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The Sincerity of Valuing: Honesty as a Nietzschean Value Standard

Nietzsches conception of value and his resulting positive view have been the focus of
much recent literature, with significant attention directed towards the content of Nietzsches
proposed values and the metaethical status he affords to them. That Nietzsches metaethics has
taken on such a prominent place in the literature is not surprising given the difficulties inherent
to his view and his unique philosophical methodology. There is an obvious, or at least apparent,
tension at the heart of Nietzsches view: he denies the traditional authority and objectivity of
morality, but in making these arguments he seems to undermine his own standpoint for providing
criticism and offering new values.1 I hold that Nietzsche offers his values as more than mere
preferences, and he provides a set of standards to justify these values to others. Here I will not
attempt to characterize or defend the entirety of Nietzsches metaethical position. Instead, I focus
on the kinds of value standards available to Nietzsche that we find present in his work. While
Nietzsche rejects the existence of external value standards, I argue that Nietzsche offers a form
of internal standards of value.2 These value standards function as limiting conditions on valuing.
In this paper I will examine one such limiting condition, which Nietzsche calls honesty.3

The problem has become known to many as Nietzsches authority problem, which Simon Robertson defines: If
Nietzsche denies the objectivity of value upon which moralitys claim to authority rests, he thereby deprives his own
positive values of a legitimate claim to objectivity and authority. Pg. 67. See Simon Robertson, Nietzsches
Ethical Revaluation. In The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 37 (2009): 66-90. For other helpful commentaries on the
matter, see Brian Leiter, Nietzsches Metaethics: Against the Privilege Reading. In European Journal of
Philosophy 8:3 (2000): 277-297, Aaron Ridley, Nietzsche and the Re-evaluation of Values. In Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society 105 (2005): 155-175, and Tamsin Shaw Nietzsches Political Skepticism. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2007.
2
Notably, Paul Katsafanas defends a constitutivist reading of Nietzsche. The constitutivist claims that the
constitutive aim of action provides the standard of the actions success. According to Katsafanas interpretation,
power is the constitutive aim of action. In contrast, I argue not that the aim of action provides the standard but rather
an activity is comprised of standards of excellence. For Nietzsche the activity in question is the activity of valuing.
See Deriving Ethics from Action: A Nietzschean Version of Constitutivism. In Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research 83:3 (2011): 620-660.
3
The Nietzsche most often uses for honesty is Redlichkeit. Alan White points out other terms that Nietzsche
occasionally uses for honesty, or could plausibly be translated as honesty, including Ehrlichkeit, Rechtschaffenheit,
Anstndigkeit, and Probitt. It may be noteworthy that over his career Nietzsche appears to use Redlichkeit with

Honesty might seem an odd concern for Nietzsche, given his well-known criticisms of
truth and objectivity. At the same time, much of Nietzsches work aims to root out errors and
misunderstandings that can become embedded in life or provide the basis of value, as when he
criticizes Christianity for being completely out of touch with reality (AC 15).4 Bernard
Williams argues that Nietzsche has a pervasive suspicion regarding truth but at the same time
holds an intense commitment to truthfulness or an eagerness to see through appearances to
the real structures and motives that lie behind them.5 In some passages Nietzsche characterizes
honesty as something like truth-seeking, and many have understood honesty in these terms.6
However, I follow Williams in understanding Nietzsches goal as one of truthfulness rather than
truth, and I associate honesty with truthfulness, which is consistent with interpreting truth in its
historical and perspectival contexts. I will argue that Nietzsche understands honesty as proper
rigor in our interpretations and deliberations, to which he adds the importance of confrontation.7

I. Honesty as Sincerity in Valuing

greater frequency while his use of Ehrlichkeit diminishes. Nevertheless, my interest in this paper is in a number of
themes related to honesty I find throughout Nietzsches work. I use honesty here to denote these themes, not to name
any particular term. See The Youngest Virtue. In Nietzsches Postmoralism. Ed. Richard Schacht. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001. 63-78.
4
The Antichrist. In The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols. Eds. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman. Trans.
Judith Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
5
Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Pg. 1.
6
For instance, in D 164 Nietzsche appears to define honest men as those who seek the truth. White contends that
many interpretations of Nietzsche understand honesty as truth-telling. He rejects this reading because truth telling is
an ancient virtue, not the youngest virtue as Nietzsche indicates. See pp. 64-65.
7
Nietzsche emphasizes honesty throughout his work, with the idea playing especially important roles in Daybreak,
The Gay Science, and Beyond Good and Evil. Ansell-Pearson points out that Nietzsches 1880-81 notebooks
included sketches for planned books of the title Die Leidenschaft der Redlichkeit. See Editors Afterword. In
Dawn. Ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011. Pg. 378 n. 24. Common threads appear
connecting Nietzsche many references to honesty in the different periods of his work, although it is unclear how
consistent his notion of honesty remains. Generally speaking, my interest is in understanding what I take to be the
role honesty plays in Nietzsches mature view, though I think in this case our understanding of his later view is
helpfully informed by looking to some of his earlier writings.

