• John Doe
    117
    I was reading Nietzsche's The Will to Power when something significant jumped out of the page at me. My first reaction is to start to read Nietzsche differently, but then I wonder if I am overreacting to a single aphorism, which is always dangerous with Nietzsche.

    In any case, here's the quote:

    One can see that in this book pessimism, or, to put it more clearly, nihilism, is taken to be the truth. But truth is not taken to be the highest standard of value, still less the highest power. The will to appearance, illusion, deception, becoming and change (to objective deception) is here taken to be more profound, more primordial, more metaphysical than the will to truth, reality and being - the latter is merely a form of the will to illusion. — Nietzsche, Kritische Gesamtausgabe: div. 8, III, 318-20

    Two themes that run throughout middle and late Nietzsche are (a) the truth is terrible; (b) the project - which he considers himself to be the first ever to undertake in earnest - to question the value of the will to truth. So this quote has gotten me thinking that perhaps the unity, on his view, between the three great forms of nihilism - Platonism, Christianity ('Platonism for the Masses'), Modern Science - is their will to truth, which ends not in the discovery of an ideal truth but in the revelation of the worldly truth of pessimism.

    If right, this would mean that: (1) In a strange sense it seems that perhaps Nietzsche thinks that Schopenhauer is 'right' in taking pessimism to be 'true' ('the truth is terrible'), but that Nietzsche's overcoming of Schopenhauer is made possible only when the terrible nature of the truth of pessimism leads him to question the will to truth implicit in pessimism. That is, Nietzsche never actually moves beyond his early conviction of the truth of pessimism. (2) Nietzsche's distaste for systematizing comes not at the level of epistemology (the 'truth' of philosophical systems) but at the level of morality and aesthetics (the 'value' of truth and the 'value' of systematizing life).

    So I know it's certainly possible that this thread is of no interest to anyone. But I find it really interesting that Nietzsche is willing to concede the "truth" of pessimism while still attacking it. This may be a rhetorical move (e.g. even if Schopenhauer were right it wouldn't matter) or it may point to something more spiritual and consistent in his thought.

    It strikes me as interesting to ask in the context of contemporary antinatalism what bearing people think that truth has on a pessimistic worldview, and whether there might yet be some value in denying philosophical pessimism despite its terrible truth.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k


    I agree with your analysis. Nietzsche's view, in my opinion, is that if the philosophers devalues life through reason, then a life affirming philosophy devalues the philosopher and his reason. If truth undermines life, then life lashes out in retaliation by devaluing truth. According to Nietzsche's analysis, the Schopenhaurian-esque pessimist cannot deny life without denying his own ability to deny life (because it takes life to deny life). Life, according to Nietzsche, cannot be "refuted". It is spontaneous, processual, changing.

    Nietzsche frequently considers that man can only handle "so much" truth. He also (and I believe he was influenced by Leopardi, whom I personally have great respect for) considers that a person "addicted" to truth is ugly and weak. They can't "rise up" and affirm life. There is no art, there is no journey, there is no ambition or passion or any of that. This is why Nietzsche criticizes Christianity, Platonism, Socrates, Buddhism, etc for being "nihilistic" and death-worshipping. Consider how Plato thought the point of philosophy was to prepare oneself for death (through understanding the transcendent, perfect Forms that, according to Nietzsche, are a psychological illusion).

    For Nietzsche, it is as you said: he does not "refute" the Schopenhauerian pessimism. Instead, he tries to go beyond good and evil and embrace a "Dionysian" pessimism, a yes-saying pessimism, a life-affirming pessimism. It is tragic, because the yes-saying comes fundamentally as a reaction to the structural negativity of life.

    This is all very inspirational and heroic, no doubt. But I wonder how realistic it can actually be. Nietzsche wasn't exactly the most impressive person all things considered. His philosophy of the Ubermensch looks more like a fantasy day-dream than something that can be seriously put into practice and lived. The same can be said of Schopenhauer's ascetic ideal.

