Angèle Kremer Marietti

Nietzsche and the Ontogeny of Truth


(Revisited paper published in Nietzsche, Theories of Knowledge, and Critical Theory, Nietzsche and the sciences I, Edited by Babette Babich and Robert S. Cohen, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999, pp.87-102 under the title of “Nietzsche’s Critique of Modern Reason”.)


The problem of genealogy did not begin with On the Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche joined together in one unit an epistemology of reason and an epistemology of morals. Privileged moments in the current of nietzschean thought raise major philosophical questions: alternating the first epistemological criterion of “the ground of art” with a second epistemological criterion, referring to the state of contemporary history and natural sciences. Rather than a theory of knowledge or a critique of pure reason, we find a theory of modern reason : a critique of a historical phenomenon. With his interest in symbolic processes, evident in The Birth of Tragedy and The Philosopher's Book as in Human All Too Human, it is possible to place Nietzsche in the context of our contemporary research in the field of the “philosophy and science of mind”.
By taking science as a creation and as an interpretation, Nietzsche was led to explain and understand reason on the basis of art. For Nietzsche, history and the natural sciences, the products of modern reason, work as a tool against the ways of reason itself, either in metaphysics or indirectly in science, as the third essay of On the Genealogy of Morals demonstrates the origin of science in metaphysics. Through an original but concealed cognitive paradigm and through a deconstructive series of untimely observations, Nietzsche attained something like a knowledge regarding knowledge by tracing the process of symbolization processes in order to discover the formation of concepts and the representation of events.

Nietzsche’s investigations into the problem of the birth or origin of concepts – the problem of genealogy – , did not begin with On the Genealogy of Morals (1887). Nietzsche had always sought to understand the genesis of cultural facts. Thus, The Birth of Tragedy (1872) is a history of consciousness, a kind of conversion rite designed to illuminate and reawaken the deep origin of Western civilization. Additional evidence for Nietzsche’s enduring concern appears in Human, All Too Human (1878-1880), or Daybreak (1882) and other writings, published or unpublished.

Most centrally, he faced the origin and genealogy of science as a «new problem». This was “the problem of science itself - science seen for the first time as problematic and questionable” [1]. From this new epistemological viewpoint, Nietzsche sought to express “the ontogeny of thought” [2] as well the ontogeny of action and all human events. Such a genealogical search is in itself a critique of modern reason. But Nietzsche's purpose exceeds critique, because critique promises him the means to attain a “knowledge of the conditions of culture, a knowledge surpassing all previous knowledge, as a scientific standard for ecumenical goals” (HH 1, 25). Utopia perhaps?

In the same spirit as my earlier essay on this theme, "The Ground of Art : a Key for Reading the Nietzschean Text" [3], I shall here examine the criteria Nietzsche used to interpret the hidden forces of modern reason.

I. Out of suspicion

If we could construct a knowledge “surpassing all previous knowledge”, it would proceed from a genealogical disciplin that Nietzsche wanted to be “active” - that is, not “reactive”, and recognizing how Nietzsche opposed everything to this last word signified [4] - and, if not totally independent, at least conscious of the imperatives determining these processes.

Thus Nietzsche’s works grow out of suspicion. Interpreted positively, they might profitably be applied to all future human speculations and actions..Negatively applied, they could end in the blind alley of nihilism as a psychological state, for neither the concept of “finality”, nor “unity”, nor “truth” (nor, consequentfly, as Nietzsche adds, the concept of “being”) may any longer be used to interprete world and existence [5].

However, if the three categories above are no longer sufficient to interprete the world, this does not mean that the world itself lacks value, as a vulgar nihilist might believe. Psychological nihilism is a vulgar reaction to the difficulty of knowing the world, but it is also a manner of reacting in front of the fear of nihilism. What is more, the vulgar threat of nihilism is overcome by Nietzsche’s authentic antinihilism[6]. And yet false categories of reason induce psychological nihilism, since we only value, as Nietzsche argues, a fictitious world [7].

The essential Nietzschean question in concentrated in these inquiries and their results which are not properly nihilistic but historical in the genealogical sense. Nietzsche's interest in history does not escape life but, on the contrary, must serve it (“Only so far as history serves life will we serve it”) [8]. Nietzsche studies modern reason as an historical event : his critique includes believing in history, neither in historicism nor in a factual kind of history, which he calls “the historical sickness”. Everything human depends on history, more precisely : on process. Nietzsche's critical examination ends by suspending all interpretative categories. The deceptions brought about by these categories had led us to devaluethe world. Categories like reason are historical.

It can be noted that in addition to an epistemology of reason concerning traditional categories of thought, Nietzsche infers a consequent epistemology of morals. Our suppposed knowledge based on our way of representing the world influences our moral judgment of world and existence, and consequently our way of being human. Indeed, Nietzsche’s criticism proceeds more from an existential determination than a purely intellectual decision. But the epistemological standing of both attitudes is oriented to the critique of our modern (not ancient, not medieval) reason.

Opposed to the fictitious world we have constructed, therefore, we do not know the real world, because it is not available to us via what we know through rational categories. And this real world might conserve all its value in itself.

Nietzsche’s philosophical interrogation thus remains open to the value of world and existence. Notwithstanding his objections to Kant's Critiques, Nietzsche proposed, like Kant, to reveal a world known in virtue of our faculties, but unknown in itself (an sich). Nietzsche’s fundamental difference from Kant is his suspicion of our intellectual faculties. For him, they are not “pure principles of understanding” but merely means, something by way of which we have sought to represent and know the world in order to live securely in it. Lacking such purity, we are desperate :

When the blight that lies dormant in the womb of theorical culture is gradually beginning to frighten modern man, and he casts uneasily around in the stores of his experience for remedies to ward off the danger without quite believing in their efficacity [...]. (BT 18)

The philosopher of desperate knowledge will be absorbed in blind science : knowledge at any price. [9]

II. Privileged moments

We shall now consider some privileged moments in the current of Nietzschean thought, particularly where he looks back at his earlier work. These occasions in 1886 and 1888 are instructive with regard to the significance Nietzsche gave to his philosophical search. In 1888 Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo, a last survey on his works and life. In 1886, he published several Prefaces for the edition of his Complete Works and gave the first recapitulation of his Complete Works and gave the first recapitulation of the overall meaning he found in them.

