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Nietzsche on Truth

Nietzsche on Truth

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Published by: Kim Smith on Jun 06, 2009
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09/25/2010

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Nietzsche on truth
There is no pre-established harmony between the furtherance of truth and the well-being of man-kind. (
Human, all too Human
§517)Over immense periods of time, the intellect produced nothing but errors. A few of these proved tobe useful and helped to preserve the species: those who hit upon or inherited these had better luckin their struggle for themselves and their progeny… [Later, however, a] subtler honesty and scepti-cism came into being, [and did so] wherever two contradictory sentences appeared to be
applic-able
to life because
both
were compatible with the basic errors, and it was therefore possible to ar-gue about the higher or lower degree of 
utitlity 
for life; also wherever new propositions, though notuseful for life, were also evidently not harmful to life: in such cases there was room for the expres-sion of an impulse to intellectual play, and honesty and scepticism were innocent and happy like allplay. Gradually, the human brain became full of such judgements and convictions, and a ferment,struggle, and lust for power developed in this tangle […] The intellectual fight became an occupa-tion, an attraction, a profession, a duty, something dignified
-
and eventually knowledge and thestriving for the true found their place as a need among other needs [… ] Thus knowledge becamea piece of life itself, and hence a continually growing power 
-
until eventually knowledge collidedwith those primeval basic errors […] A thinker is now that being in whom the impulse for truth andthose life-preserving errors clash for their first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to be alsoa life-preserving power. (
The Gay Science
§110)We see that science also rests on a faith; there simply is no science ‘without presuppositions’.The question whether 
truth
is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed tosuch a degree that the principle, the faith, the conviction finds expression: ‘
Nothing 
is needed
more
than truth, and in relation to it everything else has only second-rate value’. This unconditional willto truth – what is it? Is it the will
not to allow oneself to be deceived 
? Or is it the will
not to de-ceive
? […] Note that the reasons for the former principle belong to an altogether different realmfrom those for the second. One does not want to allow oneself to be deceived because one as-sumes that it is harmful, dangerous, calamitous to be deceived. In this sense, science would be along-range prudence, a caution, a utility; nut one could object in all fairness: How is that? Is want-ing not to allow oneself to be deceived really less harmful, less dangerous, less calamitous? Whatdo you know in advance of the character of existence to be able to decide whether the greater ad-vantage is on the side of the unconditionally mistrstful or of the unconditionally trusting? But if bothshould be required, much trust
as well as
much distrust, from where would science then be permit-ted to take its unconditional faith or conviction on which it rests, that truth is more important thanany other thing, including every other conviction? Precisely this conviction could never have comeinto being if both truth and untruth constantly proved to be useful, which is the case. Thus – thefaith in science, which after all exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to such a calculus of utility;it must have originated
in spite of 
the fact that the disutility and dangerousness of ‘the will to truth’,of ‘truth at any price’ is proved to it constantly. […] Consequently, ‘will to truth’ does
not 
mean ‘I willnot allow myself to be deceived’ but – there is no alternative – ‘I will not deceive, not even myself’;
and with that we stand on moral ground 
. For you only have to ask yourself carefully, ‘Why do younot want to deceive?’ especially if it should seem – and it does seem! – as if life aimed at semb-lance, error, deception, simulation, delusion, self-delusion […] Charitably interpreted, such as re-solve might perhaps be a quizotism, a minor slightly mad enthusiasm; but it might also besomething more serious, namely, a principle that is hostile to life and destructive. –‘Will to truth’ –that might be a concealed will to death. […] But you will have gathered what I am driving at,namely, that it is still a
metaphysical faith
upon which our faith in science rests – that even weseekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from theflame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Pla-to, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. (
The Gay Science
§344)The will to truth that will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which allphilosophers so far have spoken with with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laidbefore us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! […] Indeed we came to a long halt atthe question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still
 
more basic question. We asked about the
value
of this will. Suppose we want truth:
why not rather 
untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance? (
Beyond Good and Evil 
§1)The falseness of a judgement is for us not necessarily an objection to a judgement; in this respectour new language may sound strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-pre-serving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-cultivating. And we are fundamentally inclinedto claim that the falsest judgements (which include the synthetic judgements
a priori 
) are the mostindispensable for us; that without accepting the fictions of logic, without measuring reality againstthe purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world by means of numbers, man could not live – that renouncing false judgements wouldmean renouncing life and a denial of life. To recognize untruth as a condition of life – that certainlymeans resisting accustomed value-feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks thiswould by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil. (
Beyond Good and Evil 
§4)Nobody is very likely to consider a doctrine true merely because it makes people happy or virtu-ous – except perhaps the lovely ‘idealists’ who become effusive about the good, the true, and thebeautiful and allow all kinds of motley, clumsy, and benevolent desiderata to swim around in utter confusion in their pond. Happiness and virtue are no arguments. But people like to forget – eveneven sober spirits – that making unhappy and evil are no counter-arguments. Something might betrue while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic charac-teristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case thestrength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the ‘truth’ one could still barelyendure – or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would
require
it to be thinned down,shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified. (
Beyond Good and Evil 
§39)Henceforth, my dear philosophers, let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fictionthat posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject’; let us guard against the snaresof such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason’, ‘absolute spirituality’, ‘knowledge in itself’: thesealways demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in noparticular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing be-comes seeing
something 
, are supposed to be lacking; these always demand of the eye an ab-surdity and a nonsense. There is
only 
a perspective seeing,
only 
a perspective ‘knowing’; and the
more
affects we allow to speak about one thing, the
more
eyes, different eyes, we can use to ob-serve one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’, be. But to elim-inate the will altogether, to suspend each and every affect, supposing we were capable of this –what would that mean but to
castrate
the intellect? (
On the Genealogy of Morals
, Essay 3, §12)It seems, if I have not misheard, that Christians have a sort of criterion for truth called ‘the proof of strength.’ ‘Faith makes blessed:
therefore
it is true.’ – We should begin by pointing out that thisblessedness has not been proven, only
 promised 
: blessedness is conditional on ‘faith’ – you
will 
become blessed
because
you have faith... But whether this
really 
takes place, given that thepriest’s promises involve a ‘beyond’ which is inaccessible to verification – how can
that 
beproven? – So the would-be ‘proof of strength’ is itself basically just another article of faith that theresult promised by faith will come to pass. In short: ‘I have faith that faith makes blessed; –
con-sequently 
it is true.’ – But this brings us to the end. This ‘consequently’ would be the
absurdum
it-self as criterion of truth. – But let us suppose, just to be accommodating, that blessedness hasbeen
 proven
through faith –
not 
just desired,
not 
just promised from out of the somewhat dubiousmouth of a priest: in this case, would blessedness, – or, to put it technically,
 pleasure
– ever be aproof of truth? This is so far from being the case that it is practically a counter-proof, but in anyevent there is the greatest suspicion against ‘truth’ when pleasurable sensations are invoked to an-swer the question ‘what is true?’ The proof of ‘pleasure’ is a proof of ‘pleasure,’ – nothing more;how in the world could it ever be established that
true
judgements are more enjoyable than falseones, and are necessarily followed by pleasant sensations according to some pre-established har-mony? The experience of all rigorous, of all profoundly constituted spirits teaches
the
 
opposite
.We have had to wring the truth out of ourselves every step of the way, we have had to give up al-most everything that our heart, our love, our trust in life relied on. It requires greatness of soul: theservice of truth is the hardest service. – So what does it mean to be
honest 
in spiritual matters?

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