Part of Nietzsche’s problem with history, science, and the knowledge drive in general is that these activities typically presuppose that “knowing” is possible, and that truth is more valuable than untruth, or appearance. It is supposed that there is another world, one free from our perceptions, which can be known if we can find an objectifying lens through which the real nature of things, i.e. inherent properties, things-in-themselves, essences, can be understood. Nietzsche sees most endeavors concerned with discovering the truth as attempts to separate the knower from the known in such a way that they can separate their perceptions (the way the world seems) from the perceived object (an entity that has an existence free from what we bring to the word.) With this separation of the world into “the world of mere appearances” and the “real world,” objects are seen as things-in-themselves, with inherent meanings that are non-revisable, objective, and universal (“The Philosopher” 133). And it is hoped that by finding this truth, this real world, we can free ourselves from the contradictory, deceptive, and transitory nature of the apparent world, for this world just causes us grave suffering (WP 585).
The problem with this, Nietzsche claims, is that there is no such thing as immediate and direct access to objects, and thereby no thing-in-itself, for man is standing in the way, he conceals things (DB 438). What this means is that the Truth, or essence, of a thing cannot be known, for this would require a self-contradictory mediated immediacy, to borrow a phrase from Kaufmann. As Nietzsche says in his notebooks, “we can say nothing about the thing in itself, for we have eliminated the standpoint of knowing, i.e. of measuring. A quality exist for us, i.e. it is measured by us” (“The Philosopher” 101). Or as he warns in GM 3:12, “let us guard against such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality;’ ‘knowing in itself,’ for these demand that ‘we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction…these always demand of the eye an absurdity and a nonsense. There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’.”
This does not mean, however, that an individual’s perception can facilitate an understanding of things-in-themselves either; it means that existence is nonsensical without interpretation (DB 125). All we can discover in trying to examine a thing-in-itself is “things upon it,” namely our perceptions, which themselves depend on sensations and such. But, as Nietzsche claims, “The habits of our senses have woven us into lies and deceptions of sensations”(DB 117). In other words, even the senses we rely on to “see” things are inherently faulty: we think that through our senses we can observe things “how they are,” but this is not possible: we have no access to “things-in-themselves.” Our senses may take in the environment as it appears, our eyes may see a table, but it is nonsense without interpretation and language. For Nietzsche, each individual experiences things through his or her own senses and thereby his or her own perspective: each individual is a self-enclosed being with access only to those things he or she can catch in his or her own net. As he comments, “my eyes… can only see a certain distance, and it is within the space encompassed by this distance that I live and move…. our ears enclose us within a comparable circle, and so does our sense of touch. Now, it is by these horizons, within which each of us encloses his senses as if behind prison walls, that we measure the world” (DB: 117, my emphasis).
This disavowment with our senses, Nietzsche argues, has led many a philosopher and scientist to posit our reasoning faculties as the means by which to establish the criterion of truth. It was hoped that through scientific rationality the properties of things could be determined and that we could thereby establish the rules for determining the “real” and the “unreal,” thereby achieving mind-independent representations of the world (see WP 584). It is then assumed that knowing is the ability to represent accurately what is outside the mind. Nietzsche asks, however, would not we already have to know what being is in order to determine if something is real or not? (see GS 354; WP 486). Without already knowing what an accurate representation might be, we are unable to say that it is an accurate representation, and this is not something we can know: we simple lack an organ for knowing, for “truth” (GS 354).
Nietzsche is willing to admit that we are acquainted with reality but the reality of our thoughts, language, and consciousness, the realm that supposedly makes up the kernel of mankind and makes man most human (“The Philosopher” 94; GS 11). And it is this realm, the realm of thoughts, which we take, in comparison with the realm of actions, willing, and experiences, to be the realm of our freedom (BD 125). To this Nietzsche must respond that we are again gravely mistaken: for thinking itself is language, and thereby our consciousness is nothing more than language. While in words we assume we are able to share our experiences with others to thereby break free of our prison caused by sensation, we are mistaken in thinking that words, a social convention, can really give individuals private expressions or allow for self-understanding. How this can be is simple: thought or “consciousness does not belong to an individual’s existence but rather to his social nature…and that fundamentally, all out actions are altogether incomparably personal, unique, and infinitely individual; but as soon as we translate them into consciousness they no longer seem to be” (GS 354).