The 1886 Prefaces focus his outlook from the period of The Birth of Tragedy to that of Beyond Good and Evil in one time and place. Nietzsche recognizes himself in the attitude that his critics ascribed to him :

My writings have been called a School for Suspicion, even more for Contempt, fortunately also for Courage and, in fact, for Daring. Truly, I myself do not believe that anyone has ever looked into the world with such deep suspicion, and not only as an occasional devil's advocate,but every bit as much,to speak theologically, as an enemy and challenger of God. (HH 1, Preface 1)

And Ecce Homo, the 1888 autobiography, articulated prior to his final collapse, explains “how one becomes what one is”. Here we are explicitly taught a new word for “ideals”, - “idols”. The foreword to that work offers a conclusion for the philosopher's whole life and thought : “Reality has been deprived of its value, its meaning, its veracity, to the same degree as an ideal world has been fabricated... The ‘real world’ and the ‘apparent world’ - in plain terms : the fabricated world and reality”[10].

In order to approximate the inner logic of his thematic order to its own epistemological criteria, we can provisionally abandon the dates of Nietzsche's first publications to consider their real elaboration. Indeed, if we follow carefully what Nietzsche writes in the two 1886 Prefaces destined to the whole of Human, All Too Human, especially the second, we learn that the three first Untimely Meditations (1873-1874) are to be understood not as continuous with the chronology of their publications but, with reference to the gestation and the general movement of Nietzsche's thought, as ch aracterizing his thought prior to The Birth of Tragedy (1872) [11].

Thus we must consider the time when Nietzsche prepared the material for the three first Untimely Meditations. Nietzsche wrote the texts which composed The Birth of Tragedy : they were written between winter 1869 and winter 1871 [12]. In particular, the text "On Truth and Lies in A Nonmoral Sense" (unpublished by Nietzsche and dated 1873) belongs to the conceptual period priori to the elaboration of The Birth of Tragedy, the same time as the elaboration of the third Untimely Meditation, on "Schopenhauer as Educator", published in 1874, when Nietzsche was no longer Schopenhauer’s defender. And assuming the truth of Nietzsche's revelations in the 1886 Preface that he prepared the third Untimely Meditation, as well as the first and the second ones for the two books of Human, All Too Human, these may have taken place between 1865 (when he read Schopenhauer) and 1869. Hence, the Untimely Meditations do not offer the initial and then permanent Nietzschean move to decipher the cryptic, artistic ploys of modern reason.

Such a cl assification has a defining effect on our understanding of the continuity of Nietzsche’s work, and on the criteria of his thought. It inverts the phenomenology of the existential succession of his themes and sharpens the importance of Nietzsche's meditation on Greek art and on art in general. Consequently, we can affirm that the reference to art plays the part of an epistemological criterion in the critique of modern reason. This critique could yeld knowledge of or about knowledge, the precondition needed to keep humankind from self-destruction and which for Nietzsche would also be “the enormous task of the great minds of the next century”[13]. We have the first epistemological criterion of Nietzsche's critique of modern reason “on the ground of art” (auf den Boden der Kunst) (BT, Preface 2).

III. Major philosophical questions

The Birth of Tragedy addressed three major philosophical questions, which Nietzsche affixed to a double problematic of science and the consequent valuation of world and existence. These questions are : 1. The problem of science as heir of to socratic thought, complicated by the rigorous path taken by science with respect to the destiny of modernity; 2. the problem of today’s modern tragedy that no longer assumes the synthesis of Apollinian and Dionysian energies which was the art of Greek tragedy ; 3. the fundamental problem of the “metaphysical” meaning common to myth and music. These problems are part of the interrogations situated within the circle of Nietzschean knowledge about knowledge both achieved and desired.

The result is that the philosopher of desesperate knowledge must become the philosopher of tragic knowledge, who “masters the uncontrolled knowledge drive, though not by means of metaphysics” (PT 11) - taking metaphysics in the traditional sense. In the same current of ideas, the unpublished theoretical fragments of the Philosopher's book [14] show the conflict between art and knowledge [15]. There the basic idea is that the philosopher has to play a therapeutic part in the culture [16]; the philosopher must penetrate the arcana of language and science from the point of view of the relation truth/untruth, understood in a nonmoral sense [17], in order finally to ask the philosophic question of the cultural opposition of science and wisdom [18].

In the very middle of an original pragmatic strategy inspired by his remarkable Greek culture, Nietzsche thought that art, exactly as medieval nominalism had opposed history and the natural sciences to faith, would henceforth be opposed to knowledge. To outline this longed for inverse cultural movement, Nietzsche explains : “History and the natural sciences were necessary to combat the middle ages : knowledge versus faith. We now opposite knowledge with art : return to life ! Mastery of the knowledge drive ! Strengthening of the moral and aesthetic instincts ! (PT 64)

History (or more exactly das Historische) and the natural sciences are by Nietzsche in 1872-1875 imagined in cultural opposition to “enormous artistic powers” (PT 8). However, natural history had imprinted him with the naturalistic idea that “advanced physiology will declare that the artistic begins with the organic” (PT 18). This position, which Nietzsche had already developed in The Birth of Tragedy, concerns the relation of art and nature : the artist creates thanks to natural forces in him [19], because there are “artistic powers which spring from nature itself, without the mediation of the human artist” (BT 2). These artistic energies are the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Art and nature are not dialectically opposed by Nietzsche, as they were in the Greek classical tradition, because Nietzsche makes the natural existence of art an axiom. [20]. However art does not belong to nature, but only to humanity [21].