Rather than looking at honesty as truth-seeking, Nietzsches concern about truthfulness


amounts to an interest in sincerity. In particular, it is a sincerity that has to do with valuing it is
after all honesty that compels us to new values that are no longer rooted in ignorance.8
Nevertheless, it is unclear what sincerity involves in the domain of valuing. Perhaps honesty is
interpersonal, as in being sincere to others, which Williams defends as a significant component
of his view of truthfulness. He argues that sincerity has a fundamental connection with trust,
making truthfulness closely related to the virtue of trustworthiness.9 The connection depends on
communication, since we must communicate with others, requiring trust in others to obtain
information. However, the honesty we find in Nietzsches work does not appear to rely on
communication or interpersonal relationships. Nietzsche suggests that honesty, in the context of
valuing, is a self-directed concern regarding self-deception in ones own values.10 So what is it to
be sincere to oneself when valuing? It is possible that honest values reflect the individuals true
self. Insincere valuing would occur when values fail to reflect a persons deepest desires, needs,
or goals.11 Thus, honesty might entail an individual determining her core interests and making
sure her values align with them. Yet this answer is problematic, since it is not clear what kind of
true self Nietzsche could have in mind; he believes humans are comprised of competing, even
conflicting, drives and desires.12 There is no one condition or unification easily identified as the

GS 335.
Williams pp. 87-93.
10
Throughout Nietzsches writings we find the claim that honesty must be self-directed. We find this explicitly most
often in Daybreak, including D 167, 335, and 556. I argue that honesty retains this self-directed component, but in
his later works Nietzsche makes it clear that honesty is often with reference to ones experiences.
11
In support of this interpretation, we find Nietzsche arguing that the ability to love requires honesty and thorough
self-knowledge (D 335). Elsewhere, Nietzsche implies that it is dishonest for a person to go with the crowd and
leave behind her own tastes (GS 368).
12
See, for example, D 109 and GM II: 1.
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essence of any individual. Also, it is not clear that Nietzsche advocates, or even accepts the
possibility of, eliminating foreign or heteronomous influences.13
Nietzsche characterizes honesty, in the form of being sincere to oneself, as a virtue. It is
not only the youngest virtue but also the virtue characteristic of Nietzsches free spirits.14 We
have to be careful, though, because there is a trivial sense in which valuing must be sincere.
Values reflect a persons needs, desires, and concerns, making all valuing a sincere activity. My
values must, by definition, reflect what I care about. Nietzsche must be after a more robust
conception of sincerity, indicated by his insistence that many people do value insincerely.
Honesty of this sort is thus not distinctive of any instance of valuing but rather of what it is to
value well. Nietzsche is convinced that something is wrong with the way people value that is not
explained solely by the content of their values.
At least one requirement of valuing well is that values are developed in view of all
relevant facts. If pertinent information is ignored or misunderstood, then the corresponding
values cannot be considered honest. Nietzsche describes many such failures. For example, he
thinks Christianity relies on misconceptions of human nature, especially with regard to drives,
emotions, and explanations of action. The result is that Christian values often try to deny the
physical elements that Nietzsche finds central to human experience. The resulting values contain
errors in how they purport to respond to their context; hence, on Nietzsches formal account
these are poorly-conceived values despite functioning in the same way as honest values. The

13

Recently a number of works have appeared that examine the role of autonomy in Nietzsches thought. I agree that
Nietzsche is interested in a version of autonomy, but I dispute that this autonomy is an individual task. The abundant
nature of value creation, and the importance of friend and peer relationships, indicates, I believe, that Nietzsche
accepts a social version of autonomy. But for obvious reasons I cannot defend this reading here.
14
Nietzsche refers to honesty as the youngest virtue in D 456 and Z:1 On the Hinterworldly, and in D 556 he calls
it a cardinal virtue. In BGE 227 he describes it as our virtue appropriate to Nietzsches free spirits or preferred
audience. Unsurprisingly, it is found rarely among moralists and saints (TI Skirmishes 42).

