Truth and Lies, Part I
This is a continuation of thoughts related to Nietzsche’s watershed essay, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.
I left off yesterday discussing Nietzsche’s assertion that man invented language as a “binding designation,” to bring us as close to “pure truth” as we can get.
…a uniformly valid and binding designation is invented for things, and this legislation of language likewise establishes the first laws of truth. For the contrast between truth and lie arises here for the first time. The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real (Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense).
Man invented the words of languages as “valid designations” of truth. By accepting these,
…we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things–metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities .
The words we use have originated by equating things that are different. Take snowflakes, for example. Every snowflake is unique, yet we designate all snowflakes by the word, snowflake. This word is not the true thing, but merely a designator of similarities. The similarities of all snowflakes leads to the invention of forms, as in Plato’s philosophy, where, in a separate world somewhere, there exists a perfect snowflake. Of course, this sort of mental meandering sets up a state of dualism, and brings about a plethora of other philosophical problems, which this short article cannot deal with.
When words are created to designate “truths,” there arises a necessary contrast between truth and lie. But a liar is not defined in the manner in which we are accustomed to. Nietzsche tells us that a liar is someone “who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real.” Therefore, we are all liars, by necessity, since all of us use the valid designations. We “lie according to a fixed convention, to lie with the herd and in a manner binding upon everyone” So, we perform our “duty which society imposes in order to exist: to be truthful means to employ the usual metaphors.” Furthermore, mankind
…forgets that this is the way things stand for him. Thus he lies in the manner indicated, unconsciously and in accordance with habits which are centuries’ old; and precisely by means of this unconsciousness and forgetfulness he arrives at his sense of truth.
The ramifications of Nietzsche’s thought in this essay are staggering. His ideas, here, were revolutionary in his day. It was a total break with the epistemologies presented prior to 1873. We arrive at our sense of truth via unconscious mendacity, because we have forgotten that this is simply the way things are. When humans begin to use language, they lay aside all intuitions and immediate impressions of the world around him, placing “his behavior under the control of abstractions.” The reducing of images into concepts now creates a totally new world of knowledge:
Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept. For something is possible in the realm of these schemata which could never be achieved with the vivid first impressions: the construction of a pyramidal order according to castes and degrees, the creation of a new world of laws, privileges, subordinations, and clearly marked boundaries-a new world, one which now confronts that other vivid world of first impressions as more solid, more universal, better known, and more human than the immediately perceived world, and thus as the regulative and imperative world.
By this order, we have landed on the shores of this new world of cool logic, mathematics, the rational, and, finally, Gebser’s deficient mode of rational consciousness, of which we are now reaping the whirlwind. The descent of rational man began when we accepted the methodology of arriving at truth by lying. It is lying because we accept, as absolutely true, things which are not absolutely true. Nietzsche uses the example of the word, mammal:
If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be “true in itself” or really and universally valid apart from man.
Such mendacity arises from viewing man as the center of the universe, as if nature were meant to serve us. Nietzsche says, “what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man.” The primary error we make is believing that the designated metaphors are true in themselves.
Due to this sort of dissimulation, we are now enmeshed in a
…conceptual crap game [where] “truth” means using every die in the designated manner, counting its spots accurately, fashioning the right categories, and never violating the order of caste and class rank.