    I think Nietzsche is important. I think he's on to something. I don't think Nietzsche is where the analysis should stop, though. Nietzsche should be integrated into a broader pessimistic worldview that includes things like antinatalism, in my opinion. There is nothing incoherent, contra Nietzsche, with life devaluing life. It may very well be that life can enter a stage of maturation where it is able to understand itself, and thus deny itself.
  • StreetlightX
    2.7k
    But I find it really interesting that Nietzsche is willing to concede the "truth" of pessimism while still attacking it.John Doe

    As I understand it, the connection between the two here in Nietzsche is not just incidental or rhetorical but essential: it is because Nietzsche is willing to concede to the truth of pessimism that he can attack it. This might sound paradoxical, but one of Nietzsche's recurring motifs is that nihilism, taken to the limit, effectively undermines itself ("We have abolished the real world.... With the real world we have also abolished the apparent world! Mid-day; moment of the shortest shadow; end of the longest error; zenith of mankind; Incipit Zarathustra"), and that the real problem with nihilism is that it draws the wrong conclusions about its own procedures: not pessimsim, but unburdened affirmation is what you get once you leap through the fire of nihilism to get to the other side (hence also Nietzsche's self-declaration in the WTP of himself as a 'perfect nihilist').

    The metaphorics of the 'shortest shadow' at midday (which is everywhere in Nietzsche's work), attests to this too, I think: noon is when the shadow coincides with the thing, the point of indifference between reality and appearance, and the abolishment of all transcendent values against which this life could be measured ("Becoming must be explained without recourse to final intentions; becoming must appear justified at every moment (or incapable of being evaluated, which comes to the same thing) ... Becoming is of equivalent value at every moment; the sum of its values always remains the same; in other words, it has no value at all, for anything against which to measure it, and in relation to which the word ‘value’ would have meaning, is lacking. The total value of the world cannot be evaluated").

    And this jibes with some of Nietzsche's other comments on truth, in which - far from simply devaluing it, he treats it as a measure of spirit: ""Something might be true, even if it were also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction. The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much “truth” he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted"; Elsewhere: "How much truth does a spirit endure, how much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value. ...My philosophy will triumph one day, for what one has forbidden so far as matter of principle has always been — truth alone".

    So I see Nietzsche as understanding pessimism to be 'self-immolating', as it were, where the test of it's truth is how lightly it can be borne, how easily it can be engaged with (a test condensed in the idea of the eternal return: " Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine”). So yeah, I think there's a definite consistency that runs through N's thought which is quite nicely exhibited in his relation to pessimism.
  • schopenhauer1
    2k
    I think Nietzsche is important. I think he's on to something. I don't think Nietzsche is where the analysis should stop, though. Nietzsche should be integrated into a broader pessimistic worldview that includes things like antinatalism, in my opinion. There is nothing incoherent, contra Nietzsche, with life devaluing life. It may very well be that life can enter a stage of maturation where it is able to understand itself, and thus deny itself.darthbarracuda

    So I know it's certainly possible that this thread is of no interest to anyone. But I find it really interesting that Nietzsche is willing to concede the "truth" of pessimism while still attacking it. This may be a rhetorical move (e.g. even if Schopenhauer were right it wouldn't matter) or it may point to something more spiritual and consistent in his thought.

    It strikes me as interesting to ask in the context of contemporary antinatalism what bearing people think that truth has on a pessimistic worldview, and whether there might yet be some value in denying philosophical pessimism despite its terrible truth.
    John Doe

    I think the big theme here we are all circling is the life-affirming vs. life-denying dynamic. Nietzsche seems to work here in irony. The irony of embracing that which is the cause of suffering. Embrace your enemy..also your enemy is what brings you transcendent experiences of good, so all the more to love it in all its nastiness, etc. etc. Its all intertwined, inseparable, and the ubermensch moves beyond the framework of its own dichotomy.. to make his own work of art, his own Dionysian hero.