errors indicate the corresponding values and commitments do not reflect what the valuing agents
believe they do. A more honest religion would be one whose founders have more adequate
approaches to interpreting their own experiences.15
To articulate a more honest form of valuing, Nietzsche insists that valuing must take into
account and respond to all relevant details about an individuals life experiences. To see how this
works in valuing, we can compare it to a similar requirement we find in life affirmation. In The
Greatest Weight Nietzsche presents his ideal of life affirmation in terms of the eternal
recurrence:
What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest
loneliness and say to you: This life as you now live it and have
lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times
again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every
joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small
or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession
and sequence even this spider and this moonlight between the
trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of
existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of
dust!16
Affirmation requires an individual to affirm all elements of her life down to the smallest detail.
According to Lanier Anderson, the role honesty plays is that of a regulative ideal. He believes
affirmation is a test of the harmony between an individuals life and values. If the individual
were to omit or ignore any events of her life, then affirmation could not establish this harmony.
In fact, such affirmation could be consistent with disharmony between values that persons actual
life if not every event is included.17

15

See GS 319.
GS 341. The Gay Science. Ed. Bernard Williams. Trans. Josefine Nauckhoff. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2001.
17
Lanier Anderson, Nietzsche on Truth, Illusion, and Redemption. In European Journal of Philosophy 13:2
(2005): 185-225.
16

Anderson is certainly correct that affirmation requires a holistic attitude towards ones
life, as it requires an attitude whereby all aspects of life are accepted and loved. In contrast, the
activity of valuing does not require any particular attitude, and valuing does not entail the
affirmation of life as a whole. Values are simply responses and commitments which make sense
in the context that individuals life; accordingly, a persons values do not require assessment by
means of external standards. Nietzsche embraces honesty as a more general constraint on
valuing, targeting the disposition and rigor with which values are formed. Honest valuing, like
affirmation, requires the inclusion of all details and facts. To affirm life, a person must affirm
even the spider and the moonlight.18 To value honestly, the individual must take note of the
minor details; nothing can be ignored or avoided, and all elements of ones life should be taken
into account.

II. Honesty as Confrontation


Defining honest valuing in terms of responding to minor details and relevant facts still
faces a significant problem, which Anderson puts as follows: The raw facts of my life may well
admit of different descriptions, under which they would assume different meanings. It is
important to be honest no less about what the facts of my life mean than about what they are, and
the potential range (and variation) of meanings complicates the task.19 Even if the honest person
considers all the relevant facts that underlie her values, we are left to grapple with what honesty
could look like once we abandon the idea that one interpretation must be best. My suggestion is

18

Christopher Janaway makes a similar claim, arguing that if the individual wants everything about herself as it is or
as it was, she implicitly affirms the full truth concerning oneself without pretence, distortion, omission, or
obfuscation. See Beyond Selflessness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 243-244.
19
Anderson pg. 207.

that we can better flesh out honesty as a value standard by investigating its relationship to the
idea of confrontation.20 The honest person confronts all relevant facts and possible
interpretations. While open to different interpretive routes, confrontation makes it possible to
have values that respond to and overcome the difficulties faced in life. Dishonest valuing, on the
other hand, involves failing to confront the difficult facts about a persons situation.
Nietzsche advanced the importance of confrontation throughout his career, with its roots
in his early work on tragedy, though its role changed over time. At its most basic level,
confrontation involves coming to terms with that which is most difficult to accept or to
overcome. Nietzsche thinks most people tend to avoid or ignore the more difficult and troubling
aspects of life.21 In his early work, Nietzsche thought only being forced to confront and accept
unwanted features of life could get around the human tendency to ignore the facts. In The Birth
of Tragedy he held that tragedy provided the means of confronting life. The origin of tragedy
was in Dionysian music that revealed the true nature of existence, especially the cruelty and
horrors of human life. Tragedy helped the Greeks by not only revealing the condition of life but
also providing a resolution that made life livable. Without tragedy, humanity was largely in
ignorance of its contingent, meaningless existence. To make these conditions palatable, tragedy
came to include other theatrical elements. Tragedy aimed to seduce the audience into accepting
life despite also revealing the terrible nature of human existence. In this way, tragedy was an
early attempt to understand how life affirmation was possible. Tragedy was honest in that it

