On Nietzsche’s Late Notebooks
Notebook 36, June - July 1885 36
It is unfair to Descartes to call his appeal to God’s credibility frivolous. Indeed, only if we assume a God who is morally our like can ‘truth’ and the search for truth be at all something meaningful and promising of success. This God left aside, the question is permitted whether being deceived is not one of the conditions of life.
The question of God is potentially the most horrifying question that can be posed. A ‘God’ with any definite attributes could under certain circumstances (adhering to a tertium non datur and other Aristotelean notions) imply a world where things can be thought yet not exist, not even as possibilities. The same would involve an unmooring of thought and reality and a whole domain where God is not. Essentially it would mean madness, and a foundationlessness as the central reality of Creation. The problem of the lack of complete one-to-one correspondence between thought and existence can only be poorly described here. Existence is not even entirely the right category when naming what is lacking when able to think thoughts where God is not. If God has any set of definite characteristics, those characteristics will logically require the exclusion of certain other characteristics which, for being conceivable, and yet not of God or of Creation, mean that reality as the perpetual limiting factor on thought is gone. When one thinks, one always thinks of something that can be matched up to a reality, whether actual or potential. There is always an in-principle correspondence to the extent that a thought is always referring to something that is always already there — even if one restricts or creates the ‘reality’ on the side of the referent intentionally or ‘falsely’. If I read a novel, the universe created is strictly speaking false. Yet in its unfolding the words of the novel refer to the ‘events’ which are likewise in the novel. The words really just refer to the novel itself, the novel in its unfolding, and what those words name is at once my anticipation of what is to come and the unique grammar of the novel itself, the novel as self-organizing system. (What the novel ‘names’ are not referents in the outside world, but the system of the novel itself re-organizing
itself at each passing moment.) That this can even be done with a novel, or with a symphony for that matter, which has even less of a ‘referent’ and is just this self-organizing system of grammar designed to evoke emotions — is only possible because it is already outside of me. It is ‘objective’, that is, an object already thought of by somebody else and presented. My mind is able to go far on a trail that is already blazed. It is able to go less far in a thicket or at the start of the jungle (philosophy). Thought organizing itself is usually not able to discover and rely on its own grammar in the extended sense of the examples above. To be sure, there are so-called laws of logic, and thought in a sense discovers itself along these lines. But these laws are rather more microscopic. Using the analogy of music, the laws of logic may maintain the distance between the notes, but they are not sufficient to account for the unique signature of a whole symphony, the total grammar which is not fully disclosed until the end of the last note. This might, of course, be a difference between man and God. Mankind is unable to think in a way, at will and in the space of minutes, that his thoughts as a body of thought can be experienced (and therefore created in progress) according to its own higher-order ‘grammar’. Or all this might just be the ‘unconscious memoir’ of its author. Nietzsche is interested in returning to his insight of deception as a prerequisite for life. But his deception is an a priori deception, one that is more purely formal. Deception that is felt as such, and yet also foundational, would be an entrance to irrationalism. In other words, if one directly intuited the groundlessness of thought and Creation, as Descartes began to do in his Meditation, then one would only fall into an abyss of absolute terror, as Descartes nearly did. Descartes’ solution was a sort of negation of the negation in which he took his own fear, the spiraling of his being into the abyss of terror, as proof of his existence. It was, after all, not nothing. Able then to intellectually say that he still existed (on account of the fact that there was someone there who was terrified), he was able then to intellectually disprove the very thoughts that caused him fear. It was all a splendid bit of para-logic, maybe even the first. After all, the translated saying ‘I think, therefore I am’ does not say, ‘I think, therefore it exists’. Cogito ergo sum is always presented as a proof of the external world, as a way of discrediting infinite doubt about the
external world (and internal, as Descartes expanded the scope to include himself: thus his terror). But cogito ergo sum does not mention the world. It was always about the ‘I’. It is interesting that Nietzsche does not rule out a deceiving God here. Indeed, Nietzsche is hardly the militant atheist that everyone pretends. Nor is he some closet Christian owing to lack of conviction. He is something altogether different — he is, in fact, exactly what he says he is. An interesting side-note: negative theology can be easily adapted with only the slightest alteration into a doctrine of a deceiving God. Instead of saying God is by definition absent, and that in Creation we only always discern his absence, an effect of his absence — one might as easily say that God is always a set of masks. And behind each mask there is always another mask. This would preserve the formal procedure at the heart of negative theology, and also introduce the element of deception into it. A deceiving God who is always not what you have just found (on account of his being a deceiving God) is even slightly more substantial and slightly more believable a doctrine than negative theology because he has more personality. Negative theology holds that God is utterly unknown and unknowable; this new doctrine holds that God is utterly unknown and unknowable because he is a deceiver.