Following Nietzsche's judgments on Greek art and philosophy, philosophy and science are so related, even now in modernity, that philosophy has effective mastery over science, since science depends on philosophy as much in its purposes as in its methods. There is no distinct philosophy separated from science : “there they think in the same manner that we do here” (PT 23). The ground of artistic genesis, which is advantageous to philosophy, also favours the scientific approach, according to Nietzsche. From a similar perspective, Karl Popper presented myths, fables, hypotheses and theories as founded on the same continuum. Popper refers to the theory of the Presocratic Anaximander, who envisaged the earth as “freely poised in midspaces” and claimed that it remained “motionless because of its equidistance or equilibrium”[22]. For Nietzsche this common origin of philosophy and science was the reason why he then maintained that philosophy should control science in its development : “But that philosophy which gains control also has to consider the problem of the level to which science should be permitted to develop : it has to determine value [23].

Indeed, from a philosophical point of view, we could still agree with Nietzsche's judgment that every scientific thought implies a philosophic thought (PT 22). Today the question is raised once again from a scientific point of view, with Gerald Holton's question : “Do scientists need a philosophy ?” [24] We are not to identify the “rational scientist” with a philosophically sophisticated scientist : philosophy is not simply rational - as Nietzsche's philosophy proves – nor is science. For scientists, philosophizing may remain implicit, but evident in their thematic [25] choices : “It will suffice here to mention only what may be the most ancient and persisting of these thematic conceptions, acting as a motivating and organizing presupposition to this day” [26]. Holton's conclusion however is that scientists should openly return to ethical inquiries and discussions, “to the concerns of Socrates and to the idea, in the seventeeth century discussions, of the parallelism of scientific and spiritual progress” [27]. Thus we find that today professional societies of scientists attempt to engage questions of ethics and human values. Science and philosophy are united in the "The Philosopher" who outlines an ontogeny of the world, conceived from an artistic point of view uniting science and philosophy on the same “ground of art”. Thus Nietzsche suggests the artistic roots of modern reason. Reason, art and nature are not separated, and “the natural process is carried on by science” (PT 38). We are jointly and severally liable to the universe before knowing it. In the beginning, when reason began to be active in the human mind, “artistic powers” would have been producing images and selecting among them (PT 24).This archeological process continues today :

Conscious thinking is nothing but a process of selecting representations. It is a long way from this to abstraction.
(1) the power which produces the profusion of images ; (2) the power which selects and emphasizes what is similar. (ibid.)

Thereafter all this activity would have developed according to the rhetorical laws of metaphor (and metonymy and synecdoche), always at work in human language. In his course on Rhetoric (not 1874, but 1872-1873), Nietzsche avocated the “power to discover and to make operative that which works and impresses, with respect to each thing, a power which Aristotle calls rhetoric, [and which] is, at the same time, the essence of language ; the latter is based just as l
little as rhetoric is upon that which is true, upon the essence of things. Language does not desire to instruct, but to convey to others a subjective impulse and its acceptance”[28].Conceptual abstraction is a product of metaphorical processes, and “a most important product. It is an enduring impression which is retained and solidified in the memory” (PT 49). If conception is produced by metaphoric process [29], then science itself has its own indirect debt to rhetoric:

We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science. Just as the bee simultaneously constructs cells and fills them with honey, so science works unceasingly on this great columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions It is always building new, higher stories and shoring up, cleaning and renovating the old cells [...]. (PT/TL 88)

The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself. This drive is not truly vanquished and scarcely subdued by the fact that a regular and rigid new world is constructed as its prison from its own ephemeral products, the concepts. (PT/TL 88-89)

Here Nietzsche displays a remarkable intuition of the intellectual mechanisms of language and science. Contemporary studies show how metaphor can be used as a better model for structuring knowledge than that of first-order logic : metaphor gives a knowledge representation in artificial intelligence and is one of the basic cognitive mechanisms implicated in restructuring a knowledge base [30].

In addition, we can count many languages in the same discipline coming from a variety of constructed theories : all these languages have their own history. And, regarding daily life, each one of us, with Bas van Frassen could say : "I am immersed in a language which is thoroughly theory-infected, living in a world my ancestors of two centuries ago could not enter" [31].

Even nowadays, the activity of rational understanding or the "knowledge drive" (PT 23) is “mastered by the imagination” (ibid.), which presents us with what we seek in order to think (PT 24). If we can say that the transcendental imagination was the most original of Kant's findings in the Critique of Pure reason, from a certain pioint of view, it is henceforth Nietzsche's idea as well, mixed now with his original intuition about unconscious processes :

There are many more sets of images in the brain than are consumed in thinking ; The intellect rapidly selects similar images ; the image chosen give rise, in turn, to a profusion of images ; but again, the intellect quickly selects one among them, etc. [32]

Hence, our understanding, our categorizing and naming, is in essence a “surface power” (PT 19, cf. 18). With our understanding, only through quantities we can reach “the ultimate boundaries of what is knowable”(ibid).Then, “absolute knowledge” comes to it via calculating and only with regard to spatial forms (ibid.). But the “inclination for truth” (44), the “knowledge drive” (23) or the “intellectual drive” (44), as we are wont to call it, is first produced as a moral phenomenon - “Man demands truth and fulfills this demand in moral intercourse with other men” (27) - which is veracity, born in society, and “esthetically generalized” by metaphor (44). Yet, “mankind acquires the aspiration for truth with infinite slowness (28).