What this means is that consciousness, or thought, is not private; there is no such thing as private language. Consciousness developed out of the need for individuals to communicate. As such, consciousness does not really belong to a man’s individual existence but rather to his social or herd nature. Those experiences, feelings, and thoughts that rise to consciousness are, thereby, those that have been required by social utility. Similarly, what we call an “inner experience only enters consciousness after it has found a language the individual understands —i.e., a translation of a condition into a condition familiar to him ” (WP 479). As Nietzsche described our situation:
given the best will in the world to understand ourselves as individually as
possible, ‘to know ourselves,’ each of us will always succeed in becoming
conscious only of what is not individual but ‘average.’ Our thoughts themselves
are continually governed by the character of consciousness —by the ‘genius of
species’ that commands it–and translated back into the perspective of the herd
Therefore, the world we become conscious of is really only a surface and sign world, and is thereby shallow, low, thin, superficial, and generalizable. In other words, we can simply know, i.e. believe or imagine, that which has been a utility for the human herd and that for which we have already coined terms and concepts (ibid.). This does not mean, however, that Nietzsche is lamenting an inability for language, or signs, to accurately correspond to or capture a deeper level of individuality. All he is claiming is that because of the generalizable and superficiality of language, we are mistaken in believing that words can accurately represent “what is going on.”
This leads Nietzsche to start out “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral sense” by saying that men are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images. What man has done is set up in language:
a separate world besides the other world, a place it took to be so firmly set that,
standing upon it, it could lift the rest of the world off its hinges and make itself
master of it….he readily thought that in language he possessed knowledge of the
world. The sculptor of language was not so modest as to believe that he was only
giving things designations, he conceived rather that with words he was expressing
supreme knowledge of things” (HAH 1:11).
What Nietzsche is hinting at here is that the reputation, name, and appearance of a thing, the ways by which we usually measure it, is arbitrarily thrown on it and is thereby foreign to the nature of the thing (GS 58). What man has done, however, is taken words as representing and capturing the mind-independent meanings of the objects for which they stand. Nietzsche, however, questions this. As he sees it, “if truth alone had been a deciding factor in the genesis of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say ‘the stone is hard,’ as if ‘hard’ were something otherwise familiar to us, and not merely a totally subjective stimulation (“On Truth” 81-82). What this means is that all language does do is “designate the relationship of things to men” (ibid 82). When we think we are describing the inherent properties of a thing, all we are really doing is naming the attributes of its appearance, attributes which we ourselves have given it (see GS 54). And it is only by a very gradual process that we come to believe in a thing, or concept, and thereby come to see our beliefs as being a part of its very existence. As Nietzsche puts it, “what at first was appearance becomes in the end…the essence and is effective as such” (GS 58).
As should be clear, there is no objective reality for Nietzsche. This would not only require an absurdity of the eye, but also that we “subtract the phantasm and every human contribution from the world” (GS 57, Nietzsche’s emphasis). We would have to forget our descent, our past, and our training —all of our humanity, for even behind every feeling there stands the judgements and evaluations that have been inherited (DB 35).
Nietzsche is not saying, however, that “things” do not exist, but rather that we have deceived ourselves in such a way that we take our opinions, or language, about things as if they themselves actually represent a separate world of existence, one free from what man himself brings to the world. As Nietzsche sees it, “we have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live — by positing bodies, lines, planes, cause and effect, motion and rest, form and content, without this article of faith nobody now could endure life. But this does not prove them: life is no argument. The condition of life might include error” (GS 121). In order to better understand why Nietzsche would see “untruth as a condition of life,” or untruth as having as great a value as truth, we need to look at the process by which he seems to think we come to see becoming, or the apparent world, as being, or as having an essence. And it is this process, of making firm, of making true and durable, that best represents the will to truth, as well as the supreme will to power (WP 298, 617). This process involves discussing not only the nature of concept formation but also the origins of language as belonging to “rudimentary psychology.”
Earlier it seemed that by Nietzsche saying that words are arbitrarily thrown onto objects, that words just fall from the sky. This is not the case, however, for concept formation is not arbitrary. What is arbitrary is the word’s relation to the object; there is no direct or necessary correspondence between the signified and the signifier. However, once we abstract to the level of language itself, it becomes clear that there is a process to concept development and thereby to knowledge. In fact, concepts are created and related to each other; they form an intricate system in which each word is separate from but related to other words (BGE 20). As Nietzsche sees it, concepts, and thereby knowledge, originate from a complex process of separation, delimination, and restriction, as well as from a complex rule system whereby things are classified into certain groups with each having its own rule governing system (“The Philosopher” 109).
