Socrates is considered to be the father of Western philosophy. However, according to Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols, he was a poor and ugly loser.

“By birth, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebeian.”

A plebian was a commoner, one of the masses. For modern audiences, this is not a crime. However, in previous eras, it denoted a person of inferior worth—the lower class of humanity.

Nietzsche then piles on, stating that Socrates was ugly:

“We are told, and can see in sculptures of him, how ugly he was…Ugliness is often enough the       expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted in some way. Or it appears as declining development. The anthropological criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly.”

I have never looked at Socrates from that standpoint. But now that Nietzsche brings it up, I guess that Socrates did not look like Adonis; he could have lost a few pounds, for sure.

For Nietzsche however, the proof that Socrates was a loser is this—his obsession with argumentation.

“Before Socrates, argumentative conversation was repudiated in good society: it was considered bad manners, compromising….Honest things, like honest men, do not have to explain themselves so openly.”

One chooses logical argument only when one has no other means…It is a kind of self-defense for those who no longer have other weapons.

In short, Socrates lacked self-esteem due to his poverty and ugliness; his solution was to go around arguing with people so that he could distort this painful reality. His “Socratic questioning” then was not a search for truth; instead, it was just jealousy—envy masking itself as intelligence. It was bitterness against the “cool kids.” In ghetto terminology, Socrates was a player hater.

Now I don’t know if all that’s true, but Nietzsche raises a good question:

Were the great minds of antiquity driven by dubious motives?

We have a tendency to romanticize the great people of the past. What we forget is that many of them were filled by basic human urges: the desire for sex, acceptance, revenge, etc. Humans are all playing on a similar field. Maybe our heroes may not be as noble as we think, and they may require further investigation.

What I like about Nietzsche’s analysis is how simple and logical it was. When I was in college, I struggled to make sense of Nietzsche. His work is now opening up to me, though. I look forward to reading more of him…

8 thoughts on “Was Socrates a Poor and Ugly Loser?

  1. Oh dear, an attack on one of my philosophy/psychology heroes with an approach to learning and coaching others I followed and used for 30 years as I coached CEOs of some very large organisations in leadership! If you want to see a brilliant example of Socratian learning in action google The Paper Chase with John Houseman as Prof Kingsfield At law school, based on the book by J J Osborn in 1970. Few episodes on YouTube I think

    1. Dr B., what is your take on Nietzsche? I was commenting on his criticism of Socrates. mostly.

      The book/movie sounds good. I always like a good education film (especially one that has a more cerebral element).

      1. You have to remember I’m a psychologist and only studied bits of philosophy if it related to psychological theories! So there was no major consideration of any school of philosophy or specific protagonist. I suppose I don’t really have a view of any philosopher because most of my writing is fairly recent and based on coming across something that relates to our current lifestyle (Existential tasting of a wine a la Sartre), or stage of life (Eriksons 8th stage in old age), approach to life (Epicurus and his proximity to Buddhism) and of course dear old Socrates! I have only a vague awareness of Nietzsche and his anti religious, autonomy related stuff which I can actually relate to.

      2. I can relate. I am only recently delving into philosophy, since my area of study was literature. So I am analyzing the theories from my perspective, but a more die-hard enthusiast of philosophy might take umbrage with my analysis of, say Shopenhauer or Kant.

      3. There was a movie I believe but we watched the tv series, brilliant stuff I’m sure you’d love it. Very 60s Harvard .. …

      4. I remember hearing about the film. It looks like something I will actually watch (my television viewing being very cautious these days).

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