    But, as DB noted, this isn't sustainable.. I think Nietzsche tried to move beyond Schopenhauer, but really couldn't. It was a valiant but failed attempt at moving on the most pessimistic of philosophies.. which Schop's philosophy basically represents. You are not only a slave to, but a manifestation of the very will that you carry out every day in Schop's systemizing philosophy. Every day, you feed the will, literally and figuratively. The will being the source of suffering.

    I have been fasting for more than two days now and still going.. It gets you thinking more clearly about your own will and what it means to start denying it. Quite an interesting experiment. That is the real.. the body, its purpose, its need for need, its carrying you forward, the insatiableness of life and its ceaseless directives. Certainly, refrain from procreating is the easiest of "denial".. its really not much denial at all for one's own body. Once one gets into mortifying one's own flesh in various practices.. it starts becoming much clearer how tied we are to our own willing to be, to live.

    So I see Nietzsche as understanding pessimism to be 'self-immolating', as it were, where the test of it's truth is how lightly it can be borne, how easily it can be engaged with (just like the test of the eternal return: "StreetlightX

    Not sure what this means.. but SX had an interesting response, that I am still working on in another thread to unity and separation. However, I will comment here that Schop's philosophy, though pessimistic, actually has a strain of comfort in its unification of things in a necessary Will. However, what is more disheartening are philosophies (pessimistic or not) that have only isolated/closed off events. Nothing is really related in any necessary way. All is contingent. That is another possibility. The absurd at its most absurd. A universe where we are all screaming into a void of nothingness.. weakly tied together by the bonds of language which bridges our isolation through social experiences and enculturation.. but there is no more to our connection with anything than that. We are but solipsistic ends in ourselves.. constructed with the aid of culture/environment, but nothing more than an isolated umwelt, metaphysically disconnected, radically contingent.
  • StreetlightX
    2.7k
    However, what is more disheartening are philosophies (pessimistic or not) that have only isolated/closed off events. Nothing is really related in any necessary way. All is contingent. That is another possibility.schopenhauer1

    In both much worse and much better than this in Nietzsche: "Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident; for it is only beside a world of purposes that the word “accident” has meaning"; this again is the noon-day Sun, the indifference to which one can simply be indifferent to in turn. The quote here follows on the tails of: "But how could we reproach or praise the universe? Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man. None of our aesthetic and moral judgments apply to it. Nor does it have any instinct for self-preservation or any other instinct; and it does not observe any laws either. Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses. ... The total character of the world ... is in all eternity chaos." (The Gay Science)
  • schopenhauer1
    2k
    it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man. None of our aesthetic and moral judgments apply to it. Nor does it have any instinct for self-preservation or any other instinct; and it does not observe any laws either. Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses. ... The total character of the world ... is in all eternity chaos." (The Gay Science)StreetlightX

    Indeed..screams echoing in the void.. This seems an indirect attack on ideas like Will in Schop's philosophy. This also gives impetus to the later existentialists and absurdists (Sartre and Camus come to mind). Of course unity comes about through certain connecting features, etc. And these are based on physical "laws" (necessities to use Nietzsche's language). But, Schop's ideas can be bereft of its metaphysics (contra what Schop says about his own philosophy I believe), and still have value of what it means to be an animal, in a universe without telos. Remember, though Schop was a systemizer and had a necessity of Will behind the picture, that Will had no telos. Effectively speaking, one can do away with his noumenal aspect of Will, and come to the same conclusions of being an embodied animal striving forward in the universe, that suffers from its own needs and wants and from the contingent circumstances of causality, environment/culture, place, situation, etc. So, eternity chaos does not close the door to Schop's conclusions on the character the animal and human life in general. I cannot find a better description of the human condition, even if I myself doubt a lot of the metaphysical underpinnings. The striving wills.. perpetually needing its goal-horizons.. necessitating from being an embodied human of the cultural/linguistically enabled species that we are.. getting bored, repeating the goals.
  • StreetlightX
    2.7k
    This seems an indirect attack on ideas like Will in Schop's philosophy.schopenhauer1

    I read it that way too (among other things), and agree with it.
  • schopenhauer1
    2k
    I read it that way too (among other things), and agree with it.StreetlightX

    Cool. But any thoughts on the other commentary?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    84




    You say it's not attainable to go beyond pessimistic philosophy, or at least not sustainable... but isn't the existence of Greek tragedy evidence that it can be done?

