DIALETIC OF OPPOSITES: SPIRITUALISM VS MATERIALISM
Based on the opinions of Plato and Nietzsche
* Renan Lacerda
In Nietzsche's "Twilight of the Idols," he presents a number of arguments against the ancient Philosophers' comments regarding the
senses. He explains that the Philosophers use the senses as the source of blame of why they suffer from "illusions" and "deceptions."
These Philosophers claim that morality itself is the ability to escape from the senses. Since history itself was based on the senses, it is
thus nothing but "falsehood." As a counter to the arguments against the senses, Nietzsche explains that it is not the senses themselves
that are false, but "what we make of their evidence." He also presents four propositions, which deal with this topic and ultimately
summarize his Philosophies on the pluralities of existence. The first proposition highlights the core of his ideas: there is absolutely no
basis for the belief in an alternate reality (or form of existence). Secondly, he claims that the ‘real’ world is nothing but the
conceptional opposite of the ‘apparent’ world: it is a "moral-optical illusion." The third proposition deals with the belief that the
ancient Philosophers spoke of another world in order to take revenge on this one. In other words, humans claim that a better life
must exist because their present lives are so miserable. Last but not least, Nietzsche claims that dividing ‘real’ and ‘apparent’ is a
"symptom of declining life”. Not surprisingly, he also supports ‘appearance’ by claiming that it is but a more real, physical and
tangible version of the so-called ‘reality.’
In “Twilight of the Idols,” Nietzsche also discusses reason, and the four branches of science that in his opinion are “not-yet-science”:
metaphysics, theology, psychology and epistemology. He spoke of Heraclitus and the Eleatics, who believed that the senses lie
because of “plurality and change.” “The unapparent connection,” said Heraclitus, “is more powerful than the apparent one.” This
allusion to the apparent and real worlds (which I prefer to call the material and the spiritual worlds) can most definitely be attributed
to the falsifying evidence that we receive from our senses, but Nietzsche would undoubtedly disagree. He claimed that the reasoning
process, which we utilized in order to come to such a conclusion, is “the cause of the falsification of the evidence of the senses.”
Ultimately, he believes that the ‘real’ world is but a lie. Furthermore, he believed that any and all sciences that are based on reason
or logic (in other words, any science whose conventions are not based on material and physical evidence) are erroneous.
Unfortunately, Nietzsche’s arguments are idealistically absurd: attacking logic and reason brings forth no desirable consequences.
Our ability to think abstractly is human nature. If we relied on our senses and nothing else, we would become mere robots,
programmed to follow simple commands or carry out mere mechanical actions. Were we not given sentience and intelligence in
order to stretch our mind past its limits? How is it that for thousands of years we have constantly moved forward, morally and
technologically? It cannot be as a result of our science, for in Neolithic times, our scientific knowledge was exponentially limited (if
not non-existent). Attempting to refute reason itself is futile: our minds were not meant to be limited to analyzing matter from only
one, narrow perspective. Was it not reason that aided Nietzsche himself in organizing his ideas? In retrospect: metaphysics,
theology, psychology and epistemology are the sciences of abstract thought. They are sciences based on mind above matter. They
are sciences for thought, not fact. Since our intelligence is limited (and our ideas not perfect), it is obvious that these ‘reasoning’
sciences should have flaws. However, it is indefinitely impractical to denounce these sciences as “abortion” and “not-yet-science.”
Plato's Philosophy regarding real and apparent differs greatly from that of Nietzsche's (especially considering he was one of the first
Philosophers to speak of the differences between reality and appearance). This can be seen in Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," in
which humanity is symbolized as beings trapped in a cave, unable to see any persons or objects placed outside, with the exception
of their shadows, which are projected by the fire. These projections are undoubtedly Plato's version of appearances, and it can be
ascertained that the cave is a symbolic reference of the senses (which keeps the beings inside unable to see the outside) and the
sources of the shadows is reality.
A key issue between these two Philosophies is also the aspect of death. Plato constantly refers to a real world, a world that is unlike
the world of appearances we live in. He also explains that upon first entering this brave new world, we will be temporarily
disoriented, no doubt as a result of discovering that our previous beliefs and experiences were but appearances. However, in order
to reach this world (or in other words, to leave the cave), we must free ourselves from our current state: a state in which we are at
the mercy of our senses. This is undoubtedly an implication that death is the only freedom from the world of appearances. In
"Twilight of the Idols," Nietzsche briefly discusses this idea, saying that Philosophers "kill... they stuff... they become a mortal danger
to everything that they worship." It can be inferred from this statement that Nietzsche is highly critical of this ancient Philosophical
obsession with death.
