Interpretation of Nietzsche's "We have art in order not to die of the truth."


Can someone please shed some light on the following quote given by German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:-

We have art in order not to die of the truth.

As far as I can comprehend, he wants to say that the reality or truth of this world is so harsh and brutal that it is better to die from the unreal but pleasing beauty of art. Is that true?

Brijesh Roy

Posted 2018-08-16T02:41:12.480

Reputation: 21

"it is better to die" - but this contradicts "in order not to die". At least that's the case. Take as an analogy "We have medicine in order not to die of illness". – rus9384 – 2018-08-16T02:44:47.290

I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. Is there a source for the quote? Which book by Nietzsche were you reading? – Frank Hubeny – 2018-08-16T02:56:21.180

@FrankHubeny it is not from his books, it was written in a notebook which he always used to carry which was later taken by his sister after his demise.. – Brijesh Roy – 2018-08-16T03:10:45.893

BTW, I doubt there is no source available. Don't you say you have an original and no one else has even a copy? And as far as I acknowledge, it was a fake, not in origin of Nietzsche. – rus9384 – 2018-08-16T03:20:50.797

1The quote can be found at the end of §822 of Book 3 of The Will to Power. There’s a parallel to the notion of the truth as ugly in Nietzsche on page 220 of The Late Notebooks (which is generally a better source), but the phrase in the question does not appear there as far as I can tell... – ig0774 – 2018-08-16T16:38:59.400

I haven't digested all the answers yet, but I would add that it's possible that Nietsche simply viewed art as a refuge from the harsh realities of life; it was a form of escapism. He similarly made an interesting comment about suicide. I can't remember the exact words, but I interpreted it as "Thank God, we are able to pull the plug when life becomes unbearable!" – David Blomstrom – 2019-10-04T00:07:52.813



In sectioin 822 of the Will to Power (ed. Kauffman), Nietzsche's note from 1888 reads thus:

"For a philosopher to say, 'The good and the beautiful are one,' is infamy; if he goes on to add, 'also the true,' one ought to thrash him. Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish from truth." (Will to Power; Section 822)

This note reflects a theme that preoccupied Nietzsche from his early writings on Art in The Birth of Tragedy all the way through later works such as The Gay Science and Beyond Good and Evil. Unlike many philosophers who are concerned with the conditions under which a statement might count as being true, Nietzsche asks why philosophers and subsequently theologians and scientists exhibit such a strong "Will to Truth"-- i.e. why they hold the value of the truth for its own sake to have a status overriding that of all other categories, especially those which are aesthetic and artistic in nature. He is not rejecting the importance of truth in philosophy, science or everyday life. Rather, he is noting that the "Intellectual Conscience" which posits honesty and the acquisition of the truth as the summa bonum, fails to grasp the power of that "untruth" we find in artworks, works of fiction, music etc. The cognitive (knowledge-seeking) and aesthetic perspectives often conflict, and it is far from clear that in each and every case the value of truth is greater (i.e. is more conducive to vitality and health) than the value of the aesthetic. The argument proceeds in 2 steps:

a) Artworks and aesthetic experience can be as vital to human well being as Truth (or more).

b) Living should be understood, in large part, as a work of art in progress. In GS 299, Nietzsche asks, " how can we make things beautiful, attractive, desirable for us when they are not?" He answers the question a few lines down stating that, "we want to be poets of our lives, first of all in the smallest, most everyday matters." (GS; 299) Elsewhere Nietzsche describes this mode of living as, "Giving character to one's self."

Again, in The Gay Science (section 107), under the heading "Our ultimate gratitude to art - Nietzsche writes,

"As an aesthetic experience, life is still bearable for us."

He is echoing his earlier Birth of Tragedy in which he wrote,

"It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."

Translator, Walter Kauffman, suggests that Nietzsche is reminding the reader that it was in that earlier book that he first drew attention to the problematic relationship between science (as the quest for truth) and art (as the quest for beauty and deep aesthetic fulfillment). In The Gay Science, he elaborates on the theme first taken up in Birth of Tragedy, and counsels us to "discover the hero no less than the fool in our passion for knowledge; we must find pleasure in our folly or we cannot continue to find pleasure in our wisdom." In this passage he seems to strike a balance between the ideals of beauty (however much it may stray from true accounts of the world) and the truth (conceived as that which which is taken to be the case, i.e. factuality). For example, war and killing are, in truth not pleasurable for most, but even the the rage of Achilles is something that readers of Homer through the centuries have long understood as beautiful and life-enriching poetry.Even the purposeful lying of Odysseus charms Athena in Homer's Odyssey, though the "intellectual conscience" of modern philosophers and science cannot celebrate "trickery" and dishonesty as does Homer. Art has the power to enrich human experience, but very often it does so by providing us with fulfilling illusions. This is not "bad" but shows that the aesthetic perspective has great value despite its being at odds, in many cases, with the will to truth and putative facts associated with it.


Posted 2018-08-16T02:41:12.480

Reputation: 51


Art is designed to grab our attention at a base level. And that diverts our attention from thought. And thought is madness. No other animal would buy a smoke alarm. There's no fire, why would you need alerting? Sure, avoid falling in the burning pit, but don't lay awake pondering what if, silly human. But the reality is that houses do burn down horrifically on occasion. Ahhhg the worry... Never mind.. strictly come dancing is on the Tele..I'll forget about burning alive for a while. And art is lies.. no serious female tennis player would go commando.. and I'm certain the charge if the light brigade would have had a lot more arterial spray. Still those hats really did look splendid didn't they... Ahhhg grape shot just took of a man's arm from the shoulder all because an idiot made a bad decision... The hats though... Look at the hats...


Posted 2018-08-16T02:41:12.480

Reputation: 310


I think silverskid really delivered a comprehensive and satisfyingly contextualized answer here. I would just add that art is not just a lie, or a way of disguising, concealing, or transmogrifying the truth. It is a way of looking at the world and the various aspects of human existence and experience with a lens that goes beyond the bare, objective, unadorned facts. Those can be horrible and despairing. Art is how we use certain faculties to make life about more than just "the truth"—to make it about beauty, imagination, creativity, poignancy, cathexis, etc.

But I also don't think art is merely a disguise, masquerade, or elegantly crafted form of deception. It is a way of seeing that is arguably equal to "the truth." Unlike the truth, though, which thrives without sun or water, and will arguably continue to exist whether it is acknowledged or not, art is a way of seeing that must be fed constantly, replenished and nourished regularly. Why this is exactly I cannot say.


Posted 2018-08-16T02:41:12.480

Reputation: 1

If you have any references that take a similar view that would help support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome. – Frank Hubeny – 2019-10-03T23:02:44.663

It is because art lives in the mind and not in the matter; and the mind cannot apprehend what is constant it needs contrast and change... – christo183 – 2019-10-04T05:48:01.400


Nietzsche piggybacked on Schopenhauer, came after him and was a much better aphorist. Since Nietzsche said "God is dead" we have a tendency to think of this idea as a settled issue, a done deal. We don't think much of the incredible transition from the comforts of satisfied religion, even for the highly educated, to a lone soul? in an infinitely uncaring universe. Schopenhauer posited the Aesthetic sense as a religious substitute years before Nietzsche did, however Nietzsche condensed the idea into a startling thought.


Posted 2018-08-16T02:41:12.480

Reputation: 1