Knowledge and Wisdom in the Tragic Age



In the Later Preface to Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks Nietzsche emphasises that his work differs from other accounts of the Presocratic philosophers by virtue of its selectivity; in other words, by its incompleteness. The book is an almost cavalier simplification, bringing out what Nietzsche sees as the noteworthy quality of each of a number of thinkers before Socrates. This is a more readily justifiable procedure than we are inclined to think, for it is evident from our far more thorough accounts of these thinkers from Thales to Anaxagoras that the salient point is often the one elegantly discussed by Nietzsche. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century tendency towards comprehensiveness reveals nothing so much as the difference between our valuations and those of early Greek philosophers. We try to know by methods which they would have judged to be incomprehensively foolish, unwise, a sacrifice of self, insofar as self is focused through choice and will. Are we then right and they wrong? From our point of view their work is a mish-mash of guesswork, logic, intuition and individualistic preference. Yet such work was the self-fulfilment of each philosopher and his supreme task on earth. In an exceedingly short space of time some pioneers of thought passed from treating (mythical) knowledge as a master to treating it as a servant — as tolerable, serviceable or disposable.


Justifiable Procedure Trade Secret Personal Wisdom Universal Unity Existent Thing 
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© Keith M. May 1993

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