In order to account for these Philosophical differences and come to conclusions of our own, we must first understand and embrace
the concepts of fact and belief through logic: both are essential elements of humanity. Nietzsche raises some very interesting points,
and at first glance they seem to be the most seductive. He claims that since we have no proof of an alternate "reality," (which is
undoubtedly an allusion of the afterlife, as can be as determined from the aforementioned paragraph) why should we acknowledge
its existence? However, to say that anything that human orthodox science is unable to explain (or account for) is false is not any
different from saying that as a race, we have already reached perfection, and therefore we are fully capable of understanding
anything and everything about the world we live in: it is illogical and downright stupid. It is equally illogical to claim that death is the
annihilation of the soul. Human Arts and Sciences are themselves a testament: it is illogical to state that our ability to create, our
tastes and predilections, and ultimately our individualities have resulted from dust and gases of space. After all, this is like stating that
we were created from probability, from chance, or from mere mathematical coincidence. After all, probability is but a concept:
physically it means nothing! An important scientific axiom that we apply to all theories and discoveries is that "there is no effect
without a cause." Therefore, scientifically speaking, we could not have been created from nothingness, and we definitely cannot end
The existence of an afterlife and the immortality of the soul (preceding death), whose existence Nietzsche would undoubtedly
disbelieve, are discussed in Plato’s dialogue in “The Republic.” One of Plato’s core ideas is the presence of good and evil. It was
believed that anything which evil consumes, it destroys. However, in opposition, Plato claimed that the soul couldn’t be destroyed
by these vices: if this exterior evil indeed caused the destruction of the soul, would it not be true that each and every one of us would
have already been destroyed? “The soul which cannot be destroyed by an evil, whether inherent or external, must exist for ever, and
if existing for ever, must be immortal…”
My own Philosophy regarding this matter is quite similar to that of Plato’s, but with various key differences regarding the concepts
of good and evil (resulting from Nietzsche’s arch-enemy: reason). First and foremost, since “there is no effect without a cause,”
reason dictates that God must exist. Secondly, God, who is the first cause of all things and beings alike, must be perfect and
infallible, and therefore must only be attributed with positive qualities. Therefore, given that everything originated from God, he could
not have created evil, for it would not be in the definition of a perfect and infallible being to create something that is of a negative
nature. Evil, then, must not exist. It is merely a definition that describes the absence of goodness. Furthermore, destruction is also a
human concept that has a much different meaning in a Spiritual perspective. God does not destroy. Death itself, which we often
assume to be the destruction of our bodies and our soul, is anything but. It is merely a change: a step from the ‘apparent’ (material)
into the ‘real’ (spiritual). Plato undoubtedly recognized this, and in turn drew a conclusion that the soul itself is never annihilated,
even upon death.
Nietzsche’s views on the existence of God are predictable: the “stupendous concept [of] ‘God’… The last, thinnest, emptiest is
placed as the first, as cause in itself, as ens realissimum.” I assume Nietzsche’s claims that the concept of the existence of God is the
“emptiest” because as humans, we have such limited knowledge of His existence. Why should this be surprising, considering our
scientific knowledge is so limited and pathetic from a cosmical perspective? Why is that so? Isn’t it obvious? Our senses! Yet our
dear friend Nietzsche would be quick to disagree, since he believed that our senses are perfect, and that it is ‘reason’ which
corrupts it. Imagine a world in which the ‘highest concept,’ was so simple that any child would be able to comprehend its essence:
we would be our own dying Gods, and the universe would be a valueless space of matter. Life itself would be valueless! The causa
sui would be the empty spaces of the universe: what a sad, shallow universe this would be!
Nietzsche’s Philosophy regarding ‘reason’ is further explained in page 38 of the “Twilight of the Idols.” He discusses the tendency
of various Philosophers of claiming that “We must once have dwelt in a higher world!” Nietzsche claims that the case is exactly the
opposite: we were once in a lower world and gradually made our way up. I believe the opposite holds truth. We were in fact at one
point in a higher world, and we will return again and again. Jesus and his disciples had preached (and many thereafter had accepted)
the concept of reincarnation, but in approximately 533A.D., the 2nd Council of Constantinople declared Reincarnation a heresy,
and forever removed the doctrine from the Church. Many say that Constantine feared that if his citizens knew that they were to have
more chances at life, they would refuse to be law-abiding citizens. The concept of Reincarnation makes perfect sense, and I believe
that without it, the existence of God is questionable. For example, if a newborn baby dies upon birth, it would not make any sense
that he would go to Hell nor Heaven (of course, reason dictates that Hell or eternal damnation must not exist, otherwise God would
be unfair, but for this instance, let us supposed that Hell is a symbolic representation of a temporary lower zone which the Spirit will
find himself upon death if that Spirit has caused pain upon others during his earthly trials), for he has done neither good nor evil.
However, what about a man who has died at the age of 80, and has overcome many of life’s trials but also failed at twice that
number: shall he suffer at the burning pits of Hell while the baby, who has done absolutely nothing, receive a free pass to the gates of
Heaven? If such is the case, then we are truly living In Nietzsche’s world.
In conclusion, Nietzsche’s Philosophy, highly critical of conventional Philosophers, is based on the concept that all we can see and
all we can touch is all that exists: the senses are supreme. It is an Atheist doctrine whose only purpose is to denounce God and
reason. Fortunately, much like Communism, Nietzsche’s ideas do not function since they go against human nature: reason is all that
keeps us from being animals. Plato’s Philosophy, on the other hand, true to the concept of God, makes use of reason in order to go
beyond the senses, past materialism into spiritualism. Thankfully Nietzsche passed away before he was able to write his next
Philosophical refutation: one that would undoubtedly attempt to denounce common sense.
1. “The Dialectic of Opposites: Materialism vs. Spiritualism” was originally written as an essay for a college-level Philosophy class, and was titled “Philosophical
Comparison: Plato and Nietzsche.”
*2. Renan Lacerda is a 17-year-old Senior High School student and he has attended Spiritist Doctrine studies through youth programs since the age of 5.
|© 2003 Spiritist Society of Baltimore.
All rights reserved.
Materialism is a topic often discussed by Philosophers. Man, who largely depends on his senses in order to make
judgements, is often skeptical about the "supernatural". One such example is Friedrich Nietzsche, who has
criticized the ideas of the ancient Philosophers, claiming that for centuries they have discussed nothing but
"conceptual mummies" (Twilight of the Idols, I: 'Reason in Philosophy,' pg.35) Although Nietzsche’s Philosophy
regarding the senses is very down-to-earth, it is also considerably materialistic. In contrast, Plato differs in his
opinions regarding this topic. In many of his dialogues, specifically "The Republic", the existence of a Spiritual
plane is implied.