Nietzschean Truth

In Nietzsche’s works, two opposite understandings of truth are present. On one hand, truth has been greatly criticized in Nietzsche’s works. “[S]o far one has called lies truth.”1 He holds that truth is foreign to and the enemy of life and advocates for the depreciation of truth. In the 24th section of the third essay in his book On the Genealogy of Morals, he writes:

"Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” — Very well, that was freedom of spirit; in that way the faith in truth itself was abrogated.

That which constrains these men, however, this unconditional will to truth, is faith in the ascetic ideal itself, even if as an unconscious imperative — don’t be deceived about that — it is the faith in a metaphysical value, the absolute value of truth, sanctioned and guaranteed by this ideal alone.2

Nietzsche identifies the unconditional will to truth as a form of asceticism. He warns that truth presupposes the existence of “another world”, one different from that of life and his world, our world, is denied in the meantime.3

On the other hand, even though the truth is false according to Nietzsche, truth is yet the necessary condition of life, without which humans cannot live:

[W]e are fundamentally inclined to claim that the falsest judgments (which include synthetic judgments a priori) are the most indispensable to us, and that without accepting the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the wholly invented world of the unconditioned and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world through numbers, people could not live — that a renunciation of false judgments would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life.4

If truth is both a lie and the necessary condition of life, naturally a great threat is imposed on anyone who attempts to investigate beyond the truth. What are we if we were deprived of the condition of life? No wonder in the famous paragraph where Nietzsche describes the death of God, he expresses an overwhelming amount of fear and disorientation with his literature beauty:

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?5

It is not surprising that, consequently, to recognize the lie of truth and to witness the death of God require great courage in Nietzsche’s opinion. This courageous perseverance in this cruelty for Nietzsche constitutes a new truth. This truth is no longer a condition of life, what makes life flourish. Truth has become a vicious source of threats that will rip us out of our lives at any time. Throughout Nietzsche’s works, he displays certain heroism of this truth, an ethical imperative to pursue the truth. He puts the enduring of truth as the measure of value. In Ecce Homo, he writes:

How much truth does a spirit endure, how much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value. Error (faith in the ideal) is not blindness, error is cowardice.6

To figure out the riddle by Nietzsche, we have to ask a simple question: what is truth?

  1. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, 326.↩︎
  2. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, 150-151.↩︎
  3. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 344↩︎
  4. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 7↩︎
  5. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 125.↩︎
  6. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, 218.↩︎