Observing how “like recalls like” (44) by following the natural laws of memory and imitation, Nietzsche displays a refined analysis of the sensible mechanisms or modulations (he observes how the mimosa is gifted in memory without conscience, and then without images), installed at the foundations of the conscious and intellectual assimilation of the world into knowledge. Therefore knowledge will also be "the metamorphosis of the world into men" (52). In its beginnings, reason makes “logically invalid inferences” (48) through the use of rhetorical figures, which Nietzsche sees as “the essence of language” (ibid.). Genealogically, reason, which began only with art, thereafter became a combination of morality and art.

IV. Two criterions

In Human, All Too Human, we can trace an overthrow of perspective by another epistemological criterion. We add that the former criterion is neither refuted nor invalidated. But now joined to the first epistemological criterion of “the ground of art” is a second epistemological criterion, referring to the state of contemporary history and natural sciences. This new criterion is destined to examine modern thought with special attention to the ontogeny of the modern way of thinking as deeply extended through history and the natural sciences. Nietzsche now wishes to apply the scientific methods as a critical tool for examining the traditional ways of philosophizing. Therefore, reason is to be be seen under the light of natural history. This yields a new means to criticize reason without suppressing its primary artistic (and organic) nature.

Nietzsche clearly distinguishes his own new intellectual constitution and state of mind relative to his previous one. Indeed, he is himself conscious of the distance there is between his first constitution of mind and the new, when, in Spring 1877, he affirms that his previous works were like pictures from which he used to take colors from the subjects represented, like an artist [33]. Effectively, The Birth of Tragedy began to put the problem of science in the manner of the artists, since the book is full of images of the Greek art and myth. Nevertheless, in 1886 he depicts his work with severely : “images frenzied and confused, sentimental, in some places saccharine-sweet to the point of effeminacy” [34].

In 1872, Nietzsche championed Schopenhauer's motto : “art as the properly metaphysical activity of man” [35]. It is true that art changes the feelings of the subject about his individuality and his situation within space and time, to which importance he becomes undifferent. But Schopenhauer and Nietzsche did not give the same meaning to the term “metaphysics”. The reason is their interpretation of “will”. Georg Simmel clarifies : "According to Nietzsche we will because we live, whereas for Schopenhauer we live because we will" [36]. Therefore, it must be emphasized that Niezsche did not intend the “metaphysical” to refer traditional metaphysics, but rather to the notion of the “unconscious” (probably inspired by Kant and by Schopenhauer together), found in The Birth of tragedy. Jung correctly notes that “metaphysical” here means “unconscious” in The Birth of Tragedy [37].

Including its two companion volumes, Human, All Too Human is deliberately poised against philosophy understood as “metaphysical” in the traditional sense : Nietzsche proclaimed himself both against metaphysics and against his own romantic (Wagnerian and Schopenhauerian) sickness which he thought he had abandoned. Heidegger thus inaccurately assimilates Nietzsche's philosophy to traditional metaphysics [38]. In fact, Nietzsche, far exceeds Schopenhauer while retaining that part of knowledge he gained from him : the consideration of the primacy of art and the evidence of pathos acting within human beings or concerning all human things. The first Section sets the tune by bringing together art and metaphysics [39], announcing that philosophy, “like art, wishes to render the greatest possible depth and meaning to life and activity” (HH I, 1:6). However, Nietzsche demands that we mistrust this “depth”, when it deviates from truth :

If one substracts the added elements of thought from the deep feeling, what remains is intense feeling, which guarantees nothing at all about knowledge except itself, just as strong belief proves only its own strength, not the truth of what is believed. (HH I, 1: 15)

But art is still necessary ; it is now the necessary transition between a metaphysical philosophy and a philosophical science : “Beginning with art, one can more easily move on to a truly liberating philosophical science” (HH I, 1:27). The new sciences are positive : they do not separate historical and natural philosophy, because historical philosophy “can no longer be even conceived of as separate from the natural sciences” (HH I, 1:13).

Nietzsche then appreciates now explicitly the historical sense which "is the congenital defect of all philosophers" (HH I, 1:2). In the 1886 Preface (HH I), he proclaims that “it is the future which gives the rule to our past”[40]. Nietzsche is referring to our personal history, bringing to light, contrary to the supposed linearity of time, a prospective conception of history, according to which historical time must be thought not going forward, from the past to the future, but backwards, from our representation of the future to the present time in which we live ; and, from that point of view, we can also interpret also our past. Auguste Comte articulated this prospecting conception of history in his pamphlet Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société [41].

Historical philosophizing cannot be practised without the virtue of modesty, as it is necessary in the search of truth. Nietzsche proposed a “chemistry of concepts and feelings” (HH I, 1:1) which would show that oppositions between concepts are metaphysical exaggerations pushed to raise such a question : “how can something arise from its opposite - for example, reason from unreason, sensation from the lifeless, logic from the illogical, [...] truth from error ?”[42]. Henceforth Nietzsche calls attention to the false conclusions of false assertions and on logical errors or paralogisms : “a thing exists, therefore it is legitimate. Here one is deducing fonctionality from viability, and legitimacy from functionality” (HH I, 1:30). These errors are frequent in metaphysics. However, in the one hand, Nietzsche denounces our “habits in making conclusions” (ibid.), but, on the other, he imposes the idea of "illogical necessity" (31) because it is a further error to believe “that the nature of man can be transformed into a purely logical one” (ibid.). On one hand, against metaphysics, Nietzsche affirms that “all judgments about the value of life have developed illogically and therefore unfairly” (32). On the other he asserts that “error about life is necessary for life” (33) and that “all human life is sunk deep in untruth” (34).

