Supposing truth is a woman—what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? (Preface)
Even if today we wouldn’t use the same kind of gendered language, Nietzsche’s point is worth consideration. Just as a man who tries to go about enticing a woman into a relationship wouldn’t do so with a formal logical treatise, perhaps the way to achieve truth is not through ever clearer and more precise dogma, but rather with a simpler and softer approach.
Which isn’t to say that such rigid and systematic philosophy doesn’t have its place. To be sure, Nietzsche thinks that all such philosophical systems may be reduced to the base motivations of their creators:
It seems that all great things first have to bestride the earth in monstrous and frightening masks in order to inscribe themselves in the hearts of humanity with eternal demands. (Preface)
And yet, these masks have an important role to play in our development toward truth and life. If nothing else, they have given us an enemy to strive against and overcome. “Plato’s invention of the pure spirit and the good as such” and its more popular form as expressed in Christianity are that which “we, whose task is wakefulness itself” must overcome (Preface).
What tools to we have in our quest for truth? We have the “will to truth,” but that’s a tricky tool to wield.
What questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions!… Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”? (1)
Some have tried to find the truth through the collision of opposites (and I suspect Nietzsche has Hegel in mind here; perhaps Marx as well, though I’m not sure that the dates line up). Yet this assumes that truth is the result of opposites, rather than being their foundation. In fact, if the truth is the foundation of what exists, then all things that appear to be “opposites” must in fact be different expressions of truth:
For all the value that the true, the truthful, the selfless may deserve, it would still be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for life might have to be ascribed to deception, selfishness, and lust. It might even be possible that what constitutes the value of these good and revered things is precisely that they are insidiously related, tied to, and involved with these wicked, seemingly opposite things—maybe even one with them in essence. Maybe! (2)
Once we understand this, we can even understand how philosophy works. The philosopher begins with his own assumptions and moral valuations and then puts together a philosophy that arrives at the kind of worldview he prefers (3, 5–6). In that case we cannot reject something simply because it is false, since it may be tied to a foundation that is true:
The falseness of a judgment is for us not necessarily an objection to a judgment; in this respect our new language may sound strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-preserving, species preserving, perhaps even species-cultivating. (4)
Sifting out the philosophies which derive from and move toward that goal from those which pursue the personal interests of the philosopher is the project at hand. The Stoics, for example, claimed to live for nature; yet when we examine closely their view of “nature” it becomes quite apparent that all they are doing is imposing their own moral systems on the natural world (9). Likewise Kant pushed his entire philosophy according to the “categorical imperative” (5), and Plato of course has already been mentioned as a creator of the idea of “pure spirit” (Preface). The positivists of his own day may eventually arrive somewhere with their piling up of natural facts, if only they would have the courage to pursue their findings to their logical conclusion (10). The only one who escapes a direct accusation of prejudice is Epicurus, who is still charged with malice against Plato, being “peeved by the grandiose manner… at which Plato and his disciples were so expert” (7).
More next time.
Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.