20

Richard Schacht argues that confrontation is part of the philosophers intellectual honesty. The genuine
philosopher has the strength to dispense with comforting illusions and confront disagreeable truths. See Making
Sense of Nietzsche. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Pg. 74. However, the kind of confrontation I defend
here is not only a form of intellectual honesty but it is crucial to the activity of valuing.
21
Recent research appears to support Nietzsches claim. For instance, political scientists have found that
misinformed people, when exposed to correct facts, often become more stubborn in their initial beliefs. See Brendan
and Jason Reifler. When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misconceptions. In Political Behavior 32:2
(2010): 303-330.

revealed the nature of the world, and it forced the audience to see things, more or less, as they
were. In providing a story of human mistakes in an indifferent world, the Greeks could see that
even heroes could be foiled by existence. If heroes die in cruel and ironic fashion, the fate of
average humans must be even worse. Without tragedy providing a means for this realization,
apparently Greek values would have been inadequate to take into account the fundamental
human condition. The condition would have been ignored, and Greek valuing would have been
built on an unstable foundation.
Tragedy and the Dionysian revealed the human condition to Greek society on the whole,
but Nietzsche also recognized the personal transformation that confrontation with reality can
bring. The confrontational element of the tragic should, ideally, lead each person to reflect on her
own existence. Nietzsche makes his case for reflection in his comments on tragic myth. The
myth provides an image of the hero, and the audience might be tempted to think the scene is
mere fiction. Upon closer examination, the events in the myth reveal to the audience something
deeper. It says to the audience, Take a look! Take a close look! This is your life! This is the
hour-hand on the clock of your existence!22 The demand of honesty by myth is a key element of
tragedy. It brings the individual to understand the nature of her own existence, which affects the
attitude with which she understands herself and her commitments. The honest Greek thus
understands the contingency of her own existence but also the creative possibilities that remain
before her.
As Nietzsches career progressed, he changed his mind about the necessity for tragedy in
providing this kind of confrontation. He continued to find importance in some version of the

22

BT 24. The Birth of Tragedy. Eds. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. Trans. Ronald Speirs. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Dionysian, but he no longer emphasized the dialectic of tragedy, believing the approached he
used in The Birth of Tragedy smells offensively Hegelian.23 Yet, despite eliminating much of
the complicated machinery of tragedy, his later works continue to develop the theme of
confrontation and the importance of the individual facing life in an honest manner. Nietzsche
advocates a wild honesty (ausschweifende Redlichkeit) through which individuals recognize
themselves as part of the natural order. He insists, The terrible basic text of homo natura must
be recognized even underneath these fawning colors and painted surfaces, an achievement made
possible by translating humanity back into nature.24 Tragedy is no longer needed to promote
this confrontation; Nietzsches free spirits will be able to confront their own existence. Thus,
Nietzsche changes the orientation of honesty. In tragedy, the work of art revealed to humanity
the condition of human life. It performed this task because humanity was unable to come to grips
with its condition through other means. In Nietzsches later works honesty is not found in art; it
is instead a virtue the individual exhibits. As such, it is a disposition evident in valuing and
practical reasoning, delineating what makes these activities count as successful. When coming to
value, honesty should be the approach that is taken, meaning successful valuing confronts
opposing facts.
Nevertheless, Nietzsche did not completely sever honesty from tragedy, since Nietzsche
defines honesty as insight into delusion and error as a condition of cognitive and sensate
existence.25 Nietzsche lauds honesty, but the honest life must include aesthetic experience, since
art is needed to temper the nausea and suicide honesty can induce. So in these later works there
appears a tension between how much honesty can be accepted. The free spirit is characterized by
23