Metaphysical explanations used the concepts of “finality”, “unity”, “truth” and “being” - none of which may any longer be used to interpret both world and existence [43]. Besides, in "The Philosopher”, Nietzsche had seen that “time, space, and causality are only metaphors of knowledge, with which we explain things to ourselves” (PT 47). And Nietzsche recognizes causality “as neither actual, nor yet natural, but as a fiction and a historical one” [44]. Like the Positivists, Nietzsche rejected metaphysics, which tended to give to the world a logical unity. Now, while it is evident that metaphysical explanations are convenient for a young person, later “he understands that physical and historical explanations bring about at least as much that feeling of irresponsibility, and that his interest in life and its problems is kindled perharps even more thereby” (HH I, 1: 23).

All scientists regularly employ comparisons in their work. Nietzsche remarks that the age of comparisons has arrived, because much more knowledge makes more comparisons possible. Exactly the same remark holds for the real composition of cosmopolitan classes of Europe : “Such an age gets its meaning because in it the various world views, customs, cultures are compared and experienced next to one another, which was not possible earlier, when there was always a localized rule for each culture, just as all artistic styles were found to place and time" (HH I, 1:23).

There is nothing that would preclude the existence of a metaphysical world. Yet for a scientific era, the determination of such a reality cannot count as an important item of knowledge : “No matter how well proven the existence of such a world might be, it would still hold true that the knowledge of it would be more inconsequential than the knowledge of the chemical analysis of water must be to the boatman facing a storm” (HH I, 1:9). It is essential to note that scientific positivism is the referent for Nietzsche's new observations. The three texts, now grouped under the title of Human, All Too Human, are formed by this philosophical attitude in all topics : scientific questions as well as moral, religious, psychological, political, social, historical ones. Nietzsche calls together all the great Europeans, dating from Homer and so on. He does not forget the philosophers, the scientists, the writers, the poets, the painters, and the musicians. This precious notation is tied to a philosophic strategy : Nietzsche here means to assimilate the whole of positivism yet without relegating it "to idealism" [45].

In all matters, in Human All Too Human, Nietzsche adopts the new scientific approach of the century and in the search for and articulation of truth recommends prudence and modesty as well. However, the originality of this positivist interest allows Nietzsche to continue his study of dreams. While in The Birth of Tragedy, Apollo was the master of the dream (and Dionysius the master of intoxication), with Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche moves deeper into the analysis and interpretation of dreams; we are far beyond the Apollonian dream. Natural history inspires Nietzsche in his present method. We first discover in the dream a realm: which primitive humanity believed to be "a second real world" (HH I, 1:5). And for Nietzsche : “this is the origin of all metaphysics” (ibid.).

Secondly, he observes that memory is disturbed by sleep and that in the primeval era, memory likewise disturbed the waking state. Similarities then conveyed the arbitrariness and the confusion "with which the tribes composed their mythologies" (HH I, 1:12). Freud confirmed “Nietzsche's concept of the dream as a means to knowledge of man's archaic heritage” [46]. Before Freud, Nietzsche tried to articulate “the logic of dreams” (13). He used his representation of dream to interpret our thought processes with the elements of dream-thought : “Here, then, the imagination keeps pushing images upon the mind, using in their production the visual impressions of the day - and this is precisely what dream imagination does"(ibid.). Nietzsche's explanation shares two precise points with Freud' s interpretation : first, the reference to the past, albeit to the past of humanity than that of the individual, and, secondly, the judicious observation of the specific way we reason in dreams, something Nietzsche thinks that a primeval habit retained by modern reason :

I think that man still draws conclusions in his dreams as mankind once did in a waking state, through many thousands of years : the first causa which occurred to the mind to explain something that needed explaining sufficed and was taken for truth. (According to the tales of travelers, savages proceed this way even today). The old aspect of humanity lives on in us in our dreams, for it is the basis upon which higher reason developed, and is still developing, in everyman : the dream restores up to distant states of human culture and gives us a means by which to understand them better. (Ibid.)

Through these original and positive analyses, Nietzsche acknowledges the origin of metaphysics, a product of reason, and reason itself, in dream thought. He compares the last to the thought of exotic peoples : here is the origin of human reasoning. In all fields, Nietzsche underlines the imperativ necessity of establishing and using scientific methods, the most decisive cultural part of all the scientific progress :

And in fact, the fervor about having the truth counts very little today in relation to that other fervor, more gentle and silent, to be sure, for seeking the truth, a search that does not tire of learning afresh and testing anew. (HHI, 1:9)
All in all, scientific methods are at least as important as any other result of inquiry ; for the scientific spirit is based on the insight into methods, and were those methods to be lost, all the results of science could not prevent a renewed triumph of superstition and nonsense. (ibid.)

Nietzsche shows again, in Daybreak, his interest in the search of “the exact history of a birth”[47]. Voices opposed to philosophy claim the return to science, to nature, to the natural part of science (D 427). Part of the aphorism 132 is devoted to the French founder of positivism, Auguste Comte, as is all of aphorism 542 : “The philosopher and the old age”. Nietzsche comes back to the question about scientific methods : seeming to answer Comte who preconised "the" positive method and eemphasized, in the Course of Positive Philosophy, that the diverse abstract sciences of his classification practised numerous specifically adapted scientific methods. Nietzsche presents himself as being willing either to tear away the secrets from the things, or, on the contrary, to respect and interpret their mysteries (D 432).

Nietzsche dedicated Daybreak to the moral prejudices, recognized in observations which are really influenced by the scientific way of thinking. He relates morality and causality through the notion of an inverse proportion between the sense of morality and the sense of causality : the sense of morality going backwards together with the going forward of the sense of causality (D 10). That is to say, the progression of history and the sciences of nature results in a regression of morality. And that is so, because there is no moral principle in the physical phenomena. In spite of these constatations, Nietzsche meant to apply the notion of causality to the field of morality.The result is the defect of responsibility. And so it happens that Nietzsche treats facts in the same way as Herbert Spencer, who coined the notion of “integrative change” (D 26) in the statement of his law of evolution[48]. It is why, the sense of truth, for Nietzsche, is only a sense of security for humans as well as animals.

