On Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” (1873).
What is truth? This essay, written early in Nietzsche’s career but unpublished during his lifetime, is taken by many to make the extreme claim that there is no truth, that all of the “truths” we tell each other are just agreements by social convention.
The regular foursome are joined by a U. Texas grad school classmate, Jessica Berry from Georgia State University. She argues that Nietzsche is really just being a skeptic here: our “truths” don’t correspond with the thing-in-itself, i.e. the world beyond our human conceptions. He wants us to understand that all knowledge is laden with human interests. Taken this way, the essay won’t undermine itself; if he isn’t saying “there is no truth,” then that claim won’t apply to itself.
What Nietzsche for sure does say is that the “will to truth” that philosophers so prize is puzzling, given how beneficial to our survival many mutually held illusions are: we’re safe, things are stable, we understand our environment. When philosophers declare truth to be the most valuable thing, they’re going beyond the mundane purposes for which the will to truth developed (e.g. communicating in a consistent way to our mutual benefit) and massively overestimating our capability to know the world as it “really” is.
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End song: “Stupidly Normal,” from Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio (1998). Download the album for free.
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