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Epistemology: How do you Know that you Know what you Know?

Nietzsche On Knowledge, Truth, and Life. Jacob Baker. For example, was Nietzsche an extreme skeptic, such that his revalutation of values his central lifetime philosophical project amounted to nihilism, in claiming that nothing could be known and that therefore the world was meaningless? For our purposes here I am in agreement with Sommers that Nietzsche was not a straightforward, uncomplicated nihilist.

He was skeptical of conventional religion and morality, skeptical to the extent that he claimed that it was religion and morality that were nihilistic, religion and morality that sought to provide or reveal an impossible absolute foundation of life, and in so doing rendered the religious and the moral trapped in prisons of meaninglessness. His concern is such that he opposes knowledge to life, or better said, he opposes traditional formulations of knowledge which in his view are destructive of life, destructive because he believed that knowledge for the religious as well as for the philosopher had become an end in itself, and not a tool for the furtherance of life, as knowledge should be employed.

His skepticism about knowledge and truth are what primarily have been the fodder for treating Nietzsche as a moral nihilist but I will argue that his utilization of skepticism is a strategic methodology by which to criticize traditional philosophical and religious epistemologies and their treatment of absolute truth, which he means to replace or revalue in order to elevate and highlight the importance of life with its non-objective, unpredictable, and multiple patterns. For Nietzsche, man had severed himself from the world around him. Kant had been perhaps the most recently celebrated as one who essentially held this view.

We have only our own perception with which to interact. Consequently, we can never really know the world around us.

Yet, Nietzsche complains, these philosophers insist that the highest values are to be found in this unreachable transcendental realm. They posit that the things of most value cannot be human derivations, imprisoned in the lowly world of the senses. The belief in the truth of synthetic a priori propositions, then, is all that is needed to establish them as knowledge. Again, belief becomes a poor substitute for knowledge.

It becomes impossible to be wrong about that which one cannot transcendentally really perceive in the first place. Thus, the rise of knowledge-as-object, a singular yet universal object that anyone can apprehend and seize for herself. Why do I believe in causes and effects? This sort of knowledge is snidely dismissed; true knowledge does not derive from subjects. It must be objectively and deductively apprehended. Knowledge, in short, had become science in the modern age.

Science, with its dour and solemn insistence on objectivity and neutrality. Knowledge, then, was reduced purely to method. The structure of knowledge was utterly methodological in nature. Disinterested scrutiny would allow cognition to do the work of extracting the materials of the world and this same disinterested methodology would allow one to analyze the same.

Any other methodology would be subjective in nature. Whatever such a methodology produced, it would not be knowledge. Science, paradoxically, had to attain to a certain modesty. Actually, convictions could be admitted to the realm of science by ceasing to be convictions, by being dressed up and transformed in such a way that we call them hypotheses, conjectures. Though now, ironically, in so doing we adopt the language of uncertainty in order to describe laws and fixed principles.

Truth, Trust and Expertise -

It will thus be no surprise that science has transformed the world into a machine, a vastly complex mechanism of innumerable parts and components. This is all well and good in its proper context--Nietzsche certainly never dismissed physics or chemistry as valid branches of science. But such a view is inherently reductionistic, when the whole of existence cannot be reduced to a mechanistic interpretation of nature. What about the existential questions of meaning and life? Yet science allowed no competing intellectual and practical activities; intellectual and practical activities were science.

And yet, Nietzsche asked, why is not truth—supposedly worth more than appearance—just another moral prejudice, another willed assumption?


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BGE, Thus, the will to truth is unconditional: it is the fixed and immovable presupposition in supposedly presuppositionless science GS, The will to truth is also deceptive: in willing the unconditional, the possibility of falsehood is virtually nonexistent. Or better, as Nietzsche refines it, the will to truth is the will not to deceive, to will to never let oneself be deceived.

Yet, why is this an unqualified good? How much do we really know about existence to decide that it is better to not be deceived than to be deceived? Where is the metaphysical universalizable standard that tells us this is so? Suppose that both trust and mistrust, deception and truth, were equally necessary, equally useful, in different contexts. Why, Nietzsche inquires, are you so determined not to deceive or be deceived when so much of life itself consists of error, deception, and simulation?

Significantly, Nietzsche determines that this will to truth is actually a hidden will to death GS, because the will to truth aims at that which is other than life. Life, history, nature are not inherently moral. Quite the opposite, in fact. In order to really be truthful, in order to continue to affirm an error-free deceptionless world of truth beyond mere appearance, one must affirm a world other than this one, a world other than this world of life, history and nature with their inherent immorality.

Truth, Trust and Expertise

But of course by the same token one must then deny this world. For Nietzsche, to deny this world in the name of the will to truth is to affirm the will to truth as the will to death. Because of this science, derived from Christianity, which adopted Platonic idealism and truth as God or the divine, itself had become a metaphysical faith, justifying itself on moral grounds.

As the above commentary demonstrates, Nietzsche was opposed to conventional meanings of truth and knowledge, though this is not to say that he was opposed to truth and knowledge themselves.

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He had his own interpretations of how truth and knowledge could affirm life instead of being the will to death. For knowledge to be objective it must exist outside of a context.


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    But we can never entirely understand the context out of which it arises. This is why every bit of knowledge, every truth, is always partial and incomplete, subject to limited perspectives. Knowledge cannot be detached from the knower, and the knower is formed by his or her own subjective experience. Nietzsche pointed out that, in traditional epistemology, whenever a proposition is asserted we demand to know who said it. Similarly, wherever we observe an effect, we demand to know the cause. But why should everything be an effect of a cause?

    This illustrates the illusion of grammar.

    But why should we have an ontology parallel to our grammatical structure? In western history, language indicates ontology. If every contingent truth needs a sufficient reason, God must be necessary per Leibniz because there must be a primordial reason. But if there is no need to have causes, there is no need for a regress back to God. Thus, God is just a grammatical illusion; God serves our need of one who knows the cause of everything. But for Nietzsche looking for causes is misguided because our ontologies are grammar-related BGE Aph. Grammar is on the move, changeable. Consequently, we have no access to the structure of reality, just to the language that undergirds our structures.

    Everything is reducible to interpretation s.

    The Coherence View of Truth

    The existence of subjects and objects is only an existence for a situated subject. There is no inherent meaning in the universe; nature does not exhibit observable laws from itself.