What is “Truth”?

Hello, this is my first post, and apparently the first in class, so I’m not sure if I’m doing it right…

So far I am following everything in class, but have missed one key thing: What is “truth”? No, seriously, this is not a hypothetical question. After reading “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” I don’t understand what Nietzsche (and other philosophers) mean by “truth,” and I never really have. If anyone in class could explain it more simply than Wikipedia I would be thankful. Does it have to do with facts?

From what I could gather, Nietzsche is defining “truth” as these metaphors that man invented through language. Like the word “mammal.” So humans think it’s “truth” that dogs are mammals? But isn’t that just an agreed-upon convention so we can more easily classify species in order to learn/communicate better/faster?

But, regarding facts again – isn’t it “true” that if I were to smash my iPhone with a hammer, that I wouldn’t be able to make any calls until I get another phone? Or, on a simpler level – if I were to turn on the stove, and put my hand on it – wouldn’t my hand be burned? Of course it would. This seems to be “truth” to me: since it is fact, and has (as far as I know) nothing at all to do with language.  If you drop something it falls. If you don’t wear a coat in the winter, you’ll be cold. Point is: Are facts “truth”?

Nietzsche said there was no “truth” or knowledge before language. So then facts are not truth? Didn’t every caveman know the fact that eating makes your stomach feel better? Or are facts even real?
I also don’t understand what such subjective concepts like “good” and “evil” have to do with “truth”? Does it mean “telling the truth”? That seems to have more to do more with the language concept, but still to do with facts.

Sorry this post isn’t saying much, but the point is:  Can anyone define “truth” for me in regards to the readings so far? I don’t quite understand what is meant by the term, and it would help.


Also, off topic, regarding the “Eternal Return” and this question:
Thinking of the last 24 hours, if you had to do it all over for eternity, would you? (Ex: Groundhog day) Well, of course not. Many of my choices regard future events, and I’m probably lazy.

I might be way off here, but isn’t this similar to asking: If the world would end tomorrow, what would you do? Or perhaps: If you had a million dollars, what would you do? If this defines ethics, than this might sum up most male humans’ ethics:

Yes, I suppose if had to make the 24 hour choice repeatedly for eternity, I might also “do two chicks at the same time.” I assume not everyone would do the same, but we might all make these selfish/instinctual choices (nihilistic like Bill Murray). Anyway I may sound perverted but the Office Space guy was my first thought when Sam mentioned this concept, and if we could define good ethics as “doing two chicks at the same time”, that would be quite interesting.

Posted by: Kenneth Anderson


5 Responses to “What is “Truth”?”

  1. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    I haven’t read the Wikipedia page yet, but I’m not sure whether there exist simpler explanations of complex philosophical questions than what we find on Wikipedia. I think a definition in this case doesn’t come as a soundbite, but rather as a composite of different inquiries and findings.

    Re: identification of facts….Maybe you’re conflating an inquiry into language and meaning-making with cause-and-effect observations of phenomenological data. Facts go by any names we give them. Playing with these signifiers, you might end up with interesting or absurd metaphors…. “I burned my hammer with the iPhone” or “I smashed winter with a dropped stove,” etc. Expectations of language dictate its role to facilitate conventions of communication….see Monty Python [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_python] and semiotics:

    re “Office Space”….Interesting idea to apply Nietzschean truth/ethics concepts to Mike Judge’s work – could make for an viable research/analysis project if focused on Judge’s exploration of existentialist angst in the contemporary conception of ‘work’ – and his method of using subversive, self-reflexive humor in doing so.


  2. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    Reading everything on Truth I could find online, I still don’t have a solid grasp on it, but I’m getting there.

    I suppose I was wondering if Nietzschean truth is different than the truth of ‘meaning-making with cause-and-effect observations of phenomenological data’. Or, as I was thinking: physical laws. Like gravity. Naming it “gravity” does not change the fact that what goes up must come down. But maybe that force is “false”, like living in The Matrix.

    Yes, facts do go by any names we give them. But they also happen when we are quiet. Isn’t saying “I smashed winter with a dropped stove” different than silently doing it? Like to me it is True that I can not “smash winter”. This is where I get confused.

    So I was wondering how is “capital-T Truth” different than these physical laws that do exist without humans.

    Regarding semiotics ie all meaning comes from signs. Like the “feeling of being cold” is just a signifier to me that I should put on a coat… So in that sense, I suppose “meaning” might be an easier term for me to grasp than “truth”.

    Point is, and reason I even brought it up, is that this is a class focused on art, and I always remembered hearing “what is art?” “art is a search for the Truth!” “beauty is Truth!”… and this has never quite registered with me. I am not making any “meaning” out of it.

  3. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    Actually, this guy did a pretty good job of dumbing it down for me:

  4. Alexander Says:

    I love these concerns. Sometimes we get really caught up in the “brain masturbation” that goes along with the philosophical analysis of these types of meta concepts like Truth or Good or Evil; that we kinda miss the most simple conclusion like “of course my phone is not going to work if I smash it with a hammer.” Epistemology can be really interesting and it can really open our eyes to see the world in a different light, but it can be misleading if we take the conclusions as solid truths, too.

    I think this is has a lot to do with what Sam said about Nietzsche (not Deleuze) – not giving up entirely on language or the philosophical pursuit. I think these strong statements on the validity of Truth do not intend for us to turn our backs on the basic notions of facts or the day-to-day truths that we construct our lives around (that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater), but rather for us to question the arrogance and confidence that the traditional premise of science and Western though has had. Of course there are standard sand repetitions that we can identify in the world around us; the problem is to take these and construct laws and solid premises without understanding that these actually have a chaotic nature and that we are just trying to see them as stable. It’s like that image of “constructing over the flow of water” that he used.

    Another good one I liked was:
    “All the conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of stars and in chemical process, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.”

    So it’s not denying the fact that smashing a thousand phones with a hammer tells us that there are some stable notions of cause-and-effect, but questioning that that really proves that we can arrive to a definite claim on something. Who knows? Maybe phone #1001 will break the hammer… most probably not, but just accepting the possibility changes our view on how we construct thought. It’s like what Karl Popper said: no number of sightings of white swans can ever tell us that all swans are white.

    I think they invite us to question the validity of a solid Truth just to make us view the world and the mental construct that we build around it as something of infinite possibilities. Here lies the distinction between negative nihilism and positive nihilism (I know these terms are not correct, but I’m to lazy to look up the real ones). The fact that we don’t have to answer to a solid Truth doesn’t mean that what we say and think is going to be arbitrary, bur rather that we are going to have to give it its value ourselves. That’s when living becomes really interesting.

  5. Alexander Says:

    Oh, and one last thing…from here is where we start to see philosophy as a creative endeavor and not just a reflexive or analytical one.

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