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(1873) Friedrich Nietzsche and Truth (@proxytruth)

Perhaps the most important issue to be addressed by anyone wishing to supplement their knowledge with toy worlds is that of the method in which we can find a serious substitute for @realtruth.

That is an issue that I have had on my mind for a long time and about which I (not at all a Nietzsche connoisseur and as far as I understand something of his overman ideal not a fan either) was nevertheless blown out of my socks by one of his pieces.

It was somewhere in 1995 when I read it. It exposed my tendency to condone ignoring details. Reading it made me realize that something is wrong with that. The piece is from 1873, can be found all over the internet (also in Kaufmann’s translation, in the Portable Nietzsche) and is called On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense.

The piece made enough of an impression to earn a lemma in Wikipedia. I give my version of the two quotes that are highlighted therein:

Every word immediately becomes a concept, in as much as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases—which means, strictly speaking, never equal—in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal.


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 […]

I left out the last part, not so much because it is considered a recommendation for deconstructive thinking, but because it gives, avant la lettre, a negative moral assessment of Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity as the force that binds through showing similar characteristics. The second quote completes with:

[…] 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.

Here Nietzsche falls short as a scientific thinker and connects his personal Dionysian preferences with aversion to averages and ingrained ways of saying and thinking without examining whether and if so when preference can or even should be given to such knowledge stories. The fact that Nietzsche as a philosopher looks down on bonding in groups does not seem to be sufficient grounds for adopting it as a criterion for assessing the knowledge value of metaphors about a pandemic. Nietzsche focuses on assessing @realtruth of the sensitive, autonomous person, Durkheim on the socially embedded individual.

And with that, the real problem is on the table: if we have to make do with illusions and metaphors that try to mimic @realtruth, how do we find the best in a world populated by people of different characters? That is a political issue, a matter of circumstances, of knowledge, of aims, of experience, of feedback and comparison combined.

Nietzsche’s piece on lies in an extra-moral sense leads to the realization that the @realtruth does not exist and that while modeling for its approximation with toy worlds several @proxytruths will have to be modeled and related to the characteristics of those who adopt them while living in the toy world involved.