Nietzsche’s ‘Truth’ on Truth

Topics: Jacques Derrida

Epistemological philosophers began musing over the theory of knowledge several millennia ago and continue to do so presently. The works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, and Steven Ward each present separate, yet comparable approaches regarding the origin and definition of knowledge, as well as its correlation to truth, suggesting that knowledge is relative. The relativity of knowledge would imply that truth, too, is relative and therefore dependent upon simulated concepts that vary, not only across man but as Nietzsche implies, cross-species.

In his work “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense,” Nietzsche establishes that conventional knowledge is unique to man’s experience on Earth and has no lasting influence on what lies beyond the human sphere.

There have been eternities when it [knowledge] did not exist; and when it is done again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer give it such importance as if the world pivoted around it.

But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world (Nietzsche 1).

Nietzsche surmises that each being, man or “the mosquito,” maintains a distinctive sense of awareness and self-importance. Thus, there is a contrast between the knowledge of disparate beings. Traditionally, knowledge consists of acquired facts; facts are proven truths. As Nietzsche asserts, knowledge is distinctive, therefore, if knowledge varies then there are no universal truths.

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In his dialogue pursuing truth’s nature, Nietzsche questions himself: “Do the designations and the things coincide? Is language the adequate expression of all realities?” (2). Language, he addresses, is a simulated concept, one used to categorize and identify realities according to humans. His examination of language’s ability to encompass realities from all perspectives universally makes a compelling argument about whether truth can exist.

Jacques Derrida, like Nietzsche, traverses the relationship between truth and language, describing language as one of the main deterrents of man from attaining truth in his book, Of Grammatology. “What writing itself, in its nonphonetic moment betrays, is life” (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 25). Though not as passionately doubtful regarding the reality of universal truth, Derrida understands that language, specifically written, has come to extract all cultural value and meaning from which it attempts to portray. Written language interferes with the effort to attain all-encompassing truths in different areas of human life by categorizing and reconfiguring its elements until it becomes unrecognizable to most. Derrida touches upon the concept of truth again in his speech, Declarations of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 by “the good people,” though it was not signed by the entire population of the colony for which it was intended to represent (Derrida, Declarations, 9). The “free and independent states” which the document also represents, technically did not yet exist unless deemed so unanimouslthe y or legitimated by someone of authority. Derrida, though having presented the former assumption, questions its validity

Is it that the good people have already freed themselves . . . and are only stating the fact of this emancipation in the Declaration? Or is it rather that they free themselves at the instant of and by the signature of this Declaration? (9).

Derrida’s ruminations shadow Nietzsche’s inner dialogue about perspective and the erratic nature of “truth.” Truth cannot be constant or universal at any given moment, because every person’s version of truth is fabricated to suit their personal needs. It cannot be determined whether the states were “free and independent” before they were recognized by an authoritative figure, nor does it matter to thinkers such as Nietzsche or Derrida who have demonstrated that “truth” cannot be proven to exist.

One can dispute the notion that truth is non-existent and agree somewhat with Nietzsche’s theory that truth does exist but in multiform. It can be, perhaps, stated that there are universal truths, but from the Nietzsche and the works supporting him, it is made evident that man is not able to gain the perspective of every object in a state of being to determine concrete truths. On the first page of his book, Reconfiguring Truth, Steven Ward references Foucault, stating: “. . . the truth is not a neutral result of knowledge-seeking, but an activity that always ‘permits and assures the exercise of power’” (Ward 1). As Nietzsche claims, humans are in command of their knowledge, so their realities are a product of their deliberate choices to fight for and negotiate truths. Derrida, just as Ward implies, recognizes and introduces the presence of power within his analysis of the Declaration, and its inherent effect on how the facts of U.S. independence are acknowledged and interpreted in history.

Nietzsche proposes that while there are technically truths, as far as we know they are simulated and confined to man. Without the ability to experience the self of each being with perspective, a universal truth in any discipline is not currently known to be possible. As Derrida and Ward reinforce, the knowledge humans possess is used in pursuit of power and our self-interests, which is natural if we are anything like the mosquito.

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Nietzsche’s ‘Truth’ on Truth. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

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