What ends up happening is that we categorize things based on their similarities and differences to already established, and rule governed, categories, and thereby construct concepts. We take things and compare them and fit them into countless more or less similar cases, and in the process we ignore or overlook what is individual and actual in the case at hand (see “On Truth” 83). By omitting what is the uniqueness and individuality of the thing, we are then able to form a concept through categorizing the new into the old, from which we then begin our accumulation of knowledge. As Nietzsche describes it, “the omitting of what is individual provides us with the concept, and with this our knowledge begins: in categorizing, in the establishment of classes…a thing is determined for us by many individual features, but not by all of them. The sameness of these features induces us to gather many things under a single concept” (“The Philosopher” 150). And once we are able to express something new in the language of something old and familiar, it becomes understandable and knowable (WP 479; GS 355).
There is one other way in which words are not arbitrarily derived. As Zarathrustra proclaims, “behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage —whose name is self. In your body he dwells; he is your body” (Z 1:4). For Nietzsche, since there is no separation between mind and body -which we will discuss momentarily- thoughts are intricately connected to our instincts. Nietzsche even goes so far as to say that intelligence or thinking is nothing more than “a certain behavior of the instincts toward one another” (GS 333).
From this belief, Nietzsche thereby claims that words are the creation of a process in which nerve stimuli are transformed into an image and then into a sound (a word). In other words, that which distinguishes us from animals is dependent upon this ability to vocalize perceptual metaphors into a scheme, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept (“On Truth” 84). However, during this process everything unique and entirely individual in the experience is cast away, and a new world is created, one “which now confronts the other vivid world of first impressions as more solid, more universal, better known, and more human than the immediately perceived world” (ibid).
It is here that Nietzsche first begins using his metaphor of the world as a cosmic dice game. He comments that anyone who has felt this “breath of logic will hardly believe that even the concept —which is as bony, foursquare, and transposable as a die -is nevertheless merely the residue of a metaphor;” and “in this conceptual crap game ‘truth’ means using every die in the designated manner” (85). This type of thinking leads Zarathrustra to proclaim that there are no eternal spiders or spider webs of reason, that knowledge is rather a dance floor for divine accidents, in which the world is the “divine table for divine dice and dice players” (Z 3:4). The significance of this should be rather apparent: Nietzsche is saying that while man thinks that the things he measures are things-in-themselves, what man is really doing is taking himself to be the measure of things. And by forgetting the nature of perception, or the original vivid first impressions of things, man forgets that it is from these perceptions that we first create metaphorical descriptions, whereupon they then become dice in a cosmic game of chance (“On Truth” 86).
In other words, we forget that a thing, its organization and meaning, is the result of a double process in which we first create a theoretical or narrative description of it, and then place it within an already established system of meaning, whereby it then is given its significance and meaning. By forgetting this, we similarly forget that to have a thought, or know, that something is some object, is just to have the right word at hand, or words by which to express it (DB 257). We also forget that things are given their meaning and purpose through a system of classification. This does not mean, however, that we are free to rearrange or create words however we would like, but rather that “thought is interpretation according to a scheme that we cannot throw off” (WP 522), and “only that which has no history is definable” (Gm 2:13).
The consequences of this, as Nietzsche hints at above, is that reality is “not something there, that must be found or discovered,” but rather it is something created and given a place in a discursive system (WP 552). And it is only our belief in this reality, in essences, that gives this process its support (ibid.). This does not mean, however, that this piece of paper is not a piece of paper. All it means is that there are two parts to all things, that which is constant, the actual piece of paper, and that which is fluid, the meaning or utility of the object derived from a complex system of rules governing its place within a system of meaning. And for Nietzsche, an object is not comprehensible without this interpretation and classification, with interpretation being the introduction of meaning or sense to something new (GM 3: 12; WP 604). Thus, concludes Nietzsche, the development of the organ of knowledge was not motivated by the desire not to be deceived as much as by a need to create a world in which we can live. He therefore contends that “one should not understand this compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws (a ‘world of identical cases’) as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange a world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible: -we thereby create a world which is calculable, simplified, comprehensible, etc., for us” (WP 521).
