A Work of Nonfiction

Belonging Again II.1 (Book 1, Chapter I, Section 2)

O.G. Rose
16 min readJun 5, 2024

Plato, Nietzsche, and “Bestow Centrism”

Photo by Sylvain Mauroux on Unsplash

The Overman and the Allegory of the Cave: The Problem of Intrinsic Motivation and Living as the Children of Zarathustra,” is a paper which was featured in Abyssal Arrows, an anthology released in 2023 by Philosophy Portal. My full argument can be found there, but here I will incorporate some of the sections and ideas to help frame what is at stake in considering the question, “How does anyone leave Plato’s Cave on their own?”

At least one of Nietzsche’s “core projects” can be seen as a deconstruction of what I call “Bestow Centrism,” which is to say the prevalence of a dynamic of transaction, handing down, giving, etc. at the expense of “becoming,” which is to say we do and think like we do because of something external and extrinsic. Nietzsche seeks and defends a dynamic of self-incubation, self-development, and the like, devoid of transaction as much as possible, where we operate more internally and intrinsically. We need more “becoming” than “bestowing” (though ultimately it’s impossible for us to live without both to some degree — the question is only to what degree and what proportion), but in a world of “Bestow Centrism,” the exact opposite is the case. We have not yet thought Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” without being dragged out, and this is what Nietzsche challenges us to do. For us to succeed (or succeed more than fail) is for us to become “The Children of Zarathustra” (they walk out of the Cave into the sun alone). If we do not accept this challenge, we will not encounter the limits of what we can accomplish, which Nietzsche, after “the death of God,” believed we had no choice but to try (and Belonging Again (Part I) concurs).

The argument which the paper explores can be summarized as follows:

Nietzsche locates and deconstructs a fundamental assumption of Western Philosophy, suggesting a revolution akin to both Heidegger and Derrida. Western Philosophy emphasizes “be-stowing” over “be-coming,” which is to say the emphasis is on “the extrinsic” and external over “the intrinsic” and internal.

In the West, the emphasis is on receiving or giving one’s work, ideology, truth, understanding, etc. (favoring Discourse over Rhetoric — terms which at this point in the book don’t make sense, I admit, so do forgive), where Nietzsche would have us cultivate our work, ideology, truth, understanding, etc. as much as possible (though some degree of “tragedy” seems unavoidable). As Derrida called for an end to “Logocentrism” (the pursuit of presence, totality, finality, and the like), so Nietzsche called for an end to “Bestow Centrism,” which moralizes and emphasizes transferences between entities like individuals, systems, notions, etc. “The Death of God” represents only one piece of this larger vision, and ultimately a movement away from “Bestow Centrism” is for us to learn to leave Plato’s Cave on our own.

To outline the argument of the paper, we could say that Nietzsche isn’t a Systematic Philosopher, but he does have a Coherent Vision: he is what I might metaphorically call a “Core Thinker” (as we’ll discuss again with Ivan Illich). Imagine the Earth’s core and imagine lava spurting out in different spots across the surface. The spurts wouldn’t be directly connected, and yet they would be connected through “the common core,” and thus from one spurt we could make connections with other spurts. This is what I mean when I say Nietzsche is a “Core Thinker”: his ideas can be connected, for they all share the same “hot source.” Unfortunately, Nietzsche’s “Coherent/Core Vision” cannot readily be relayed through traditional philosophy, for it is a critique of the “Bestow Centrism” which partly defines traditional philosophy. Furthermore, we don’t search for the “Coherent Vision” in Nietzsche, because we have been trained to think of Nietzsche as a giant critic, a prophet raging in the wilderness. There is truth to this, but it can influence how we read his books. Furthermore, Nietzsche may himself have more so intuited his “core” versus clearly stated it, but that still means his bursts represent “a constant and consistent vision” that can be theorized. Additionally, though The Birth of Tragedy and Genealogy of Morals are written more like traditional books, the rest of Nietzsche’s nonliterary work can seem like a collection of random insights, so it’s understandable why we approach Nietzsche like we do, though I think it’s a mistake to see his work too aphoristically.⁴ ⁵

