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Nonmoral Sense vs.

The Gay Science

Brice Jackson

Though it’s somewhat ironic to place a label on a philosopher who spoke so often of the

human race’s ability to generalize, one could say that Friedrich Nietzsche spent a great deal of

his life battling with the concept of truth. Truth and the history of such is especially prevalent in

two early works, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense and The Gay Science. Though these

works were written almost a decade apart, there are surprising consistencies in Nietzsche’s

representation of truth, as well as a clear evolution of concept regarding the nature of truth and

human intellect.

In On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Nietzsche begins with what he deems a fable

which tells of a tiny star, twinkling in a far off solar system, on which knowledge was invented

by arrogant and clever animals. Nietzsche then goes on to say of his fable-“ One could invent a

fable like this and still not have illustrated sufficiently how miserable, how shadowy and fleeting,

how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect appears in nature.”1 Here Nietzsche is saying that

our ability to decisively observe the world is nothing but a manifestation of our necessity to do as

such. It is not something that is derived from a higher power, nor something that is intrinsic, but

rather something that has been curated. This belief in the fact that our intelligence is streamlined

from some higher power is what Nietzsche believes is partly blinding us from the truth. Shortly

after in his dialectic, he states, “The intellect, as a means of preserving the individual, develops

its principal strengths in dissimulation.”2 Our ability as humans to pretend to be more “real” than

we are, or to put on masks in certain social situations is how those who cannot deal with the

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Taylor Carman. On Truth and Untruth: Selected Writings. New York,
NY. HarperCollins Publishing, 2010, pg 18.
2 Nietzsche, pg 20.

But at this point in the dialectic. which were once literal. this separation from reality or suspension of disbelief would help Nietzsche prove his point that the human intellect or. This idea is represented in the following quote: “If truth alone had been decisive in the genesis of language. This is why Greek philosophy often took form in the ultimate disillusioned reality. which thanks to the intellect. and the standpoint of certainty in the genesis of the designations of things. In his rational. drastic emotion. but the ramifications of the deceit. since they still more often than not deceive by applying masks with words.3 This could be interpreted as a critique of humankind represented in the image of the Greek Tragedy. Nietzsche then arrives at the idea of a word as a metaphor. moral and societal codes have been further developed and dictated. or what he calls its impression. pg 21. this creates a certain type of social dogma that makes humans react positively to certain fabricated truths that are deemed safe and absolute and react poorly or viciously to truths deemed harmful or destructive. which create consequences for those who lie. Over time these masks. how would we be entitled to say. ‘The stone 3 Nietzsche. theatre. Since the characters in the plays wore masks to represent a single. transformed into a more of a “lie” and took the form of words which can be utilized as direct forms of deceit. . Since we embody these fake characters. have been masked. our language can only be seen as a representation of the actual essence that we’re perceiving.harshness of reality survive in a society. we never see the truth in reality and live in what Nietzsche calls a dream world in which we only see “forms”. These destructive truths are the truths that Nietzsche believes to be reality. To Nietzsche. in a way. the human agenda is to deceive and suspend disbelief. which leads beings to fear not the lie itself.

other than the predicates of its seeming! Certainly not a dead mask that one could put on some unknown X. Here. we can only describe its seeming. Nietzsche now says that a being or essence is no more than its impression or in this case. Nietzsche develops his concept of being and impression from On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. The Gay Science. Consciousness of Appearance. 6 Nietzsche. pg 55. Nietzsche is yet again creating a phenomenological account of intellect throughout human 4 Nietzsche. . and Z are all seemingly similar. In section fifty-four. which in the previous selection Nietzsche claims is an “metaphor that recalls an image” but said image is nothing more than its seeming. X. “What is ‘seeming’ (Schein) to me now! Certainly not the opposite of some kind of being (Wesen)—what could I possibly say of any such being. Being is beyond a fabricated universal.”4 This idea of impression leads us to the next work. pg 54.’ as if ‘hard’ were something otherwise known to us and not a wholly subjective impression. Us applying a term such as “tree” to an object is our way of describing the commonalities between objects that we observe has being similar. Y. We can never explain an objects essence or being. its seeming. it is something that cannot be dictated. Nietzsche claims that this concept is the only means of “sustaining the universality of dreaming and the understanding all these dreamers have among themselves. 5 hard.”6 In the section Origin of Knowledge. and indeed take off!”5 As expressed in the following quote. so we apply the abstract distinction of “tree”. it is the seeming that is what we are dictating or describing. Instead. as opposed to saying that we can only speak of an object or being as its impression. pg 25. which falls similarly in line to what Nietzsche expressed in the previous selection. someone of something’s being cannot be expressed with a generalized universal such as a word.

He claims that humans throughout time have thought knowledge to be the “principle of life”7 and that these moral truths are concepts that come from within the mind. As a critique of the early German philosophers. we debate and fight over the validity of these falsehoods and never reach a conclusion.history. for example. In his mind. humankind has developed a set of norms or “universal truths” that have been tried and tested throughout time. These truths. otherwise known as an emotion.’ just like all locomotion. in Nietzsche’s mind. universal truths that have to be discovered and unlocked within the consciousness. he states. This applies for “truth” as well. quality appears to be a ‘miracle. It’s seeming can be observed chemically yet there is no means of objectively describing the feeling of the result of said chemical process 7 Nietzsche. planes. but one of a larger capability to describe the seeming of phenomena. bodies. units of space. . is a subjective quality. To Nietzsche. atoms.” Something such as a chemical process. no one has ever ‘explained’ an impulse. Through trial and error. units of time. Nietzsche returns to the description versus reality concept. specifically Kant. pg 57. scientists have never been able to do more than describe the phenomena that occurs in our natural world. “In every chemical process. Cause and Effect. only serve to preserve life. our progression in science is not one of more concrete knowledge or universal truths. with lines. In the final selection from The Gay Science. the development of the falsehoods in knowledge arose out of necessity. In Nietzsche’s argument. and that because we believe that they are universals. How could we possibly explain! We work only with things that don’t exist. Nietzsche believes that these concepts are not universal but in fact constructs of our society. In his defense. which directly correlates to the idea of only being able to talk of something’s seeming.

thus without description.since they’re subjective. if it even is at all. Nietzsche was in a constant battle to perceive the truth in reality. Nietzsche was gradually tweaking his ideas and refining the concepts of falsehoods and truths through instigation. it’s difficult to dismiss the idea that search for truth and reality pervades throughout his entire body of work. This instigation is meant not to dismiss. Any attempt at description would be a generalization. documented briefly in the material written above. At least through his early career. Though he developed and matured into a philosopher all his own. It opens the mind to perception and makes aware of the falsehoods in our societal conventions. but to provoke the reader. Nietzsche is not against the progression of human existence or knowledge. since it has done great things for the human race. . whatever that may be. As one can see. but he skeptical of how it has developed to its then current state and whether or not we can believe this to be one hundred percent true.

NY. HarperCollins Publishing. New York. Friedrich ed. Taylor Carman. Works Cited Nietzsche. 2010. . On Truth and Untruth: Selected Writings.