    Or why do you think Greek tragedy isn't sufficient as an answer?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Didn't Greek tragedy kinda implode on itself?
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    yeah, its quite tragic :( R.I.P
  • ChatteringMonkey
    84


    Athenian society imploded, and gave rise to doubt which undermined greek tragedy... but was that a feature of Greek tragedy itself, or was it rather a consequence of geo-political circumstance?
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.5k


    The irony is will is chasing itself into being. At heart it still hopes with a Pollyanna fervour. Somewhere, beyond and over the distant rainbow, we have a miracle life waiting for us. Our world without suffering is just waiting to keep fulfilled, only we will never get there. Dorothy sings "Why, oh why can't I?" then answers: "My shoes could never get me there."

    A failed pessimism, still mesmerised by a notion, a telos even, that human life is destined for the place nothing bad ever happens. It plays at recognising our suffering, unwilling to conceded our life will amount to it. We are really destined to be "over the rainbow" in a place which does not exist. The ultimate goal horizon, to reach that place which is not, to live a life which is never you, always eating your soul because it's a goal which cannot be achieved. No-one can even work towards it.

    More than just being moved to act, it's a failed pessimism which understands all action to be a failure, for no action brings us closer to being over the rainbow. A nihilism of thinking our value is found in another world without us, in a teleology which brings who we are for outside ourselves.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    how do pessimism fail?
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    maybe people can to easily succomb to pessimism if they knew the terrible truth
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.5k


    I'm referring to Schopenhauer's pessimism. Deep down, he cannot accept a human life might be and just be terrible. He's still got a notion it's our destiny to live otherwise. In doing so, he builds himself into his own psychological torture device. This destiny is something he must achieve, but no action will get him there or even get him closer. So whatever action he takes, he's haunted by his failure to reach this destiny. Nothing he does will ever good enough for himself.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    I have allways viewed pessimism as something more protecting than the opposite, optimism. for if there is now happy ending(in lack of better words) and the truth is terrible then that would be terrible because the pessimist was prepared and the optimist would suffer and eventually become a pessimist.
  • John Doe
    117


    These are all phenomenal posts and I have learned a lot from each of you.

    [Nietzsche] considers that a person "addicted" to truth is ugly and weak. They can't "rise up" and affirm life. They can't "rise up" and affirm life. There is no art, there is no journey, there is no ambition or passion or any of that. This is why Nietzsche criticizes Christianity, Platonism, Socrates, Buddhism, etc for being "nihilistic" and death-worshipping.darthbarracuda

    I think that this is right but that the psychology is reversed -- weakness encourages an addiction to truth, rather than the other way around. The initial healthy, biological value of our intellectual capacities, wherein truth is responsible to life; truth is a means of improving the circumstances in which one finds oneself, is perverted into its own ascetic ideal. Perhaps it's because we lack the strength to give up on truth? That is, to admit its illusory character? This jumps out at me:

    "The will to appearance, illusion, deception, becoming and change (to objective deception) is here taken to be more profound, more primordial, more metaphysical than the will to truth, reality and being - the latter is merely a form of the will to illusion."

    So, reality, truth and being are "a form of the will to illusion" - this is bad! - but then his alternative is "the will to...illusion". Nietzsche seems to think that truth is illusion, and that illusion is not bad but needs to be embraced in a way that cannot be done from within the will to truth.

    Nietzsche wasn't exactly the most impressive person all things considered. His philosophy of the Ubermensch looks more like a fantasy day-dream than something that can be seriously put into practice and lived.darthbarracuda

    Wasn't he, though? I'm not sure what could be more impressive than being one of the 100 most intellectually sophisticated people in the history of this planet, opening up entirely new ways of thinking and leading scores of readers navigate life's journeys. In this respect, I'll suggest that the idea of the Ubermensch is - to put it simply - embracing the strive and struggle of becoming as a means of continual self-perfection. And it seems to me he accomplished that in his own life.