What this means is that in order to press a small amount of reality into our service, in order to come to know something, we must simplify and thereby falsify in the process. Not only are we going to ignore many of the unique aspects of a thing, by assimilating the new into the old, but we also will inevitably ignore and neglect other points of view, for we cannot grasp everything at once. Similarly, because there are other points of view, and because one is always learning and changing, there is nothing to guarantee that we will continue to believe the same things. Because of this, our beliefs about the world are frequently changing, and thereby rearranging our horizon. When this happens, and when we realize that what we believe is nothing more than a tautology, an illusion, the floor upon which we stand is likely to shatter.
In other words, there are really two trends taking place at the same time: a will to ignorance and a will to knowledge, and it is this double characteristic that constitute “the basic will of the spirit,” as Nietzsche discusses in BGE 230. On the one hand we have the inclination “to incorporate new ‘experiences,’ to file new things in old files —growth, in a word—, or more precisely, the feeling of growth, the feeling of increased power ” (Nietzsche’s emphasis). On the other hand, we have the drive towards ignorance, “of deliberate exclusions, a shutting of one’s windows, an internal No to this or that thing…a kind of state of defense against much that is knowable.” Not only do we ignore many things in order to assimilate just a few new things, but we also at times must ignore certain things because they threaten to show the ways in which we have simplified and falsified, i.e. they threaten to cause our present framework to be thrown into chaos. This is why Nietzsche asks, “what forces us to suppose that there is an essential opposition of ‘true’ and ‘false,’” or between knowledge and ignorance, good and evil (BGE 34). In fact, Nietzsche even contends that “only on this now solid, granite foundation of ignorance could knowledge rise so far —the will to knowledge on the foundation of a far more powerful will: the will to ignorance, to the uncertain, to the untrue! Not as its opposite, but —as its refinement! (24).
Given this seemingly unstable process of Truth and belief, this problem of simplification, and thereby illusion, Nietzsche asks where our belief in being comes from in the first place. Why do we believe in essences, in Truth, when it seems to be always changing and rearranging itself? Thus far Nietzsche has claimed that there is a lack of correspondence between the object and the created concept. What has yet to be explained is the process by which concepts, and thereby objects, come to be seen as capturing the essence of a thing. If Nietzsche claims that our words do not capture a prior principles of objects, what then do they capture? Or better yet, what is a “thing?” If we are not acquainted with things-in-themselves, then what is our relationship to things?
In “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Nietzsche ironically proclaims that the way we forget that perceptual metaphors are metaphors, and why we thereby take them as things-in-themselves, is because:
when the same image has been generated millions of times and has been handed
down for many generations and finally appears on the same occasion every time for
all mankind, then it acquires at last the same meaning for men it would have if it
were the sole necessary image and if the relationship of the original stimuli to the
generated image were a strictly causal one” ( 87).
He then jokingly comments that we should have a deep mistrust of idealism of this sort. What Nietzsche is willing to commit to is that we are not acquainted with things in themselves, but rather with their effects, which in turn are only known in terms of their relation to other effects, etc. In other words, objects are conditioned by other objects through and through (WP 559). However, as has been hinted at, Nietzsche does not really believe that “things” per se exist. For Nietzsche, “a thing is the sum of its effects, synthetically united by a concept, an image” (WP 551).
This does not mean, however, that things “effect.” What this means is that the properties of a thing is its effects on other “things.” If one were to remove other “things,” then the object in question would then have no properties and thereby not exist at all (see WP 557-561). In other words, our common understanding that things have a constitution in themselves, whereby the sum of the properties of some object is the cause of one single property, is an absurdity and very misleading (WP 559, 561). For the properties of some object are derived from its relation to other things. As should be apparent from this notion of effects, Nietzsche see nature as having no boundaries, only does man bring to nature notion such as shape, size, or purpose (“The Philosopher” 123). Yet, as he comments elsewhere, notions such as time, space, and causality are not mere metaphors of knowledge we use to explain things to ourselves. “Stimulus and action are connected: how this is we do not know; we understand not a single causality, but we have immediate experiences of them” (140).
What this means is that Nietzsche is claiming that all we can come to know about a thing or person is its effects, its appearance. However, because of the seductiveness of language, we are misled at times in relation to cause and effect. Take for instance the phrase “I think.” What does this tiny sentence assert and lead us to believe?
