’ easily recognizable even to one’s naked eye – their very posture radiates strength: “Noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first of all in their physical, but in their psychical power” (251).
The reason why Nietzsche is being critical of ‘slave morality’ is that it suppresses people’s will to power – hence, turning its affiliates into natural-born slaves. This is also the reason why Nietzsche criticizes metaphysical philosophers – according to him; there can be very little truth in their philosophical concepts, because these philosophers have proven themselves quite incapable of discussing the notion of truth outside of what happened to be the predominant ethical/moral discourse at the time.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.
Plato. Five Dialogues. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002. Print.