Nietzsche on truth

The human intellect, everything we know, is as nothing compared to the stars burning across the universe.

For millennia our intellect was silent, and when it goes silent again it will be as if nothing existed

If we talked with the insects they would tell us that the universe revolves around them.

So it is with our own vanity.

Our philosophers have fooled themselves into believing that they see all when they are only blown up like intellectual puffer fish.

What we think we know is pride that conceals existence.

The intellect protects the weak through deception. We have no poison fangs or claws — but we can deceive ourselves to survive.

We flutter in our vanity — only the few seek the truth.

Our morality does not stop this deception.

And yet, what does man know of himself? He cannot perceive himself in totality. As I write my blood is pumping unseen in my veins. I have no control over this. It happens to me.

My body is me, and it is not me.

Given that we live in illusion, how did the drive to truth arise?

Man deceives to live, yet to live with others there must be agreed principles.

Hence, we live among established “truths” that are true only in so far as they allow us to be sociable.

Truth and lie begins in language. If we attach an arbitrary label to a thing then we have started to lie.

If we lie in a selfish way we will be excluded — but trivial lies are permitted.

It is the consequences of deception that we find immoral, but not deception itself.

Equally, we despise truth-telling when it violates the necessary social deceptions that maintain society — the true lies that allow for sociability.

And perhaps languages cannot describe all realities.

Words are not about truth but about a sufficient expression — we do not need the truth, only enough truth to convey a certain meaning.

Language bewitches us in to believing that we know about trees, chairs and people — but we have only fallen in love with a metaphor.

Our language allows us to deceive ourselves in regards to cause and effect. We look at dogs, we pick a few common characteristics to create “the dog”, and then we forget all the inequalities between dogs.

We then walk about the world explaining a dog’s behaviour as being caused by the fact the dog is a dog, but we have forgotten that “dog” is a useful label and does not encompass all the possible reasons for behaviour and all the variations.

And so it is with human beings, if we consider a man “kind” we forget the individual instance of kindness that led us to consider him so and interpret all his subsequent actions in light of his “kindness” — perhaps even if he does us ill.

Truth is thus metaphor, human invention magnified by rhetoric. We have created a theatre so good that we have forgotten that we are in a theatre.

We only really know this social truth, which is an illusion and when we speak about morals we speak only about maintaining the socially accepted lie.

The truth teller is the man who does not disturb the social consensus. This is why artists are usually outcasts, for they tell their own truths that conflict with society’s truth and so are regarded as being untruthful and immoral.

And yet in telling their truth they may shift society’s truth in the next generation.

We invent concepts, we pile them up built on rules and logic and these allow us to comprehend the world in our terms. We can identify a particular ant, but we can only identify the ant as a man knows an ant and never as an ant actually is.

Our language web allows us to function in the world through concepts but as it allows us to function it obscures our instincts — we reject that which cannot be conceptualised, such is the fate of the mystic.

Integrity comes about by forgetting this conceptual world.

There is no third party to which we can appeal for truth, which is more correct: Man, bird or God? God may know all in the religious schemas, but to know all precludes knowing the subjective nature of man and so is contradictory.

Scientific truth builds up its foundations, which are solidified like all social truth through repetition — but it forgets its foundations when it pronounces on the world. Science accepts revision in principle but to function it must take certain points on trust.

All ages have intuitive and rational men, with the latter struggling to tie everything to concepts and the former flowing with the Tao.

The intuitive man suffers again and again. He does not learn from his mistakes, yet he is joyful. The rational stoical man lies to himself in regard to the general and so escapes to worst through blindfolding himself to truth — though in ordinary social matters he speaks the truth still.

And in our contemporary world the stoical, rational man is the neurotic who suffers from conforming too well to the social lies.

This is a summary and response to On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873).