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Nietzsche intuits that Western Philosophy skips the question of how someone leaves Plato’s Cave on their own (without being “dragged”), and furthermore the West has depicted the philosopher as mostly someone who “enlightens” and “teaches” people, which is to say “drags out others” — a role Nietzsche resists in his Zarathustra. Nietzsche locates a “background” of “bestowing” versus “becoming” in religion, science, education, culture — everywhere — and proceeds to critique “Bestow Centrism” wherever he sees it. Like Derrida’s critique of Logocentrism, this might seem mundane, but it means we must reconsider philosophy beyond “bestowing,” in the same way Derrida leads us into considering philosophy beyond “presence.” This leads us into asking, “Is philosophy without presence possible?” as we should ask, “Is an ‘intrinsic philosophy’ possible?” If not, we might not have an answer for how we might leave Plato’s Cave on our own — it will all be random, perhaps dooming us to the negative fate suggested in “Part I.”

To deconstruct “Bestow Centralism” is pedagogically significant, socially consequential, individually transformative — Nietzsche understood the depths of the change. What does it mean to philosophize without “handing something off?” What does it mean to teach without “bestowing?” Is that possible? Numerous questions arise, but as in following Derrida we can learn that “presence is impossible” and so begin to think according to “lack,” so realizing the problems with “Bestow Centrism” can open us to begin “playing with possibilities of becoming.” Nietzsche discusses the difference between “slave morality” and “master morality,” and we can associate “slave morality” with “Bestow Centrism.” “Slave morality” is an ethic of “good versus evil,” while “master morality” is an ethic of “noble versus contemptible,” the former of which requires us to own for ourselves something that we believe is good and valuable, a move which will require “internal coordination” (as we’ll discuss) and is existentially difficult, hence why “Bestow Centrism” seems so natural.

I believe Book V of The Gay Science is unique in unveiling Nietzsche’s “Core” against “Bestow Centrism,” and a large section of my paper in Abyssal Arrows explores it to show the numerous ways Nietzsche deconstructs “Bestow Centrism.”⁶ Book V is arguably a unique blueprint reviewing the advanced and developed thinking of Nietzsche. It not only critiques religion as “bestowing,” but science, utilitarianism, and more. Nietzsche argues that we constantly flee to something external and/or metaphysical, seek knowledge as “familiarity” to avoid anxiety, and other practices which save us the hard and exhausting work of “nobility.” The main paper explores each section in detail both to make this case and to show that Nietzsche can be read as a developing thought (not just aphoristic). A few sections which can help us understand that Nietzsche’s critique of religion is (more egalitarian and) fundamentally a critique of “Bestow Centrism”:

1. Science, Section 344.
2. Logic, Section 348
3. Knowledge, Section 355
4. Profession, Section 356
5. Religion/Culture (Numerous Sections)

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche also critiques Utilitarianism as problematic, suggesting that we believe what is useful is “realized” as such, when really it tends to be according to a socioeconomic system which has “bestowed” on us the framework in which “use” is so defined. ‘With [this] morality [as with all “Bestow Centrism”] the individual is instructed to be a function of the herd and to ascribe value to himself only as a function.’⁷ Starting with Section 343 and numbering accordingly, “The Overman and the Allegory of the Cave” covers the main ideas of each section of Book V of The Gay Science, and through the summations, I believe we can spot a gradually developing “vision,” which further justifies the consideration of Nietzsche as a “Core Thinker.” For those interested, I highly suggest picking up a copy of Abyssal Arrows today.

Relevant for Plato and how teachers “drag out” prisoners,” Thus Spoke Zarathustra alternatively analyzes what occurs if the “teacher-student relationship” is deconstructed into “the teacher/student becoming” (from “followers” to “children,” per se). The story of Zarathustra can be read as a realization that “the teacher to student”-relationship can be a way in which both teachers and students can “hide from their own becoming,” which can shed light on Zarathustra’s behavior toward the end of Book I. In this way, we can say that those who might “leave Plato’s Cave on their own” are those who undergo a process like does Zarathustra, which we can associate with “becoming Children” according to Nietzsche. If this sounds impossible, perhaps “perfectly” it is impossible, but Nietzsche suggests that there are historical and everyday examples of this reality, mainly “the noble class” (as discussed in The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil, Section 260). Thus, however difficult and rare avoiding “bestowing” might be, to some degree, it can happen, which means there is reason to give the effort to “live more un-bestowed” a shot (which I would consider “living with intrinsic motivation”). Furthermore, though the main paper would have to elaborate on the point, if there are real and historic examples of “being” which isn’t “be-stowed,” there must be an “ontological and metaphysical background” which makes this possible, which gives us space to consider “Will” in light of Arthur Schopenhauer and even Section 360 of The Gay Science.⁸