    Of course, it's a question of the goods we seek in life. But I wouldn't be quick to denigrate the goods achieved in the course of Nietzsche's life.

    Nietzsche should be integrated into a broader pessimistic worldview that includes things like antinatalism, in my opinion.darthbarracuda

    I would of course be very excited to read anything you might have to say in terms of gesturing towards how such a broader pessimistic worldview might look like.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    Nietzsche seems to think that truth is illusionJohn Doe

    could he mean that truth is false?
  • John Doe
    117
    one of Nietzsche's recurring motifs is that nihilism, taken to the limit, effectively undermines itself [...] and that the real problem with nihilism is that it draws the wrong conclusions about its own procedures: not pessimsim, but unburdened affirmation is what you get once you leap through the fire of nihilism to get to the other side (hence also Nietzsche's self-declaration in the WTP of himself as a 'perfect nihilist').StreetlightX

    I think this is right, and very informative, but I'm still trying to make sense of how to understand what constitutes "truth" in this formulation. It has taken me years to de-Heidegger my reading of Nietzsche, and I think I've always understood Nietzsche to be sharing Heidegger's basic conception of passionate involvement in the world wherein Schopenhauer et. al are simply in error about the ontological truth of what it means to be a human being who belongs to a world.

    And this jibes with some of Nietzsche's other comments on truth, in which - far from simply devaluing it, he treats it as a measure of spirit: ""Something might be true, even if it were also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction. The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much “truth” he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted";StreetlightX

    There's a question here, at least to my mind, about where conceptual truth comes into the picture. Certainly we could reproach the Homeric and Sophoclean Greeks for their lack of conceptual understanding. So perhaps truth as the measure of a spirit comes when we incorporate the well-ordered instincts of the Homeric Greeks with the conceptual knowledge afforded us by the post-Socrates/post-Christian West? This may be me projecting too much of a Bildungsgeschichte onto Nietzsche.
  • John Doe
    117
    [M]aybe people can [too] easily succomb to pessimism if they knew the terrible truthAleksander Kvam

    It's an interesting question in this sense: How do @Streetlight's thoughts about the unity of embracing life-affirmation through the fire of nihilism relate to the movement of Western culture towards an increasing sense of resentment, decadence, and "willing-nothing rather than not willing"?

    I'm not sure.

    could he mean that truth is false?Aleksander Kvam

    I think it's more that the notion of transcendent truth is an illusion, so we have to embrace a notion of truth that is not blind to the role it plays in life. Here, I want to read Nietzsche as having a more Wittgensteinian conception of truth as real and worldly, as opposed to the much more popular post-modern notion that truth is just interpretation, construction and projection.

    My understanding is that the 'democratic' reading of Nietzsche would go something like: the death of God requires a much wider cultural shift over the 200 years after the writing of Ecce Homo towards a culture capable of recognizing truth as neither projection/construction on a meaningless world nor grounded in something transcendent.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    nor grounded in something transcendent.John Doe

    what, like a god, or something?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    84




    could he mean that truth is false? — K

    He did believe that even truth is allways a falsification to some extend. I'd recomment to read "on truth and lies in an extra-moral sense" to understand where he's coming from, it's not that long... A crude summary of it would be that truth is an agreement on names for things and relations, and that we then forget that they are only conventions.

    But then he clearly also believes in some sense of truth, as is evident in numerous passages. So how do we reconcile these two? I think we need to take serious his statements that 'truth originates from it's opposite'. We begin with the most crude falsifications of the world, which then can eventially be refined into something that is progressively more accurate or less wrong. This is actually analoguous to how science works, e.g. we come up with an initial hypothesis and crude models, disproof and falsify them, and then come up with better models, rinse repeat...