V. Rather art and method than truth

We could follow many more exemples of the movements ot the two important Nietzsche's epistemological attitudes. Nietzsche oscillated from the criterion of art to that of history and the natural sciences, in order to come back to the first criterion in Thus spoke Zarathoustra and On the Genealogy of Morals. Indeed, we see clearly his return to myth, after Daybreak and The Gay Science, especially in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, while the first Section of Beyond Good and Evil once again returns to the same epistemological preoccupations as the first Section of Human, All Too Human [49].

The viewpoint of art and the point of view of history and the sciences of nature are united in the oscillating dynamic of Nietzsche's inquiry : returning now to art, now to history and the natural sciences, and now again to art, and so on. One might ask about Nietzsche's kind of philosophy. We have elsewhere qualified this manner of thinking as labyrinthic.

But Nietzsche himself ? What kind of philosopher was he ? Is Nietzsche merely a popular philosopher, like Ludwig Büchner whose famous but mediocre book, Force and Matter, he read ? [50] Nietzsche however had read fast almost all scientific important scientific publications of his time [51]. Or is Nietzsche, who certainly read the the jurist and anthropologist Hermann Post [52], founder of the disciplin of juridical ethnology, a philosopher of the new human sciences ? Or, like Kierhegaard, and under the mastery of Schopenhauer, is Nietzsche a philosopher of existence, asking about the inner conditions which are now possible in modernity ? [53]

Rather than a theory of knowledge or a critique of pure reason, we find a theory of modern reason, that is to say, a critique of an historical phenomenon. Modern reason is a cultural event which has appeared and can accordingly either disappear or else evolve. Nietzsche's critique of modern reason is therefore a genealogy of our Western reason which gave us science. Life requires illusions and belief in truth, but “the truth and the effective are taken to be identical, here too one submits to force” (PT 17). As the Will to Power is not yet enunciated, his idea is that unconscious forces are acting in the core of our rationality and the knowledge which it gave us. By contrast, art has truthfulness with it : “it alone is now honest” (PT 29). In conclusion, rather art and method than truth :

What then is truth ? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, an anthropomorphisms : in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions ; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins. (TL 84).

With his interest in symbolic processes, evident in The Birth of Tragedy and the Philosopher's Book as in Human All Too Human, it is possible to place Nietzsche in the context of our contemporary research in the field of the “philosophy and science of mind”. Nietzsche interprets these symbolic processes as belonging to “fiction” (Erdichtung), that is, as artistic creations, but also as natural (and social) products. Similarly, today, Colin Murray Turbayne explains that now in the philosophy of mind the problem is “of bringing to the surface these extended metaphors submerged or partially submerged in the accounts of the influential metaphysians of the past” [54].

By taking science as a creation [55] and as an interpretation [56], Nietzsche was led to explain and understand reason on the basis of art. For Nietzsche, history and the natural sciences, the products of modern reason, work as a tool against the ways of reason itself, either in metaphysics or indirectly in science, as the third ess ay of On the Genealogy of Morals demonstrates the origin of science in metaphysics. There, Nietzsche treats the difficult problem of metalanguages, according to which we are f aced with the necessity to use a metalanguage to study a specific object. Under pain of nullity of a research, we must examine the object to be known in another perspective than its own.
Nietzsche's philosophic vocation may be qualified as a radicalism, with its implication of an immoderate aspiration to truth and fairness. He obeys this aspiration unconditionally [57]. Through his genealogical analyses, Nietzsche assimilates belief and unbelief in a kind of “eidetic reduction”, as our highest speculations always work to reduce either to the idea which we believe or to one we do not want to believe.

When Rudolf Carnap criticizes metaphysics and metaphysicians, he assumes that Nietzsche had done the same [58]. Thus Carnap’s Überwindung der Metaphysik (1931) may be compared with Nietzsche's criticism of metaphysics in Human, All Too Human. Curiously, Carnap regards Nietzsche as a “metaphysian” who had the good sense to avoid the error for which he reproaches other metaphysians. Carnap is right to underline the “empirical content” of Nietzsche's work, its “historical analyses of specific artistic phenomena, or a historical-psychological analysis of morals”[59]. He praises Nietzsche for having not chosen in Thus Spoke Zarathustra “the misleading theoretical form, but openly the form of art, of poetry” [60]. However, Nietzsche is not at all content to simply express his feelings about life. Nietzsche discovers the way to criticize metaphysics via its faulty conclusions, but he also discovers, with his idea of “the illogical necessary” (HH I,1:31), how to criticize a stricly logical point of view like Carnap's.

Through an original but concealed cognitive paradigm and through a deconstructive series of untimely observations, Nietzsche attained something like a knowledge regarding knowledge by tracing the process of symbolization processes in order to discover the formation of concepts and the representation of events. Yet surely this is not the same “attempt to gain knowledge about knowledge” which he regards as Kant's task in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft" [61].