To “spread Childhood” to the majority, we must think beyond “Bestow Centrism,” which is to say we must think the possibility of leaving Plato’s Cave without being “dragged.” How might we think as a prisoner for whom no one comes? “God is dead” can mean there is no one ready to drag us out. Alexander Bard associates “the death of God” with “the death of a paradigm,” and for me this suggests “the death of the world where we could (hope to) be dragged out of Plato’s Cave,” which is the loss and/or corruption of “extrinsic motivation,” which we could associate with sociological “givens.” Now, I’m certainly not saying that “extrinsic motivation is dead” (it’s everywhere), but I am saying that “extrinsic motivation” which we could trust (with “plausible deniability” at least) is fading and weakening, if not entirely gone. We know Capitalism is trying to “capture” us with algorithms and the like (considering Deleuze); we know the media is engaged in the business of propaganda (see Zak Stein); and institutions of all kinds have weakened and lost legitimacy (Jürgen Habermas). We struggle to know how to be “extrinsically motivated” without contributing to the failing institutions which are ruining the world or prone to oppress, without joining a corporate system that dehumanizes, or entering into family structures that we saw bring our parents unhappiness. We see the troubles of “extrinsic motivation,” which is to live in accordance with extrinsic structures and systems, but we also don’t readily have the resources to escape “extrinsic motivation” — and so we are pathological and despairing. Thus, we undergo what some have called “The Meaning Crisis,” an explosion of mental health problems, suicide, depression, etc., and in this state we seem ill-prepared to face “The Meta-Crisis.”

“The Meaning Crisis as a Sign of Hope” by O.G. Rose argued that we could escape “The Meaning Crisis” by lowering our moral standards and returning to classic sources of meaning like war, racism, and closed-mindedness, and the piece encouraged us to realize that suffering “The Meaning Crisis” entailed a nobility. “The Meaning Crisis” should not be viewed as something we stumbled into foolishly, but something self-imposed like seen in Thomas Moore and other martyrs who died for what they believed in. However, since “death” and the Apocalypse aren’t exactly ideal, we need to “address the Meaning Crisis,” for in not resorting to previous avenues for meaning, we find ourselves not knowing what to do but still left with the problem of what to do, which “intrinsic motivation” might help us with in our present “clearing.” This is for us to be Children, as Nietzsche encouraged, for Children are those whom might leave Plato’s Cave on their own. But how do we become Children? Does anyone know, or is it random and unpredictable like the movement of some Christian grace?

As Belonging Again (Part I) left us to consider, generating “intrinsic motivation” is for me central to becoming an Absoluter Knower, Deleuzian (In)dividual, and/or Overman, all of which is only possible if we can answer the following: “How can we leave Plato’s Cave on our own?” This is the question of how we can incubate “intrinsic motivation,” and if the answer is, “We cannot; it’s genetic,” then I fear there might be no way for the world to rise to the occasion of “the new paradigm” emerging after “the death of God.” A minority of people will, but not the majority. To improve our prospects, we must realize that the new paradigm does not allow us to assume any of the following:

1. Someone “forces” others to become Philosopher Kings.
2. Someone else “identifies” Philosopher Kings.
3. It is not our responsibility to be Philosopher Kings, but a responsibility given to us.
4. If we are not Philosopher Kings, we don’t have to wonder if we should be.

And so on — these points alone suggest a difference between prisoners who are forced to become Philosopher Kings and potential prisoners who choose to become Philosopher Kings. This minor detail radically transforms the implications of the Allegory, so much in fact that a whole philosophy must arise to address it. And that “entire philosophy” is what I think we can see in Nietzsche, and though it was possible for centuries to “plausibly deny” the need for this “entire philosophy” while God was around and we could perhaps trust in a “Big Other” who could anoint or elect us (through all the ways described in Book V of The Gay Science), Nietzsche understood that gradually and slowly people would come to realize that “God was dead” and thus the “plausible deniability” run out. When that occurred, if humanity wasn’t ready, the responses could prove pathological.