That it is I who thinks, that there must necessarily be something that thinks, that
thinking is an activity and operation on the part of a being who is thought of as a
cause, that there is an ‘ego,’ and finally, that it is already determined what is to be
designated by thinking -that I know what thinking is (BGE16; Nietzsche’s
The irony of this whole process is that before one can even start this process of questioning, one must already have a knowledge base, or standard, from which one can determine what is happening. As Nietzsche comments, if I did not already assume a standard then what would prevent me from not seeing this phenomenon as being related to “willing” or “feeling” (ibid). What all this means is two-fold: one cannot attempt to understand something without already having something by which to measure it, as is apparent from the concept formation process, and one cannot attempt to explain the cause and effect relation through words.
In relation to the latter, our whole description of cause and effect is an absurdity. In DB 121, Nietzsche comments that we usually infer from things that occur regularly together in a succession that one is the cause, the other the effect. However, by doing this, we take the cause as being something that is its own cause, for if it is the cause, then how could it too be an effect? To put this another way, take the whole notion of action. Nietzsche thinks we have completely confused the notions active and passive: we seem to think we know when and how we should act, as if we ourselves are not acted upon at every moment (120). Or more clearly, “one must understand that an action is never caused by a purpose; that purpose and means are interpretations whereby certain points in an event are emphasized and selected at the expense of other points” (WP 666). In simplest terms, we are misled by the terms cause and effect and have taken these conventional fictions as means by which we can explain our behavior. When, in fact, all we have done is reify “cause” and “effect” according to an understanding where something presses and pushes until it effects (BGE 21).
The consequence of these examples is simple: the presupposition of reason leads us into the realm of “crude fetishism.” As Nietzsche states in Twilight of the Idols,
Everywhere it sees a doer and doing; it believes in will as the cause; it believes in
the ego, in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and it projects this faith in the
ego-substance upon all things —only thereby does it first create the concept of
‘thing.’ Everywhere ‘being’ is projected by thought, pushed underneath, as the
cause; the concept of being follows, and is the derivative of, the concept of ego
(“Reason in Philosophy” 5).
What Nietzsche is saying is that our belief in the three little “inner facts” -the will, the spirit, and the ego- have led us to posit things as having a ‘being’ or an essence in-themselves (see “Four great Errors” 3, also see WP 483-492)). What we have done is taken the belief in an “I” as the cause of thought and by analogy transferred this understanding to other causal relationships. And it is this very belief in the self that has led us to imagine “truth” and “reality” (see WP 483,485).
Directly related to this notion of self is the notion of free will. Here too, Nietzsche argues, we have been misled. If I say I will all the papers to be graded to be done, am I really doing anything other then saying this? Have I willed the completion of this command? In other words, am I acting any differently when I use the notion of “free will” then when I just say I will grade the papers later? For Nietzsche, willing, like the notion of self, is very complicated and is something that is only a “unity” as a word. Nietzsche reasons that in willing, there is a dominant thought, and since thoughts appear to be certain interactions between instincts manifest in language (thereby allowing for individual differences in language useage,) then willing must include a complex interaction between drives, instincts, passions, and thoughts. Because of this, Nietzsche asks, what makes us think that reason is fundamentally different from the passions? Could not this distinction just be another dualism that man brings to the world and to himself? More importantly, why do we see willing as being something separate from acting?
Part of the problem, Nietzsche reasons, is that we posit the existence of a subject, of an ego substance, as the cause of everything one does. This, Nietzsche says, is ridiculous. The self, like a thing, does not have “being.” Like a thing, we believe the subject is the effect of one cause; we see it as a unity beneath all the different impulses. Nietzsche argues, however, that this belief in a “subject” is a fiction: “it is we who first created the ‘similarity’ of these states; our adjusting them and making them similar is the fact, not their similarity” (WP 485). If we have a self, it is just a word for something about the body; it is a subject of multiplicity —nothing but a structure of drives and affects, with each aspect battling each other to be commander of the rest. In fact, Nietzsche thinks we should think of the subject-unity as we would of a body-politic: “as regents at the head of a communality (not as ‘souls’ or ‘life forces’), also of the dependence of these regents upon the ruled, and of an order of rank and division of labor as the conditions that make possible the whole and its part” (WP 492).
It is important, however, to keep in mind that all the parts of the community, be it drives, affects, thoughts, are of the same kind, i.e. they are all governed by the same force, a wish to command the others. And we only posit “subjective, invisible life,” e.g. feelings, willing, thinking, to someone when we see movement in the body (ibid.). In other words, movement is “symbolism for the eye.” It is we who then differentiate things into willing, feeling, and thinking. (see WP 490, 492). This is not to say that Nietzsche has “discovered” the composition of our inner processes. In fact, he even says that the danger of direct questioning about the “subject” is that in self-reflection it might be more useful to interpret oneself falsely (WP 492). He even then goes so far as to say that this tendency is best illustrated by our rejection of evidence based on the senses, when “all our categories of reason are of sensual origin: derived from the empirical world,” or that for which we can see (WP 488).
