Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC057-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 20, 2019, from

4. Truth and metaphysics

In the writings of his early and middle periods, Nietzsche often appears to deny that any of our theories and beliefs are really true. By the end of his final period, he denies only metaphysical truth. The rejection of metaphysics forms the cornerstone of his later philosophy.

What Nietzsche rejects as metaphysics is first and foremost a belief in a second world, a metaphysical or true world. Human, All Too Human offers a genealogy of this belief. Receiving their first idea of a second world from dreams, human beings originally share with ‘everything organic’ a belief in the existence of permanent things (substance) and free will. When reflection dawns and they fail to find evidence of these in the world accessible to empirical methods, they conclude that these methods are faulty, and that the real world is accessible only to non-empirical methods. They thus take the empirical world to be a mere appearance or distortion of a second world, which is thereby constituted as the true one. Metaphysics is purported knowledge of this non-empirical world. The Birth of Tragedy affirms metaphysics in this sense - ‘an artists’ metaphysics’ he later called it - in the suggestion that perception and science confine us to mere appearance, whereas truth is accessible in the special kind of preconceptual experience characteristic of Dionysian art.

Human, All Too Human sets out to undermine metaphysics by showing that knowledge of a non-empirical world is cognitively superfluous. Nietzsche’s Enlightenment predecessors had already established the adequacy of empirical methods to explain what goes on in the nonhuman world. However, belief in a metaphysical world persisted because that world is assumed to be necessary to account for the things of the highest value in the human world. Nietzsche sought to explain the origin of this assumption and to undermine it. The assumption was made, he claims, because thinkers were unable to see how things could originate from their opposites: disinterested contemplation from lust, living for others from egoism, rationality from irrationality. They could deny this origination only by positing for ‘the more highly valued thing a miraculous source in the very kernel and being of the “thing-in-itself”’. Nietzsche offers a naturalistic account of higher things, which presents them as sublimations of despised things and therefore as ‘human, all too human’. Once it is clear that we can explain their origin without positing a metaphysical world, he expects the interest in such a world to die out. We cannot deny the bare possibility of its existence, however, because ‘we view all things through the human head and cannot cut this head off; yet the question remains what of the world would still be there if we had cut it off’ ( Human §§1, 9 [ Werke IV.3: 19, 25]).

Nietzsche later goes a step further and denies the very existence of a metaphysical world. His history of the ‘true’ world in Twilight of the Idols offers a six-stage sketch of how the metaphysical world came to be recognized as a ‘fable’. Stage Four corresponds to the position of Human: the ‘true’ world is cognitively superfluous. In Stage Five, its existence is denied. Stage Six adds that without a true world, there is no merely apparent world either: the empirical world originally picked out as ‘merely apparent’ is the only world there is. Nietzsche thus makes clear that he has moved beyond the assumption that there might be a metaphysical world to a positing of the empirical world as the only one. He dismisses the whole idea of a second world as unintelligible. The books after Beyond Good and Evil proceed on this assumption: they no longer claim that the empirical world is a mere appearance or, what amounts to the same thing, that empirical truths are illusions or falsifications.

Citing this article:
Clark, Maudemarie. Truth and metaphysics. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC057-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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