As usual, Rick Roderick proves to be a great go-to guy on Nietzsche. In this series of videos (one lecture put together by Daniel Horne), he takes on the accusation that Nietzsche is taking a relativist stance towards truth, or as it can be labeled, a ‘perspectivist’ stance. Roderick does an (as usual excellent) exposition of Nietzsche’s.
It starts with ideas about one’s belief about one’s beliefs. Nietzsche is attacking the idea that one usual thinks that one’s beliefs should be held by everyone else – your belief about your belief is that it should be everyone’s belief. That’s dogmatism, not universal truth. But it parades around as truth.
Roderick sees Nietzsche as attacking dogmatism in a very traditional Socratic way, not as practicing metaphysics. In fact, he doesn’t think Nietzsche gives a positive account of Truth at all. Before characterizing what N. is up to, he provides the classic refutation of the relativist position which Nietzsche is often accused of holding:
Let’s say you take the strong relativist way of stating that, which is “There is no truth”. That’s the strong relativist way to state it – if there were any relativists – “There is no truth”. And then the philosopher asks “Well, if there is no truth binding for all”; “No truth”, for a philosopher, since that amounts to the same thing… for most mainstream positions. “There is no truth”. What’s odd about the statement “There is no truth”? Well, we know what’s odd about it. What’s odd about it is there must be one. Namely that one; the sentence “There is no truth” must be true. This is how philosophers refute things; because if it’s not true, then there is truth.
So it looks as though the relativist is involved in what philosophers call a “self referential paradox”. Namely, the relativist can’t state his or her position because in stating it they must appeal to the notion of truth, which their position attempts to undermine. That’s the Socratic, and still a standard refutation of relativism.
OK, so we’ve dispensed with the idea that Nietzsche is giving an account of Truth and that it is relativistic. Roderick rightly notes that Nietzsche is concerned with what counts as true and what counts as false. [FYI, he has a funny little aside about Tarski’s Theory of Truth] What Nietzsche is interested in is why human beings developed a notion of truth and how it is deployed in language and social interaction.
To tie this back to the attack on dogmatism and belief, if truth is a mechanism for announcing what counts as true and what counts as false, then truth is essentially a mechanism for saying ‘this is what I hold as true’, ‘what I believe is true’, ‘what is accepted as true’, etc. It’s not a metaphysical assertion. Dogmatism (belief about one’s beliefs) mascarades as Metaphysical Truth, when is really a statement about beliefs. So truth is really a mechanism to support the articulation of beliefs in social contexts. It’s a way of signalling to others whether you agree with their beliefs about their own beliefs (share their dogmatism) or not.
In that sense it has utility in articulating assent or contention – in defining one’s stance vis-a-vis another. Roderick will tie this to a concept of power that will lead naturally to Foucault and that makes for an interesting further exploration.