What Nietzsche is doing here is questioning our common belief in separating things into inner and outer dimensions, into a “soul” and a “body,” and thereby into intention and action. He is also directly questioning our separation of the world into a “world in itself” and a “world of mere appearances.” For Nietzsche, there is no “material world” and thereby “immaterial world,” there is just the world as it appears to us. And since we can only see effects, it is then we who imagine a cause, purpose, or intention after the effect has already taken place. In other words, the subject, doer, essence, etc. is something added and invented behind what is already there (WP 481).
How, then, might we account for the fact that there is an “I” writing this paper? Freud even recognizes that at first there was no separation between the inner and outer, that over time the ego develops. Is Nietzsche really saying that there is no self, or that it is a mere construct, for if he says this, then people like Mickey and Mallory can not be held responsible for their own actions, for they are not separate from us. And they do feel guilt, even if only to a small extent, thereby hinting at taking responsibility for a deed. How did we come to deceive ourselves so badly, believing in a will, ego/self, and spirit? Where did these lies come from?
Before we find the answers to these questions in GM, it might be helpful to make sense of what Nietzsche is really saying here and thereby whether the subject is really dead. On the one hand, he is saying that things, including people, are nothing more than their effects; and that these effects are only known in relation to other effects. What this means, crudely, is that for Nietzsche, things are constituted solely in their interrelations with, and differences from, everything else in the world. At the most basic level, the body and physical matter provide an elementary unity, thereby indicating separation and individuality of things. However, since things only exist in their relationships to other things, and since they do not have their own constitution, it is our opinions and interpretations about things that gives them their unity. It is through language that we create what we take to be real: we crystallize things and take them for being stable, constant, and as having one meaning through the practices that organize our world. As he comments in WP,
Suppose all unity were only as an organization? But the “thing” in which we
believe was only invented as a foundation for the various attributes. If the thing
effects,” that means: we conceive all the other properties which are present and
momentarily latent as the cause of the emergence of one single property; i.e.,
we take the sum of the properties–”x”–as the cause of the property “x”:
which is utterly stupid and mad! All unity is unity only as organization and co-
operation —just as a human community is a unity— as opposed to an atomistic
anarchy, as a pattern of domination that signifies a unity but is not a unity” (561
In other words, just like in the process of concept formation, we create “things” by a process in which we arrange effects in such a way that they are given meaning. However, the way we arrange these effects is not arbitrary. Interpretation means giving meaning to something new by way of integrating the new into the already established system of meanings. Thus, a thing, a person, is a synthetic unity created through the double process of interpretation —the reading of signs–and classification —the cosmic game of placement of dice or signs. And it is through the process of categorizing, assimilating, and filing new things into old categories, into an already established system of meaning, that we are then able to describe and interpret what is going on. What we do is take the new and put it into an already established system of meaning, whereby it then appears to exist in and for-itself. The already established system of meaning determines the new things meaning and thereby its relation to everything else. This does not mean that we are discovering what something means; it is rather just the process of taking new things and giving them a place within a system of meaning. And it is through old categories, or that which we are already familiar with, that we can thereby “know” something, for “to know” means to reduce something strange into something familiar (See GS 355, WP 481).
And it is our belief in this system, and in the “subject as substance,” as well as in the thing-in-itself, that sustains and supports this “immense framework and planking of concepts” that “is nothing but a scaffolding” (“On Truth” 90). However, just because this framework is not built up by “Truths,” this does not mean it is not a condition of life and thereby real. “We produce these representations in and from ourselves with the same necessity with which a spider spins” (87). We believe in things such as a thing-in-itself due to our very necessity to live in a secure and consistent world —a world with a horizon; and this need for security is itself one drive behind our search for the truth. As Nietzsche comments, “the drive towards the formation of [truth] is the fundamental drive, which one cannot dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself” (88-89). In other words, while there is no absolute truth, the search for truth, and belief in truth, provides us with a foundation or world in which to live, it provides us with a horizon.
Nicholas Burbules, Gutgsell Professor of University of Illinois.