(Thanks to Tracy Strong and to Ignace Haaz for assistance with this essay. )


1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy Out the Spirit of Music, trans. S. Whiteside, ed. M. Tanner (London: Penguin, 1993) : “Attempt as a Self-Criticism” (1886), p.4.
2. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, I., §. 18, trans. M. Faber and S. Lehmann (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 25. Hereafter cited as HH.
3. Cf. Angèle Kremer-Marietti, "Le «terrain de l'art», une clé de lecture du texte nietzschéen", in D. Janicaud, ed., Nouvelles lectures de Nietzsche (Lausanne : L'Age d'Homme, N°1, 1985).
4. Cf. Gilles Deleuze, Nietsche et la philosophie (Paris, P.U.F., 1962) ; see Chapter 2 : « Actif et réactif ».
5. Nachlass November 1887-März 1888, 11 (99), KGW, VIII, 2, p. 287-288. See also Le Nihilisme européen, Traduction et notes par Angèle Kremer-Marietti, précédé de "Que signifie le nihilisme?" par Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Paris Union Générale d'Editions, coll. 10/18, 3è trimestre 1976, p.178. New traduction  and introduction: Paris, Kimé, 1997.
6. See Babette E. Babich, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science. Reflecting Science on the Ground of Art and Life (New York : State University of New York Press, 1994), p. 244 : “In fact, the vulgar threat of nihilism is furthest from Nietzsche' s concern”.
7. Nachlass November 1887-März 1888, 11 (99), KGW, VIII, 2, p. 288.
8. On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans., with an Introduction by P. Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett, Inc., 1980) ; Preface, p. 7. German title of the Meditation : Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben (1874), which is Part 2 of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen).
9. Cf. Das Philosophenbuch. Theoretische Studien (1872-1875), Nietzsches Werke, GOA, Kröner, X ; see the different texts without this title in Nachlass, KGW III, 4, 2, 1. The French translation, Le Livre du philosophe, was first published with an Introduction and Notes by Angèle Kremer-Marietti (Paris: Aubier Flammarion, 1969), corrected and reprinted 1978 ; now reprinted in GF Collection (Paris, Flammarion , 1991). Cf. the English translation : Nietzsche, Philosophy and Truth. Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's, ed. and trans. D. Breazeale (New Jersey: Humanities, 1979) ; see “The Philosopher”, § 37 : Philosophy and Truth (1991), p. 12 ; Le Livre du philosophe (1991), p. 48. Cited as PT followed by the page number.
10. Ecce Homo. How one becomes what one is, trans. with Notes by R. J. Hollingdale, (London: Penguin, 1991), p. 4.
11. HH, I, 1, 25, p.31.
12. See my Introduction "La Naissance de la tragédie trace la voie de la vérité radicale", in : Nietzsche, La Naissance de la tragédie, Traduction de Jean Marnold et Jacques Morland revue par Angèle Kremer-Marietti (Paris : Librairie Générale Française, 1994), pp. 5-31.
13. HH, I, 1, 25, p. 31.
14. Rather Philosopher's Book than Philosophers' Book.
15. See "The Philosopher : Reflections on the Struggle Between Art and Knowledge" (1872) ; Philosophy and Truth, pp. 1-58 ; Le Livre du philosophe, pp. 37-103.
16. See "The Philosopher as Cultural Physician" (1873) ; PT, 67-76 .
17. See "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" (1873) ; PT, 77-97 ; cited from this translation TL followed by the page number.
18. See "The Struggle Between Science and Wisdom" (1875) PT, 125-146.
19. See Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche et la métaphore, Paris, Payot, 1972, p. 47: « L'art prolonge le travail de la force artistique inconsciente ».
20. Cf. David Lenson, The Birth of Tragedy. A Commentary (Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1987, p. 39.
21. Cf. Human, All Too Human, Nachlass (1876-1878), 23 (150), KGW, IV, 2.
22. Cf. Karl R. Popper, "Back to the Presocratics" (1958), Sections II-IX, in Conjectures and Refutations (New York, Harper and Row, 1968), Chapter 5.
23. PT, 8, see also pp. 22,23.
24. Gerald Holton, The Advancement of Science, and its Burdens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), see pp.163-178.
25. Cf. Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought. Kepler to Einstein. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).
26. Holton, The Advancement of Science and its Burdens, p. 175.
27. Holton, loc.cit., p. 178.
28. Cf. Philologica, Zweiter Band, Nietzsches Werke, Band XVIII (Leipzig, Kröner, 1912), p. 249. See Sander L.Gilman., Carole Blair, David Parent, Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 20.
29. See Sarah Kofman, loc.cit., p. 5: "grâce au concept, l'homme range l'univers entier dans des rubriques logiques bien ordonnées, sans savoir qu'il continue alors l'activité métaphorique la plus archaïque".
30. Cf. Earl R. Mac Cormac, A Cognitive Theory of Metaphor (Cambridge: Massachusetts, 1985) ; Eileen Cornell Way, Knowledge representation and Metaphor (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Puiblisher, 1991). Cf. also Vincent de Coorebyter, ed, Rhétoriques de la science (Paris, P.U.F., Collection L'Interrogation Philosophique, 1994) ; see my essay, pp. 133-148 : "Le figuré et le littéral dans le langage scientifique".
31. Cf. Bas C. van Frassen, The Scientific Image (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p.81.
32. Ibid.
33. KGW, IV, 2, 22 (64).
34. See "Attempt at a Self-criticism", in The Birth of Tragedy, p. 5.
35. See Ibid., p. 7.
36. Cf. Georg Simmel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (1907), Translated by Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein, and Michael Weinstein (University of Massachusetts Press, 1986; International Nietzsche Studies, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991) ; see p. 76.
37. Cf. Carl Gustav Jung, Psychological Types (1920), Chapter III : Apollinian and Dionysian. Nietzsche :"The Birth of Tragedy", in Collected Works, London, 1953-1971. See "La Naissance de la tragédie trace la voie de la vérité radicale", loc.cit., p. 16-17: "Comme Nietzsche l'a affirmé, c'est une «métaphysique» de l'artiste, mais si nous suivons Jung, par qui une modification s'impose, nous devons un moment remplacer le terme de 'métaphysique' par celui d' «inconscient», pour obtenir cette affirmation que La Naissance de la tragédie est l'inconscient de l'artiste" .
