Did Friedrich Nietzsche believe in "the truth"?



It is well known that Friedrich Nietzsche was very condemnatory of the objective truth, however, while analyzing his words, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not he believes in the truth at all.

Does Nietzsche believe that the truth exists, but there are just too many "not wrong," or specious perspectives to analyze it thoroughly ?

If one were to observe On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, it seems as though Nietzsche is stating that even the idea of truth is outrageous, and it all comes down to a will for power.

Is Nietzsche asserting that it simply takes multiple perspectives to analyze the truth thoroughly, and that we can approach the value of the truth by synthesizing enough perspectives [analogous to approaching a limit in calculus]? Or, is he saying that even the idea of "truth" is a lie.


Posted 2014-12-02T02:28:06.630

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There is a lot of room for flexibility in interpreting Nietzsche, and unfortunately I do not find him offering anywhere a single, positive characterization of truth and its status.

However, I would not agree that, as the question puts it, “it is well known that Friedrich Nietzsche was very condemnatory of the objective truth.” Nietzsche certainly attacks views about truth and criticizes how the idea of truth is deployed, by both philosophers and laypeople. He offers sharp criticism of those who feel confident they have access to certain truths, and offers cutting analysis of how people use claims of access to important truths as part of claims to power. He especially criticizes claims to truths about value, about what is good and bad. These analyses are a big part of what why Nietzsche is so influential.

Yet, it does not follow from those criticisms that Nietzsche rejects truth or objective truth. Even a criticism of the possibility of objectivity is not a criticism of objective truth. Indeed, when he criticizes positions, he is not shy on leaning on the idea that those positions are wrong—that they are not true. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it:

in his equally forceful attacks on, e.g., Christian cosmology, or religious interpretations of natural events, he invokes the conceptual apparatus of truth and falsity, truth and lie, reality and appearance, all the time.

And also, “read[ing] Nietzsche as a global anti-realist — i.e., as claiming that there are no truths or facts about anything, let alone truths about value — … has now been widely discredited.”

More generally, though, consider what follows if you think Nietzsche cannot admit that any claim is more accurate than any other. He cannot say that one kind of life, for instance a life of greatness, is superior to any other kind of life. He cannot say that there are reasons that it's right to admire Beethoven and not to admire servile toadies. He cannot say that certain religious figures engage in deception, misleading their followers. And indeed he does argue those points, not qualified as merely a function of his own perspective, but as a matter of how things are.

Overall, then: Nietzsche does not offer a clear positive articulation of what truth is, and is best known for his remarkable, critical attacks on how we understand and use the idea of truth, but does not offer reasons to think that he does not believe some claims are true and some are false.

(Note, however, that on this point, some of the reflections in the the essay—unpublished during his lifetime—usually titled “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” stand in some tension with most of the rest of his work.)


Posted 2014-12-02T02:28:06.630

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"He cannot say that one kind of life, for instance a life of greatness, is superior to any other kind of life." - "Superior" and "great" objectively? The point of Zarathustra is that "The way does not exist". i.e. There is no objective truth. Your way is only superior according your table of values. – nakiya – 2014-12-03T06:08:06.380

@nakiya Though that is one way of reading Zarathustra, it is certainly not necessarily “the point” of it, and I don't think that interpretation fits well with Nietzsche's overall body of work. – ChristopherE – 2014-12-03T14:21:46.247

While I do not doubt that my reading maybe incomplete and partial, my point was that you are expecting Nietzsche's thought to be more "true" in an objective sense. Isn't this the same kind of thing that Nietzsche denounces? Where are we situated when we say "He cannot say that one kind of life, for instance a life of greatness, is superior to any other kind of life."? What is the "objective" justification for where we are situated? Isn't this what Nietzsche questions all the time? – nakiya – 2014-12-04T01:37:03.493

Nietzsche would say superiority or admiration for Beethoven is not about truth but about will to power. The Romans proved their superiority by their conquest and mastery (both of land as well as of internal passions). You admire Beethoven because his music stimulates you (to affirm life). One of Nietzsches central points is to question the idea that 'truth' as the final measure of all things. – jeroenk – 2014-12-04T11:21:06.140

Yes, and the value of affirming life for Nietzsche—simply a matter of taste, take-it-or-leave it, like one's favorite color? – ChristopherE – 2014-12-04T18:31:33.453

Thank you for this insightful answer [and sorry for the late acceptance, I have been busy with finals]. Cheers. – Gödel – 2014-12-14T20:50:23.430


Indeed, this is difficult and a matter of interpretation.

The 'weak' interpretation is: when Nietzsche talks about truth, he means objective, platonic truth. And that truth is a perspective of a (weak, christian) will to power. But as you say, Nietzsche seems to mean something stronger.

The 'strong' interpretation is: Nietzsche means truth in general is a perspective of will to power. I.e. everything is a perspective, there is no truth. But, maybe this is too strong. In the somewhat less strict sense of scientific truth (best theory vis-a-vis the empirical facts) or regarding simple, everyday propositions as 'It rains outside', this position seems unmaintainable.

An intermediairy interpretation would be that not the truth of a perspective, but its life stimulating force, its strenghtening of will to power, is what really matters (or matters more).


Posted 2014-12-02T02:28:06.630

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