    Also note that truth and untruth, is not to be confounded with 'the will to truth' and 'the will to decieve' which is what he is talking about in the quote in the opening post.
  • StreetlightX
    2.7k
    I'm not sure Nietzsche really holds to any unequivocal notion of truth -

    (cf. the famous: "What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.)

    - and that he holds to a more or less pragmatic understanding of truth where truth simply is a variable plank in a larger assemblage of elements that allow one to live in some way or another (truth is as truth does, as it were). Raymond Geuss has a wonderful article (in his recent Changing the Subject) where he tries to disentangle some of the different ways in which Nietzsche talks about truth, depending on the context in which those discussions take place. If you can find it, it's a lovely read. A sampling:

    "There are three issues here, different contexts in which ‘truth’ arises as a problem and in which it must be treated. First, there is the question about ‘truths’ (with a small ‘t’), that is, garden-variety statements about the world which are significantly strongly warranted and deserve to be affirmed. Do such statements exist, and are they distinct from non-truths, or is every thing simply a matter of opinion, with no opinion having any priority over any other? The answer to this is, for Nietzsche, patently yes, they do exist. ... The second is what some philosophers, following Plato, might call the ‘more strictly “philosophical” question of “Truth” ’: What is the definition of truth? Is it, for instance, the correspondence of proposition to reality?

    ... Even a cursory reading of any one of the works of Nietzsche’s ... should suffice to indicate to the reader that Nietzsche does not propose to answer this question but rather wishes to destroy the complex of assumptions which one must make in order for the question to be at all a sensible one to raise. ... This brings one immediately to the third complex of issues concerning truth, and the one that is of by far the greatest interest to Nietzsche. This is what we might call the ‘ethics of truth’." Any attempt to treat Nietzsche on truth would need, I think, to attend to the multiplicity of these differing approaches.
  • frank
    1.3k
    We are really destined to be "over the rainbow" in a place which does not exist.TheWillowOfDarkness

    This is Schopenhauer's pessimism: that existence is a blind striving toward satisfaction. The ultimate satisfaction is the end to all striving; the end of desire, of wondering, of reaching, of trying, of questioning, and so the end of thought itself. The life force is a vector directed at death.

    So to the extent that life is a fountain of activity, life is a fountain of evils looking for resolution.

    I think Nietzsche is looking deeper, though. For Schopenhauer, there is only one Will that sprays itself across the universe as a multiplicity of beings. This is the primal illusion: that one is alone in striving.

    I'm all into Plotinus these days. He says that if you look around you and realize that you're seeing yourself, you have experienced the One.
  • schopenhauer1
    2k
    But this goes back to my thread on unity versus separation. Nietzsche is in a way MORE pessimistic than Schopenhauer in one way- that is to say, the separation that we have. Plotinus and Schopenhauer's philosophy has a unity (with individual manifestations). Nietzsche is saying we are shouts in a void.. monads or processes separated. The absurdist of absurd. It's good we are able to make an assemblage of a story to keep things seemingly integrated.. but it is just culture perhaps.
  • frank
    1.3k
    Schopenhauer was Kantian, so I've always assumed Nietzsche was as well.
  • John Doe
    117
    I'm not sure Nietzsche really holds to any unequivocal notion of truth -StreetlightX

    My feeling is that he does. On my reading at least, it's a mistake to think that he equivocates about truth simply because he lacks a univocal conception of truth.

    (cf. the famous: "What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.)StreetlightX

    In short, I doubt that for Nietzsche the "What is Truth?" question allows for a singular answer, pragmatic or postmodern. This paragraph is certainly indicative of Nietzsche's views about how particular truths, particular manifestations of the will to truth, etc. function under certain (sickly) conditions. But I don't think he's making a strong claim about truth beyond (like Wittgenstein) attempting to diagnose how truths function in particular circumstances. Now, this may lead to reading him as a sort of pragmatist...