As Nietzsche puts it in On the Genealogy of Morals, we must ‘shake off a certain mistrust of ourselves,’ for we cannot e-valuate anything if we don’t trust our own capacities to comprehend and judge.⁹ Layman Pascal emphasizes the need for “meta-evaluation” if we are to address our current problems, but we will prove incapable of evaluation without first moving through Nietzsche, which will further require us to rethink Plato and the whole Republic. “The Allegory of the Cave” is perhaps the “founding myth” of Western Philosophy, so if we are to “revaluate all values” to make possible “the spread of Childhood” (in favor of Rhetoric), this myth must be transformed. We easily (mis)remember the Allegory as prisoners leaving on their own — we perhaps hide from ourselves the true narrative so that we can convince ourselves that we have addressed “Bestow Centrism” when we have not. A similar “ironic move” is made in Derrida with “presence,” where we act like we know about the problem of presence so that it can seem like we’ve addressed it. In truth, we’ve perhaps not even faced our unwillingness to face.

The title of The Gay Science suggests “the science of being happy,” and for me “happiness” and “dancing” in Nietzsche are strongly connected; thus, Nietzsche is telling us about “The Science of Dancing.” “The Gay Science” is “The Science of Gaiety,” which further suggests why it is uniquely positioned to highlight Nietzsche’s project. It is also important to note that 341 in Book IV is “the eternal return,” as if this thought is what inspires Nietzsche to write Zarathustra — which, seeing the impact “the eternal return” has on Zarathustra, easily could be the case. This in mind, the matter of “deconstructing Bestow Centrism” is a matter of “unleashing a Will to Dance,” and perhaps we could say that the only ones who can leave Plato’s Cave on their own are those who dance out. But Western Philosophy has not thought this, or such could be argued through Nietzsche (as Heidegger argued “Being was forgotten”), and perhaps we have not thought such “intrinsic motivation” because all fields might have to be rethought? Indeed, it would suggest that we need to approach everything beyond “low order Discourse,” which would be a revolution indeed.

For Nietzsche, “beyond good and evil,” a Child can christen a thing as “noble” and bear the existential weight of that christening, which entails “intrinsic motivation,” while Nonchildren understand things as “good and bad” (according to what is externally “bestowed” upon them). Children motivate themselves according to the value they choose/create, while Nonchildren are motivated. What concerns Nietzsche is when “good” simply means “the opposite of evil,” where a people cannot say for themselves, positively, “what is good” — this is “slave morality.” We cannot produce our own “line of flight” (Deleuze) in a world where “good” is only “the opposite of evil”: we require “values” (which include “goods,” yes, but with more substance than being a mere opposite).

It is Nonchildren who Nietzsche has in mind when he warns that religion can birth ‘enemies of the spirit,’ even if there is, every now and then, a ‘rare piece of humanity that the people revere’ (how might religion change to emerge to more of the rare versus the fearful?).¹⁰ But we see in Book V of The Gay Science how many fields can bring about Nonchildren: science can prove a source of “bestowing,” as can pragmaticism, nationalism — everything, and indeed humans can look to any and every thing to avoid choice, valuation, and anxiety. But if we do not change, Belonging Again (Part I) cannot be addressed.

Nietzsche declares that ‘nothing exists apart from the whole,’ and thus nothing exists independent from everything else ‘to judge, measure, compare, condemn […]’ — the world is singular, and in there being no “other” God, “final judgment” is impossible.¹¹ This is liberating, but this also means we are liberated to judge for ourselves, and this is something we only have hope to handle with a doctrine of nobility and “master morality.” According to our values, Nietzsche would have us own “Plato’s Cave,” in the sense that we own the reality that we are orientated “toward” becoming “Last Men.” But Nietzsche would have us “own” this precisely so that we avoid affirming “Plato’s Cave” — this is to lose our potential for becoming Overmen. To “own” is to avoid problematic “affirming,” whereas if we never “own,” we end up “affirming” by default (Nietzsche is a philosopher of “affirming only what we own”). This is for us to contribute to Discourse over Rhetoric, which is for us to contribute to the spread not of Childhood but the Last Men.





