Start your review of On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense Write a review Nov 26, Rakhi Dalal rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Nietzsche fans Shelves: favorites , essay , philosophy We live in a shallow world which is, barring nature, nothing but the manifestation of the superficial lives that people subsist in. A life of dissimulation which is the consequence of smugness, a form of self idolatry resulting from the arrogance which comes from an idea of knowledge; whatever little it is that we know of our, negligible and perhaps insignificant, existence on this tiny planet in a corner of the vast Universe. This little idea is comprehensible on account of human intellect We live in a shallow world which is, barring nature, nothing but the manifestation of the superficial lives that people subsist in. This little idea is comprehensible on account of human intellect which humans employ in order to survive.
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Haussmann and included in the indispensable Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche public library. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.
One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. But if we could communicate with a gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself.
There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought.
For the contrast between truth and lie arises here for the first time. The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real. If he does this in a selfish and moreover harmful manner, society will cease to trust him and will thereby exclude him.
What men avoid by excluding the liar is not so much being defrauded as it is being harmed by means of fraud. Thus, even at this stage, what they hate is basically not deception itself, but rather the unpleasant, hated consequences of certain sorts of deception. It is in a similarly restricted sense that man now wants nothing but truth: he desires the pleasant, life-preserving consequences of truth. He is indifferent toward pure knowledge which has no consequences. Are designations congruent with things?
Is language the adequate expression of all realities? It is the copy in sound of a nerve stimulus. What arbitrary differentiations! What one-sided preferences, first for this, then for that property of a thing! This creator only designates the relations of things to men, and for expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors… It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities… A word becomes a concept insofar as it simultaneously has to fit countless more or less similar cases — which means, purely and simply, cases which are never equal and thus altogether unequal.
Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. With this, Nietzsche returns to his central premise and distills the notion of truth as a social contract in language: 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 yet what Nietzsche tenders is not relativism but a framework for differentiating between truth and lie, rooted in the understanding that language — a human invention and social adaptation — is too porous a vessel for holding pure reality beyond the anthropocentric: To be truthful means to employ the usual metaphors.
The venerability, reliability, and utility of truth is something which a person demonstrates for himself from the contrast with the liar, whom no one trusts and everyone excludes. He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions.
First he universalizes all these impressions into less colorful, cooler concepts, so that he can entrust the guidance of his life and conduct to them. Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept.
At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation.
His method is to treat man as the measure of all things, but in doing so he again proceeds from the error of believing that he has these things [which he intends to measure] immediately before him as mere objects. He forgets that the original perceptual metaphors are metaphors and takes them to be the things themselves. Our purest contact with reality, Nietzsche suggests, lies in breaking free from the trap of language and standing in absolute attentive presence with the actuality of what is before us — beyond classification, beyond description, beyond constriction into concept: Only by forgetting this primitive world of metaphor can one live with any repose, security, and consistency: only by means of the petrification and coagulation of a mass of images which originally streamed from the primal faculty of human imagination like a fiery liquid, only in the invincible faith in this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in short, only by forgetting that he himself is an artistically creative subject, does man live with any repose, security, and consistency.
Science will be able to dig successfully in this shaft forever, and the things that are discovered will harmonize with and not contradict each other. How little does this resemble a product of the imagination, for if it were such, there should be some place where the illusion and reality can be divined. Against this, the following must be said: if each us had a different kind of sense perception — if we could only perceive things now as a bird, now as a worm, now as a plant, or if one of us saw a stimulus as red, another as blue, while a third even heard the same stimulus as a sound — then no one would speak of such a regularity of nature, rather, nature would be grasped only as a creation which is subjective in the highest degree.
Art by Alessandro Sanna from Pinocchio: The Origin Story Nietzsche shines a sidewise gleam on the abiding question of whether mathematics — that supreme catchpool and calculator of the laws of nature — is discovered, a fundamental fact of the universe, or invented, a human language: After all, what is a law of nature as such for us? We are not acquainted with it in itself, but only with its effects, which means in its relation to other laws of nature — which, in turn, are known to us only as sums of relations.
Therefore all these relations always refer again to others and are thoroughly incomprehensible to us in their essence.
All that we actually know about these laws of nature is what we ourselves bring to them — time and space, and therefore relationships of succession and number. But everything marvelous about the laws of nature, everything that quite astonishes us therein and seems to demand explanation, everything that might lead us to distrust idealism: all this is completely and solely contained within the mathematical strictness and inviolability of our representations of time and space.
But we produce these representations in and from ourselves with the same necessity with which the spider spins. If we are forced to comprehend all things only under these forms, then it ceases to be amazing that in all things we actually comprehend nothing but these forms.
For they must all bear within themselves the laws of number, and it is precisely number which is most astonishing in things. All that conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of the stars and in chemical processes, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.
Just as the bee simultaneously constructs cells and fills them with honey, so science works unceasingly on this great columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions. It is always building new, higher stories and shoring up, cleaning, and renovating the old cells; above all, it takes pains to fill up this monstrously towering framework and to arrange therein the entire empirical world.
He locates the common impulse undergirding both language and science: The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself.
Two centuries after Pascal, whom Nietzsche greatly admired, examined the difference between the intuitive and the logical mind , he ends by considering the tradeoffs between these two orientations of being — the rational and the intuitive — as mechanisms for inhabiting reality with minimal dissimilation and maximal truthfulness: There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction.
The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption — in addition to obtaining a defense against misfortune.
To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. He is then just as irrational in sorrow as he is in happiness: he cries aloud and will not be consoled.
How differently the stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts is affected by the same misfortunes! This man, who at other times seeks nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection against ensnaring surprise attacks, now executes a masterpiece of deception: he executes his masterpiece of deception in misfortune, as the other type of man executes his in times of happiness.
He wears no quivering and changeable human face, but, as it were, a mask with dignified, symmetrical features. He does not cry; he does not even alter his voice. When a real storm cloud thunders above him, he wraps himself in his cloak, and with slow steps he walks from beneath it.
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On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense
In my reading of this text, Nietzsche attempts to persuade his audience to see that intellect is merely human, and that it fabricates the illusion of truth—a reflection. Instead of relying on empirical evidence, he illustrates his points through analogical reasoning, thereby demonstrating the very ideas the text proffers: truth is something creative, not factual, logical, or otherworldly. It is nothing more than little moments of discovery. By using dialogic inquiry, figurative language, and illustration, Nietzsche demonstratively persuades his readers to accept that truth is an act of human creation, not a fact, and that metaphors are as close to the truth as man can ever get. He organizes the essay as a kind of question-and-answer self-dialogue. The reader is only a shadow thought of a future yet to come, at least in the act of writing, even more so in this case, as the essay was never published by the author. Here, the audience is literally the writer.