Jun 19 · 6 min read
By Bill Ebbesen —

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”

Being reproached one day for having falsified the currency, [Diogenes] said, ‘That was the time when I was such as you are now; but such as I am now, you will never be.’

— Diogenes Laertius, “Lives of Eminent Philosophers”

There appears to be a concerning truth about truths: there are a lot of them, and the exchange rates between them are highly variable. Some truths are widely accepted as currency, while others are accepted only in limited areas and under oppressive conditions — functioning as a kind of “company script”. Now and then, the refusal to deal in an accepted currency can even provoke penalties — ranging from mistrust to defamation and imprisonment. To trade in truths remains a high-stakes game.

In The Will to Power, Nietzsche describes our situation as follows:

In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings. — “Perspectivism.” It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm. (WM §481)

Good news: the world is knowable! And in other, related news: the world (and perhaps the very concept of knowledge itself) is laden with countless meanings and potential interpretations. And what is it that interprets the world? Our needs and our drives, their evaluative & judgmental Fors and Againsts! Each of which drives is a little tyrant of its own — each of which has its very own perspective! This is perspectivism: the notion that the truths in exchange and circulation are the result of a clash of forces between (and within!) the drives which constitute the motivating forces behind any human relations in which such exchanges occur. Of course, I’m sure one could see it differently — in fact, let’s try that out.

What else is perspectivism? It is the refusal of that one world currency often described as objective truth. It is the artistic expression of one’s innermost natures, and in turn their artistic expression of their innermost natures, all the way down (or up, whatever) to the world’s artistic expression of all things. Is it nihilism? Sure. But it is also moral absolutism. Perspectivism as a framework incorporates & affirms both, because the world expresses both insofar as they are, respectively, each the victory of some tyrannical little drive or need. Perspectivism is a psychologist’s ontology and an ontologist’s psychology: with it one can begin to ask not whether nihilism or moral absolutism is more true, but rather of which needs and drives they are respectively symptomatic.

Perspectivism is the affirmation of multiplicity in interpretation. Rather than asserting (paradoxically) that truth does not exist, here it is asserted that many truths exist. Walt Whitman’s verse comes to mind:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

As with the poet, so with the world. The investigation undertaken by the perspectivist is not into the truth, but into whose truth. Gilles Deleuze, in his extremely insightful Nietzsche & Philosophy, suggests that Nietzsche opposes the Socratic and monistic “what is it?” with a pluralistic “which one?”:

According to Nietzsche, the question ‘which one?’ (qui) means this: what are the forces which take hold of a given thing, what is the will that possesses it? Which one is expressed, manifested, and even hidden in it? We are led to essence only by the question: which one? For essence is merely the sense and value of the thing; essence is determined by the forces with affinity for the thing and by the will with affinity for these forces. Moreover, when we ask the question “what is it?” (qu’est-ce que) we not only fall into the worst metaphysics but in fact we merely ask the question ‘which one?’ in a blind, unconscious, and confused way. The question ‘what is it?’ is a way of establishing a sense seen from another point of view. Essence, being, is a perspectival reality and presupposes a plurality. Fundamentally it is always the question ‘What is it for me?’ (N&P, p.77)

Here Deleuze points at the descriptive and diagnostic nature of perspectivism: it is not some kind of ideology, but functions instead as a methodology. It provides a way out for those trapped in the “fly-bottle” of the “worst metaphysics”, by presenting a way in which one can proceed without becoming mired in one’s own merely-presumed objectivity. Nietzsche himself suggests that entire philosophies can be understood in this fashion: not by asking whether they are true or which parts of them are true, but by asking which impulses are in possession of the philosopher who crafts it — which forces are thereby made manifest:

It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of — namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown. Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: ‘What morality do they (or does he) aim at?’ Accordingly, I do not believe that an ‘impulse to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse, here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. (BGE §6)

And what is a morality but a cohesion of Fors and Againsts by which one can be possessed and used as an instrument? A force which takes hold of us things, a will which possesses us things — already Thales, at the very beginning of our record, told us that all things are full of gods. As it was then, so it is now. Can we perhaps invite & shape these perspectival possessions? Can we draw the god of our choice into ourselves, and guide which one of these forces possess us & provide us our visions? Perhaps — methods for inducing this kind of transformation could be investigated further. Nietzsche himself suggested it was possible to induce such perspectival “enthusiasm”:

Particularly as knowers, let us not be ungrateful toward such resolute reversals of the familiar perspectives and valuations with which the spirit has raged against itself all too long… : to see differently in this way for once, to want to see differently, is no small discipline and preparation of the intellect for its future “objectivity” — the latter understood not as “disinterested contemplation” (which is a non-concept and absurdity), but rather as the capacity to have one’s Pro and Contra in one’s power, and to shift them in and out, so that one knows how to make precisely the difference in perspectives and affective interpretations useful for knowledge. (GM III, 12)

The capacity to have one’s For and Against in one’s power, to shift them in and out — what a fascinating possibility! Which forces would be in possession of someone who could do that? I will end there, with this question current in my own thinking. I hope this suffices for a mere introduction, and provides enough to inspire further curiosity & further work. Much has been omitted here & much remains to investigate. On the subject of enthusiasm, I’ll give Deleuze a final word:

[…] the question ‘which one?’ reverberates in and for all things: which forces, which will? This is the tragic question. At the deepest level the whole of it is held out to Dionysus. For Dionysus is the god who hides and reveals himself, Dionysus is will, Dionysus is the one that. The question ‘which one?’ finds its supreme instance in Dionysus or the will to power; Dionysus, the will to power, is the one that answers it each time it is put. We should not ask ‘which one wills?’, ‘ which one interprets?’, ‘which one evaluates?’ for everywhere and always the will to power is the one that. Dionysus is the god of transformations, the unity of multiplicity, the unity that affirms multiplicity and is affirmed of it. ‘Which one is it?’ — it is always him. This is why Dionysus keeps tantalizingly quiet: to gain time to hide himself, to take another form and to change forces. (N&P p.77)

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