    - and that he holds to a more or less pragmatic understanding of truth where truth simply is a variable plank in a larger assemblage of elements that allow one to live in some way or another (truth is as truth does, as it were). Raymond Geuss has a wonderful article (in his recent Changing the Subject) where he tries to disentangle some of the different ways in which Nietzsche talks about truth, depending on the context in which those discussions take place.StreetlightX

    ...but I have concerns with that label. As your quote from Geuss indicates, Nietzsche seems to be aiming for a complex understanding of the multivocality of truth (and the ethics of truth) that nevertheless does not equivocate or reject truth. This is a way of thinking about truth which I think the whole global academic establishment seems not to have caught up with yet. (Whereas they've already successfully mined and catalogued similarly complex positions held by other great philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, etc.)

    Any attempt to treat Nietzsche on truth would need, I think, to attend to the multiplicity of these differing approaches.StreetlightX

    Truth as multiplicity. Leading me to feel that the original quote -- "One can see that in this book pessimism, or, to put it more clearly, nihilism, is taken to be the truth." -- remains puzzling.
  • John Doe
    117
    He did believe that even truth is allways a falsification to some extend. I'd recomment to read "on truth and lies in an extra-moral sense" to understand where he's coming from, it's not that long...ChatteringMonkey

    Thanks for the recommendation. I have actually read almost everything published/unpublished he has written and of course all the major works several times. Personally, I want to resist the temptation to read too much into an early essay ("On Truth and Lies...") which Nietzsche chose not to publish. My own feeling is that the Theory folks make too much of that essay. If you have any recommendations on secondary literature I'd be happy to take a look.

    But then he clearly also believes in some sense of truth, as is evident in numerous passagesChatteringMonkey

    I think I want to say senses of truth; it's a fools errand to get stuck in the antimony that Nietzsche either has a view of truth or rejects truth.

    We begin with the most crude falsifications of the world, which then can eventially be refined into something that is progressively more accurate or less wrong.ChatteringMonkey

    My problem with this is that it's just a variation on the determinatio est negatio of Spinoza and Hegel. It just seems off to suggest that his views were that simple and he failed to credit Spinoza and Hegel (quite the contrary!).

    Also note that truth and untruth, is not to be confounded with 'the will to truth' and 'the will to decieve' which is what he is talking about in the quote in the opening post.ChatteringMonkey

    It's an important distinction, to be sure, but re-read the opening quotation. He says nihilism and pessimism "is taken [by Nietzsche in the book] to be the truth" so we have to be careful dissecting what he means here. Again, if he meant "the will to truth" then I'm certain he would have said so.
  • StreetlightX
    2.7k
    In short, I doubt that for Nietzsche the "What is Truth?" question allows for a singular answer, pragmatic or postmodern. This paragraph is certainly indicative of Nietzsche's views about how particular truths, particular manifestations of the will to truth, etc. function under certain (sickly) conditions. But I don't think he's making a strong claim about truth beyond (like Wittgenstein) attempting to diagnose how truths function in particular circumstances... Nietzsche seems to be aiming for a complex understanding of the multivocality of truth (and the ethics of truth) that nevertheless does not equivocate or reject truth.John Doe

    I pretty much agree with all of this, so perhaps I shouldn't have poisoned the well by dragging in the word 'pragmatic', which, when it comes to N, is indeed too flippant a label. Perhaps it can be put this way: that Nietzsche doesn't have a theory of truth so much as a 'meta-theory' of truth (too formal, again?), one which understands truth - whatever it is in its specificity - as something which has a variable role or function in an ars vitae, which will always differ depending on what motivation underlies those roles (and I'd add here that one can substitute the word 'will-to-power' for the word 'motivation' in the formulation above, to emphasise the impersonal, non-ego-centered sense of 'motivation' I have in mind; the differing wills motivate 'in' us, as it were).

    I think, moreover, that this means that there's nothing particularly all that 'special' about truth: lies, illusions, fictions, and fables can all play similar roles to truth, and that truth is just one historically privileged and thus contingent locus of 'life-bearing' powers, if you will.
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