EH BT: 1.
BGE 230. Beyond Good and Evil. Ed. Rolf-Peter Horstmann. Trans. Judith Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002.
25
GS 107.
24

a wild honesty, but complete honesty also makes life unbearable. To move past this tension
towards a constraint on valuing, we will need to look at honesty in practice. In his portrayal of
the honest individual, Nietzsche does not shy away from his earlier connection of honesty to the
tragic. Immediately following The Greatest Weight, Nietzsche presents an extended exploration
of honesty; only the story takes the form of tragedy Incipit tragoedia.26
Zarathustra considers nothing more precious and rare than honesty.27 He is recognized
by others as genuine, proper, simple, unequivocal, a human being of all honesty, a vessel of
wisdom, a saint of knowledge, a great human being!28 Zarathustras honesty is revealed through
an array of confrontations with different individuals and ideals.29 Nevertheless, the clearest
depiction of Zarathustras honesty is in the treatment of the Great Noon. At noon, when the
sun is at its highest point, shadows are gone and we have the clearest vision of the world.
Zarathustra describes the great noon as a time of judgment.30 But the great noon is not simply a
moment that will arrive and reveal the way things this would essentially be a reprise of the
tragic, where an event brings about a form of confrontation. Instead of waiting for the great
noon, Zarathustras honesty comes from being sun-like himself. Zarathustra begins his prologue
by comparing himself to the sun. Later he differentiates himself from the sublime individuals
who are not themselves suns, claiming, And only when he turns away from himself will he leap
26

Robert John Ackermann also notes the significance of Zarathustra as an updated version of the Greek tragedy. He
argues that the aim of the work is to make the Dionysian process bearable to the Germans. See pg. 43. I think this
misses the development in Nietzsches view regarding the importance of honesty and tragedy for human life. See A
Frenzied Look. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.
27
Z:4 On the Higher Man 8. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Eds. Adrian Del Caro and Robert Pippin. Trans. Adrian Del
Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
28
Z:4 The Magician 2.
29
One example is the honesty Zarathustra brings to traditional religious beliefs and practice. Zarathustra sees that
religious belief inevitably encounters doubts and skepticism, and it cannot withstand further examination.
Zarathustra believes the time for doubting has come and gone, and we now must make do in a godless world. As
Laurence Lampert puts it, it is the historic consequence of the Christian truthfulness that draws one inference after
another against itself, destroying Christian dogma, Christian morality, and, finally, in its most striking inference,
questioning the will to truth itself. See Nietzsches Teaching. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. Pg. 187.
30
Z:3 On the Three Evils 2. See also EH Books D:2.

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over his own shadow and truly! into his own sun.31 The suggestion is that the honest
individual is able to bring the great noon to his own experiences, having as a disposition the
ability to see the world clearly. For the honest Zarathustra it is always noon; there are no
shadows or illusions, only clarity concerning the way things are.
We can now resolve the problem Anderson described concerning the many
interpretations supported by a set of facts. Nietzsche aims to provide some constraint by holding
the individual must confront the world in valuing. Dishonest valuing is still valuing, but for the
activity to be successful it must acknowledge the context in which it takes place. Thus, honesty
rules out some interpretations while still allowing a plurality of views. As a limiting condition on
valuing, honesty is not as stringent as the requirements of life affirmation. Honesty does not
necessarily entail a love of life, as Nietzsche indicates should be the outcome of the eternal
recurrence. However, honesty shares with affirmation the ideal that all of life must be confronted
and accepted in order to provide an adequate foundation for valuing. A person can still value
based on incorrect information, but the results will be inadequate for Nietzsches ideal and the
development of new values.
Honesty provides a constraint on values in the form of a standard that arises from the
activity of valuing itself. Nietzsche appeals to standards of excellence internal to the activity that
constitute it, and in doing so he can determine what values undermine the very activity of
valuing. In other words, values fail not by some external standard but because they are
inconsistent with the success of the pursuit. In this case, honesty shows how the approach or
disposition involved in valuing provides limitations on the activity. Values provide not just
goals or ideals but also the orientation or deliberative framework from which such evaluations
31

Z:2 On the Sublime Ones.

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and responses are made, carving out a space of acceptable values.32 Successful values are those
that meet the needs and desires of the individual. Dishonest values cannot do so, instead
depending on the world as imagined by the individual. Honesty reveals certain values as
inadequate, resting on a mistaken understanding of the world and the individuals place in it.

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This conclusion might seem in tension with a theme we find throughout Nietzsches work, that we should always
strive for excellence rather than settling for the minimum. However, I am not convinced Nietzsche can successfully
defend the excellence of particular values as he sets out to do. The subjectivity Nietzsche affords to values simply
does not justify a clear account of human flourishing. Nevertheless, the strategy of ruling out certain values is
consistent with many other aspects of Nietzsches work.

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