Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nietzsche vs. Aristotle: What is truth?

Everyone's seen the billboard or read the bumper sticker:
"Nietzsche: 'God is dead.' ~1885

God: 'Nietzsche is dead.' ~1900"

Very cute. But you have to give Nietzsche a little more credit. He did, after all, diagnose the West's abandonment of God and the its moral and philosophical impotence. Nietzsche is always great fun to dabble in.

Here's a go at some comparisons between a Nietzsche and Aristotle. Try to apply the differences to your own concerns about secularism or, if so inclined, about Christian thought.

In Truth and Illusion, Nietzsche declares that truth is relative because of the mind's irreparable separation from reality. The fundamental differences between Nietzsche and Aristotle lie in their views on this relation of mind to reality, the nature of truth, the validity of thought and language, and th subsequent value of philosophy.

Nietzsche's account of truth rests on the assumption that man's mind, through a series of disconnected intervals, is detached from reality. (He's not talking about trying to live on two hours of sleep per night while nursing.)

These interruptions lie between the mind and things-in-themselves so that man can never grasp the essence of things. The senses distort the thing, for "sensation leads nowhere to truth, but contents itself with receiving stimuli." Man cannot know if the stimuli he receives are accurate images of the thing or are warped signals. When man transforms his sense data into "percepts" (sort of "ideas"), he simply makes a metaphor in his brain for something he thinks he perceived out in the world. From one metaphor, he makes another and another, so that with each hiatus, he "leaps completely out of one sphere and right into the midst of an entirely different one." The workings of the human mind are discontinuous and thus cannot be relied upon to transmit reality. If man cannot know reality, "Then what ... is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms." Not a high estimation of the mind's abilities.

Thus, truth is an illusion and relative to the individual; each man's mind shapes its own reality.

Aristotle's account of truth rests on an entirely different assumption; he declares that reality imprints itself on the human mind, revealing intelligible truths. Because his mind corresponds directly to reality, man is capable of knowing its essence. "Truth means knowing existent objects and falsity does not exist, nor error, but only ignorance." Man can know things as they truly are; ignorance of their existence does not mean things do not exist, but that man has yet to know them.

A thing has its own integrity. Therefore, it cannot be true for one man and false for another. There is one truth, and individual men are more of less ignorant of that truth.

To be continued... (dum, dum, dum...)


Brian said...

My opinion - The skeptical assumption is that we are disconnected from the reality that we wish to know. Why assume that? Indeed, if one believe the theory of evolution, then it follows that consciouness evolved from non-consciouness. Thus, we are fully connected to the reality that we seek to know

Anonymous said...

I'm studying for my philosophy and history of education exam, and this was very helpful! Thank-you!

Karl said...

You cite the text this is coming from as "Truth and Illusion". Unfortunately, this is an inaccurate translation (many abound in Nietzsche literature).
The German title is "Uber Wahrheit und Luge im aussermoralischen Sinne", translating more acccurately to "On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense".

Anonymous said...

Brian: That's a foolish idea. It doesn't prove anything. If the mind is unable to arrive at truth, then it follows that our discussions is pointless...or is it? Putting that aside, evolution doesn't guarantee any kind of "full connection" with reality. That's just a breeding ground for delusion, where any idea you have it treated as real by force of your blending of mind and reality. This is a serious error and a reason people can fall into delusions, minor or major. The map is not the territory, meaning, the mind, acting as "observer", while *capable* of knowing real things, isn't guaranteed to know them. It can err, and here psychological reasons are largely at work. Also, consciousness is not the same as intelligence. Consciousness is an awareness, not intellect. You need to know the relation of mind to its object to answer the question of

Karl: Yes, Nietzsche did not deny truth altogether, he simply affirmed, more or less, "noble lies", ones which are life-affirming, if the truth would be inappropriate and detrimental to life affirmation. He made a number of statements in which he does speak about truth (for example, his famous critique in which he called convictions a greater danger to truth than lies). Admittedly Nietzsche is a tough nut to crack because he will often use aphorisms and sometimes appear inconsistent over the entire corpus of his works.