⁴Though Nietzsche is a “modern thinker,” it doesn’t follow that he writes in fragments. Arguably, to resist “Bestow Centrism,” Nietzsche must philosophize Vision (which is as difficult as Heidegger trying to think Being without being(s), presuppositions, etc.), which might hint at a reason for his style.

Many of Nietzsche’s books, such as The Gay Science, are divided into numbered sections, which can create the impression that the thoughts are unrelated. I think this is a mistake, similar to the problematic impression readers can get when considering the Bible due to its division into chapters and verses. The point of these header numbers is mainly reference, but they can create an impression of a finished and completed thought, not just a complete thought that links with the other sections (like a completed floor which is part of a completed house).

No, it’s not always clear how the sections relate, but the style invites readers to enter into the text and “do the work” needed to see the connections, which helps the text integrate into the readers themselves. This can be considered a kind of “Straussian Reading” of Nietzsche, but I also think the style is more classical: the writer doesn’t do all the work for readers. Mentally, I think it can be helpful to remove the reference numbers above each section and imagine instead a blank double space (as I tried to provide an edited picture of in my presentation at the Philosophy Portal Conference).

⁵Nietzsche’s artistic skill (say in music and poetry), style, and biography can contribute to us thinking of his work as “a collection of ideas” versus “insights from the same Vision.” Furthermore, Nietzsche was capable of incredible allegory, metaphor, description, and the like, and this was actually partly a curse, for it made it easy to “latch” onto his best written parables (while ignoring the rest). This further makes us think of Nietzsche as “more a collection of unrelated bursts.” Also, Nietzsche later goes mad, which means we can project into his writing a “breaking mind” that couldn’t create a coherent philosophy, for his mind and thoughts were “bursting at the seams.” Lastly, we mostly understand Nietzsche as an Existentialist, which makes it easy to associate him with thinkers like Camus and Sartre, which further aids in us thinking of him as fragmentary and literary.

⁶The first edition of The Gay Science ended with Book IV, and between the release of the first edition and second Nietzsche wrote both Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. After the second edition of The Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote On the Genealogy of Morality, which I think further suggests why “man” is something we “build around” our Will and Dancing (like “a cave”). Though Belonging Again (Part II) will not go into this argument on how we can think of “man as a Plato’s Cave around our Will,” I think the argument can be considered alongside this book, and doing so is actually appropriate if we accept Plato’s argument that “the structure of the soul” parallels “the structure of society.” The Republic famously believes the soul is best when ordered like a just society, as a just society mirrors a rightly ordered soul, and similarly the argument I will make for a “society of Rhetoric” will parallel “an intrinsically motivated soul which leaves Plato’s Cave on his or her own.”

Furthermore, I believe we see a Nietzsche who moves from seeing humans as needing to “do something entirely new” to a Nietzsche who thinks we need “to clear aside what is for what ‘Is’ (new to us),” building up a historic case for why “man is a Plato’s Cave.” Perhaps Nietzsche was always equally a thinker of “realization as creation,” so this is not a point I will adamantly argue, but I personally feel there is at least a shift in emphasis and language, a move which can also help us align Nietzsche with “the clearing” of Heidegger and “lack.”

⁷Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Translated by Josefine Nauckhoff. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009: 115.

⁸Nothing external is “realized,” only created. Will, alone and to itself, can be “realized.” We might convince ourselves some ideas are realized (science, etc.) so that we can conform to actuality, when really we are receiving something “be-stowed.” Religion, science, logic — we tell ourselves are realized, when Nietzsche shows otherwise. Nothing seems realized but our own will to ourselves (for Will is deepest reality), but that requires a “master morality” to enact.

We have perhaps wanted to believe that some “bestowing” is “realizing” so that there is no “bestowing” we must worry about, but Nietzsche makes it clear that we cannot escape “bestowing” except one way: turning our own “will (to power)” on ourselves. This in mind, the only thing realized which can generate our own creation is the Will itself. We can only realize our Will, while everything else is power “over.”

⁹Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York, NY: Vintage Books Editions, 1989: 139.

¹⁰Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Translated by Josefine Nauckhoff. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009: 224.

¹¹Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1990: 65.




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O.G. Rose

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