Friedrich Nietzsche: The Drive for Nonmoral Truths
Analysis of Truth in Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” Essay
Where is the line between lie and truth?
Or better, how is there a drive for truth?
These questions seem less applicable when looked at as mere structural questions, but when looking at the function of them in real-world scenarios, we are led to understand the influence such forms of truths have on our lives.
What questions does Nietzsche’s work pose?
Nietzsche’s question in One Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense is how a drive for truth could have arisen when the purpose of our intellects is the development of social strategies for survival, strategies that are foundations of various forms of deception and self-deception (including, forgetting of our own impulses)?
Another question prevalent throughout this essay is what are these extra-moral and nonmoral truths? What does Nietzsche mean by “drive for truth”?
What are nonmoral truths?
Nonmoral truths turn out to stand in opposition to the drive for truth, despite the fact that they are implicated in its origins. We seek nonmoral truths initially for the sake of survival — for their “pleasant, life-affirming consequences”; and the more positive “celebration of life” that humans see in artistic activity.
In contrast to this concept, the drive for truth involves scientific and philosophical pretensions to absolute truths that are “beyond human life.” We can think of this idea as for instance, exploring environments outside of Earth, or essentially asking the questions bigger than those that humanity poses for survival.
These forms of truth have gone beyond our cognitive capacities and interests. They are moralized just to the extent that they possess values that serve some purpose other than life and seek something that transcends the object of our biologically conditioned impulses, whether “the good” (in our ethical concerns) or absolute truth (in our scientific and philosophical pursuits).
The Problem Posed
Now when we refer back to the initial work on how the drive for truth arises in a self-deceiving intellect, a problem arises.
That problem is the idea that it is difficult to explain the drive for truth when the human intellect works to deceive us. These forms of deception have a few sources:
The intellect cannot transcend its specifically human interests in order to obtain an inhumanely objective standpoint. Essentially, there is no additional mission which would lead beyond human life.
The pride in possession of the intellect and high estimation of the value of knowing and sensing is “like a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of men.”
Dissimulation and Forgetting
The function of the intellect is at its core, self-preservation by ideas other than the exercise of mere physical force, but also the establishment of social existence. Humans have thrived off of being the life on Earth, that can communicate.
With the cognitive revolution, we grew to create fiction. We grew to create myths that allow us to thrive in almost all social environments. We grew to share, so that then we could build both physical structures like the great pyramids and civilizations that lasted 1,000 years like that of the Roman Empire.
To dissect this concept further, to look into the true requirements, to build on these environments: we have to look at the bad as well.
Fulfilling these functions requires dissimulation (flattering, lying, wearing a mask (you should wear a physical mask!) and playing a role). These functions also require “forgetting” — in a way of evocative of Freudian repression- our “pitiless, greedy, insatiable and murderous” impulses.
Language, the fourth source of deception, is not an “adequate expression of all realities.” A word is a mere copy of nerve stimuli, and we cannot infer the cause of a nerve stimuli (yet ;)). A word like “soft” not only describes not an in-itself property of a field of grass, but also the nature of our reaction to a stimulus — a “totally subjective stimulation” or our relation to some mysterious X; but things in themselves are incomprehensible
As such, words and images are metaphors for things but “correspond in no way to the original entities.” In the analyzed work, Nietzsche says:
Every word immediately becomes a concept, in as much as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases — which means, strictly speaking, never equal — in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal.
Author, Paul F. Glenn understood this work as though, Nietzsche is arguing that “concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.” Although all concepts are metaphors invented by humans (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), writes Nietzsche, human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe they are “true” and do correspond to reality. Nietzsche’s concept of truth is:
A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
Through these ideas of truth and its relation to human language, postmodern theorists started to build off their ideas. Thus, Nietzsche is sometimes called the “godfather of postmodernism.” Which is rather funny, as postmodernism contrasts with existentialism, one of Nietzsche’s key lessons.
Concept formation, the fifth source of deception is not adequate to reality. Concept words to not refer to entities (for example forms), and when we subsume individuals under them, we ignore their differences, treating unequal things equal. There are no forms concepts of species, but really just and indefinable and inaccessible X.
Note: Nietzsche’s reference of an “X” is reminiscent of Immanuel Kant’s “object = x” in The Critique of Pure Reason.
The Origin of the Truth Drive and Today
So what is the origin of the drive for the truth in an intellect that functions to deceive?
Early in his essay, Nietzsche seems to have given us an answer: the drive for truth has its origins in the nonmoral distinction between truth a lie required for self-preservation. But this answer turns out to be too vague, and the rest of the essay is spent making understanding truth, more specific by appropriating this drive by focusing in on nonmoral lie.
It turns out that the origin of the truth drive, in an intellect driven to deceive, is the very dissimulation (self-deception and deception of others). Truth in the moralized sense is just lie in the nonmoral sense, once our awareness of nonmoral lies as such has become unconscious: which is to say, once we have forgotten that such lies are lies, and forgotten that fact that our drive to absolute truth is constructed from the impulse to dissimulation that grounds social life.