The Truth About Truth - A Nietzsche Feature (Darwin Festival version)


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Nietzsche is known for harping on about the inevitable break down of old moral/religious values in a post-Darwinian world. But often overlooked are his hugely influential thoughts on the nature of truth and certainty in a world that is essentially meaningless.

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The Truth About Truth - A Nietzsche Feature (Darwin Festival version)

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. On the Origin of Species published 1859 • Nature is not static – it’s dynamic and changing, it adapts • Nature is self-organising – order and complexity can develop without the need for an intelligent creator • What matters most in nature is what works best/what fits best/what is “strongest/fittest” in its environment.
  3. 3. Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 - 1900 • “God is dead... and we have killed him...” • The old religious/moral worldview, the value system the underpins society is untenable (no longer the “fittest” explanation of the world!) • Problem: NIHILISM – the void left after the old value system has broken down. Nothing to believe in, no meaning or purpose or justification for life.
  4. 4. The Will to Power • Beyond Darwin - Life is not just about survival • Life is about FLOURISHING - and transforming your environment into a place where you and your kind can flourish Not just physically, but culturally, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually - VALUES again.
  5. 5. The Truth about Truth: A Nietzsche Feature
  6. 6. Human, all too human #1 All writers, all arguments, no matter how rational and reasonable and logical, have an agenda - a gut instinct, a value set, a lifestyle-choice perspective that they intend to impress upon the reader. Do not be fooled by appearances of objectivity. Do not be fooled by any attempts at a dry, dispassionate tone. If you want to get under the skin of any author that aims to convince, the first thing to ask is: “What do they want the world to be like?” Never mind surface argument for now – dare to be sleazy and underhand, look for evidence of what the author blindly believes, presumes, craves and aspires to – and when you lower the dress of that surface argument again, it will all look a little less immaculate; and it’s cut and shape will make a lot more sense.
  7. 7. (From Beyond Good and Evil notes ~ 1: On the Prejudices of Philosophers)
  8. 8. (From Beyond Good and Evil notes ~ 1: On the Prejudices of Philosophers)
  9. 9. Anti-dualism ~or~ Plato is a life-denying world-hater
  10. 10. How can this Nietzsche guy deny ‘truth’? • Doesn’t deny that some kind of ‘actual’ ‘reality’ exists but: • Skeptical that much of what we take to be ‘truth’ is ‘actually’ dry fact, free of any value judgements and interpretation • That so-called ‘truths’ can be universalised • That ‘truth’ can ever avoid being anthropocentric • That objective truth comes before our subjective experience • That ‘truly’ objective truth, without interpretation, is in any way meaningful to us
  11. 11. • From Socrates and Plato, through Christianity and up to the reigning scientific paradigm of today, convention has placed a fixed realm of universal truth behind the ever-changing reality that we actually engage with. For Nietzsche, though ‘Truth’ is a human thing built upon our subjective, individual, changing experiences: • The so-called universal, the ideal, the definitive, the objective are all human constructs built upon the actual, the situational, the ever-changing world of ‘appearance’.
  12. 12. The revaluation of all values Philosophers have tried for centuries to pin down a hard, solid grounding for knowledge, looking for absolute certainties. Nietzsche was cynical about this – he suggested we largely accept and believe what is valuable to us, our society, our species. Value comes before truth. Or rather ‘truth’ is only valued if it is useful, and what is useful will be taken as ‘truth’. The pursuit of truth for truth’s sake may lead us into nihilism – since the ultimate nature of reality is irrational, unknowable and meaningless without subjective interpretation NOT relativism, but perspectivism – not all perspectives are of equal value.
  13. 13. Logical Fictions • Rationalised myths that we cling to make sense of life and help us live. • Any structured belief system about what life is about, how the world works, and how we fit into that. • Useful – probably necessary. Not necessarily ‘true’. • We all have these.
  14. 14. What do we mean by “Truth” “Only that which has no history is definable.” (Genealogy of Morals, 2, 13). Brand new words and concepts may be coined to refer to just one thing – but old, well-used terms will have been used in a variety slightly different of ways, in slightly different contexts, and will have shifted around over time. “Truth” is no different.
  15. 15. Eg. Propositional truth: Where what is ‘real’ must match up to a concept or an assertion Analytical truth: Where what you say must have an internal logical consistency Universal truth: Where what is ‘actual’ is eternal, static and unchanging Ontological truth: Fundamentally what ‘is’ and ‘is not’ the case, regardless of if anyone has said anything about it.
  16. 16. “Every word is a prejudice.” (The Wanderer and His Shadow, 55) • • • Any expression in words will only highlight a limited aspect of the concept or situation you are dealing with, a package of signs that gesture towards a wider reality it is trying to pin down. There's a whole raft of decisions that need to be made before you float an utterance out from your gob: What words are you going to use, what angle are you going to come at it from, how will you start, what are you going to include, what are you going to leave out, what are you going to highlight or prioritise as important? All of these serve to present the information in a way you want it presented, designed to have a particular impact. There are possibly infinite variations, all of which are 'true', in that the facts are the same, despite very different trajectories. It’s not necessarily deliberately manipulative or disingenuous – often you will express things the way you have picked up on them, the way you see or interpret them, and prioritise what is genuinely most important to you at that moment. In fact you can’t do anything else, but also, in fact, it’s very rare you will ever say anything that isn’t in some way in your interests to say, and pretending this is the same as speaking the whole dry truth is either naive or flat-out bogus.
  17. 17. “What, then, is truth? 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.” (On Truth and Lie, 1) “The map is not the territory” – Alfred Korzybski
  18. 18. Some More Quotes n That “Truth - Against positivism, which halts at phenomena – ‘there are only facts’ - I would say: No, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations.” (The Will to Power, 481) “The ‘apparent’ world is the only one: the ‘real’ world has only been lyingly added. . .” (Twilight of the Idols, ‘‘Reason’ in Philosophy’, 2) “Here one may certainly admire man as a genius of construction, who succeeds in piling an infinitely complicated dome of concepts upon an unstable foundation, and, as it were, on running water.” (On Truth and Lie, 1)
  19. 19. The Godfather of Post-Structuralism The Middlemarch example: Thomas will now draw something. OVER THERE.
  20. 20. Human, all too human #2 Our truths are always anthropocentic – we define everything by how we relate to it, and cannot take ourselves out of the picture. What we refer to as ‘truth’ is always our truth, the ‘facts’ as they relate to us, the meaning is always from our perspective. So much for objectivity. How do we know what a tree is? How ‘true’ would the statement “The book is on the table” be to an interdimensional intelligence that only senses via magnetism?
  21. 21. Meaning
  22. 22. Nietzsche’s Final Thought Alas, what are you after all, my written and painted thoughts! It was not long ago that you were still so colourful, young, and malicious, full of thorns and secret spices – you made me sneeze and laugh – and now? You have already taken off your novelty, and some of you are ready, I fear, to become truths: they already look so immortal, so pathetically decent, so dull! And has it ever been different?… We immortalise what cannot live and fly much longer – only weary and mellow things! (Beyond Good and Evil, 296)