Nietzsche Essay On Truth And Lies Nietzsche

For our episode on Nietzsche's On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense, I've created a guide that you'll find here.

Here's an excerpt from the Introduction:


Nietzsche’s question in On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense is how a drive for truth could ever have arisen when the purpose of our intellects is the development of social strategies for survival, strategies that are grounded in various forms of deception and self-deception (including the “forgetting” of our own impulses). What does Nietzsche mean by “drive for truth,” and what does it mean for some truths (and lies) to be “extra-moral” or “nonmoral”?

Nonmoral truths turn out to stand in opposition to the drive for truth, despite the fact that they are implicated in its origins. We seek nonmoral truths initially for the sake of survival – for their “pleasant, life-affirming consequences”; and subsequently as part of the more positive “celebration of life” that we see in artistic activity. By contrast, the drive for truth involves scientific and philosophical pretensions to absolute truths that are “beyond human life” – which is to say not relativized to our limited cognitive capacities and interests.  They are moralized just to the extent that they posit values that serve some purpose other than life and seek something that transcends the objects of our biologically conditioned impulses, whether “the good” (in our ethical concerns) or absolute truth (in our scientific and philosophical pursuits). In Kantian terms (and we shall see that Nietzsche’s epistemology in this essay is heavily influenced by Kant): nonmoral truths concern the appearances – and acknowledge them as such – whereas the drive to truth seeks and confuses the appearances with things-in-themselves (leading to various sorts of errors). So the drive for truth here looks something like Kant’s Reason before its excesses have been curtailed by critique.

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-- Wes Alwan

Filed Under: General AnnouncementsTagged With: Nietzsche, on truth and lie in the extra-moral sense, on truth and lies in the nonmoral sense

This post is part of my ongoing blogging project called “Critical Theory Down to Earth.” In these posts I provide summaries of and brief reflections on writings throughout the wider critical theory landscape.

Nietzsche begins the essay on a misanthropic note. He rails against the arrogance of humanity in thinking so highly of our own intelligence and place in the vast space and time of the cosmos. He further insists that human intellect is originally used for “dissimulation” (p. 20), i.e. lying (of course his notion of “lie” is pretty liberal, as I hope will become clearer in the section below). He paints this within a Hobbesian view of a competitive, individualistic state-of-nature humanity. Truth comes second, as a social pact to use the same language in reference to an alleged access to the same bare reality.

Truth = Lie

All language is metaphor. Between subject and object is an “aesthetic comportment.” When we use language to comprehend and communicate about reality, it is an essentially creative, artistic process. As Kant described, we never have naked access to the thing-in-itself. Instead, we only have our representations, composed of linguistic metaphor. To the extent that we claim access to “truth,” we are in error if not outright lying. Either way, we are wrong. It is impossible to perceive correctly. The sense that we have of “knowing” reality in an immediate sense, is an illusion. All language, all representation, hence all experience and cognition, is metaphor. Metaphor which sticks around long enough, is adopted and repeated by enough people, is forgotten to be metaphor, and thus is felt to be truth. With repetition comes the impression of realness. Truth is aged metaphor, forgotten to be metaphor.


To use a concept is to treat different things as if they were the same. Concepts are created by lumping together a collection of objects under some aspect or aspects that they have in common, while ignoring their differences. Then there is a kind of ideal version of this sameness which is extracted, and used to measure belonging of objects under the concept. Ironically, no object is ever a perfect replication of the extracted ideal. Of course we ignore that too.

For Nietzsche, concepts are far from being transcendental truths. Instead, they are “lingering residues of metaphors” (p. 32). There are no concepts in nature. Concepts come from us. We commonly maintain the arrogant delusion that nature really is patterned according to human concepts, as if our meager interpretations could encapsulate the workings of total reality.

Intuitive vs. Rational

With science, we attempt to fit everything into an ordered tower of concepts. Striving for rationality, we maintain a defensive orientation, stuck at the level of need. When we remain connected to metaphor – as in myth and art – we can live life with beauty and creativity. This ‘intuitive’ mode of living also brings with it greater suffering that the ‘rational’ mode. And it is worth it.


Nietzsche, Friedrich. (2010 [1873]). “On Truth and Lie in a Nonmoral sense.” On Truth and Untruth: Selected Writings. New York: Harper.

Jeremiah Morelock

Doctoral Candidate at Boston College Department of Sociology

Jeremiah Morelock is a Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Boston College. He is also the Director of the Critical Theory Research Network. His research interests include critical theory, infectious disease, and discourse analysis; as well as epistemology, bureaucracy, age norms, and film and media studies. His recent work has appeared in Social Theory & Health.

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Tags Critical Theory Down to Earth, Epistemology, Nietzsche

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