38. Cf. Michel Haar, "La Physiologie de l'Art : Nietzsche revu par Heidegger", in Nouvelles Lectures de Nietzsche, pp.70-80 ; see p.70: "Cette lecture présente Nietzsche, on le sait, principalement (et massivement) comme l'«achèvement de la métaphysique», résumant et clôturant les grandes époques de son histoire". See also Angèle Kremer-Marietti, "Le Nietzsche de Heidegger. Sur la volonté de puissance", Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 1/1989, n°168.
39.Title of Section One : “Of First and Last Things”.
40. HH I, Preface, §. 7, p. 10.
41. Cf. Auguste Comte, Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société (1822), Paris, Aubier, 1970 ; see p. 122-123 : "L'ordre chronologique des époques n'est point l'ordre philosophique. Au lieu de dire : le passé, le présent et l'avenir, il faut dire : le passé, l'avenir et le présent. Ce n'est, en effet, que lorsque, par le passé, on a conçu l'avenir, qu'on peut revenir utilement sur le présent, qui n'est qu'un point, de façon à saisir son véritable caractère".
42. HH I, 1:1. The same observation occurs in Beyond Good and Evil, I “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.”
43. Nachlass November 1887-März 1888, 11 (99), KGW, VIII, 2, p. 287-288.
44. See Tracy B. Strong, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration (1975). Expanded Edition, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1988, p. 69.
45. Cf. Human, All Too Human, Nachlass (1876-1878), 22 (37), Spring and Summer 1877, KGW, IV, 2.
46. See note 11 of the American translaters, PT 19. Cf. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams. In an addendum to the fifth edition of this work (1919), Freud refers to Nietzsche's concept of the dream as a means to knowledge of man's archaic heritage, «of what is psychically innate in him» (Standard Edition, V, p. 549)".
47. Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, Aphorism I. Hereafter cited as D followed by the aphorism number.
48. Cf. Herbert Spencer, First Principles (1862, 1867, 1875, 1888).
49. Cf. “Was geschah mir : Horch ! Flog die Zeit wohl davon ? Falle ich nicht ? Fiel ich nicht - horch ! in den Brunnen der Ewigkleit ?“ Also sprach Zarathustra, IV, Mittags, KGW, VI, 1, p.340. And „Wir suchen Verschiednes auch hier oben, ihr und ich. Ich nämlich suche mehr Sicherheit, deshalb kam ich zu Zarathustra. Der nämlich ist noch der festeste Thurm und Wille, Also sprach Zarathustra, IV, „Von der Wissenschaft“, KGW, VI, 1, p.372.
50. Ludwig Büchner, Kraft und Stoff. Empirisch-philosophische Studien.In allgemein-verständlicher Darstellung, Frankfurt am Main, Meidinger, 1855. The materialist philosopher Friedrich Karl Christian Ludwig Büchner (1824-1899) was the brother of the writer Georg Büchner (1813-1837). Ludwig Büchner has published his work in 19 editions, from 1855 to 1898. Nietzsche held the 15th edition, dated 1883 ; but he could have earlier read the book as well. Constantly revisited, Büchner's book, Force and Matter, is based upon the new scientific results of the time from the works of the physicist Sir William Robert Grove (1811-1896), the physiologist Jakob Moleschott (1822-1893), the pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), the mathématician and physicist Sir William Thomson, first Baron Kelvin (1824-1907), the biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), and so on., all well known by Nietzsche. Büchner asserted that infinite matter transformes incessantly, while force circulates without end. Hence, for Nietszche, the possibility of proving scientifically what will be the idea of Eternel Return of the Same and justifying the theory of the Will to Power.
51. Nietzsche's readings in the matter of physical and natural sciences are very important. See Alwin Mittasch, Friedrich Nietzsche als Naturphilosoph, Stuttgart, Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1952.
52. Albert Hermann Post (1839-1895) is considered the founder of comparative law ; he is the author of : Einleitung in eine Naturwissenschaft des Rechts, Oldenburg, 1872 and Der Ursprung des Rechts. Prolegomena zu einer allgemeinen vergleichenden Rechtswissenschaft, Oldenburg, 1876. He published his works between 1861 and 1895, and brought the idea of "ethnological jurisprudence".
53. Simmel, loc.cit., see p. 5 : “[The desire for an absolute goal] is the heritage of Christianity. It has left a need for a definitivum of live's movement, which has continued as an empty urge for a goal which has become inaccessible. Schopenhauer's philosophy is the absolute philosophical expression for this inner condition of modern man. The center of his doctrine is that the essential metaphysical essence of the world and of ourselves has its total and only decisive expression in our will”.
54. See Colin Murray "Metaphors for the Mind", in Logic and Art. Essays in honour of Nelson Goodman, Indianapolis and New York, The Bobbs Merrill Comp. Inc., 1972, p.61. Cf. Colin Murray Turbayne, The Myth of Metaphor, New Haven : Yale, University Press, 1962.
55. Cf. Ruediger H. Grimm, Nietzsche's Theory of Knowledge ‘Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 1977) ; see p. 137 : "What we claim to know about the world or concerning objects is properly a creation of our own, projected ‘outward’ and not gleaned from a careful examniation of ‘things’".
56. Cf. Babette E. Babich, loc.cit, p. 228 : "The perspectivalist context of interpretation defined by a world of chaotic and necessary Will to Power reveals the creative interactional character of cultural and so scientific truths".
57. See the word Rücksichtslosigkeit (meaning the entity 'restrictionless'), Daybreak, 512 .
58. Cf. Rudolf Carnap, English translation in A. J. Ayer, Logical Positivism (New York, The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1959), pp. 60-81 : "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language".
59. Cf. A. J. Ayer ed., p. 80.
60. Ibid.
61. Cf. Grimm, loc. cit., p. 55 : "Nietzsche is obviously suspicious of the attempt to gain knowledge about knowledge,which he sees as Kant's task in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Briefly, Nietzsche views this attempt as embodying the same inconsistency which we have already pointed out as inherent to the correspondence theory".