In Nietzsche’s (1873) work “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”, Nietzsche explores the prominence of lies in our truths and in our lives when emancipated from any moral judgements. The argument proceeds through an argument constructing how humanity both hypocritically and willingly surrounds itself in deceptions and the deception of truth.
Nietzsche begins by emphasizing the insignificance of our cognition and logic in the grand scheme of humanity’s existence. Our perspective of moral values and intelligence is insignificant as the appraisal of our human knowledge only stretches as far as there are humans to value it. Our self-deemed intellectual superiority is the initial deception in our existence, as it is just that: human intellect as interpreted by humans and nothing more.
Nietzsche believes human intellect “shows its greatest strengths in dissimulation” (142). Oxford defines dissimulation as a concealment of one’s ideas, emotions or character. Humans practice this fancier term for deception in a seemingly infinite number of instances in their daily lives. Lying can be seen in our actions and our language. Nietzsche considers flattery, gossip, and the masks and performances people put on to convey to the public as all forms of willing lies and deceptions for the benefit of themselves or others. None-the-less, they are an abundance of words and actions that all describe the same vane deceits that make having any pursuit or judgement of truth seem ridden with hypocrisy.
Nietzsche emphasizes the presence of lying being endorsed through the formations of society. When concepts are attributed to things, subjective truths can be given objective validation in the society it operates under. This process is like the describing of colours and their associated meanings being different across cultures. The words we use, arbitrary in themselves, become what Nietzsche calls “tokens of designation” (143). These invented, societal tokens are regulators of behaviour that modify and change how citizens act to fit the peaceful mould of the society. When people utilize these arbitrary terms and their subjective meaning wrongly, or in a manner deemed untrue, the language performance is accepted despite being false unless it brings harm to others or themselves. It is with legal and social norms that language becomes morally weighted when it would otherwise be neutral. People are not as much in opposition of lies but in opposition of harm, and so humans can be found to willingly perform deceptive uses of language and actions and have it accepted if it is not harmful to the society.
Language also stimulates the narrow illusion of what truth is. Truths seemingly appear as the virtuous knowledge that humanity perceives to drive for, unless in cases where the truth brings damaging consequences once it is told. In that case it can also be met with hostility. However, Nietzsche documents how conventions of truth are just forms of deception. The invention of words occurs to articulate subjective observations and stimulus from our memories. As far as language is concerned, the goals are not truth but uniformity in the categorization of what is and what isn’t any given thing. The articulation created through naming our experiences in the world are equivocations of all similar things though they may not be identical. Just like all snowflakes are different, Nietzsche finds lying in every word we use, as words falsely equivocate unique things and sensations as under the same concept by ignoring the minute differences in all cases of said thing. The result is a series of memories laced in metaphor descriptions built on older metaphors to the point where the essence of any truth is lost in centuries of cultural evolutions of every concept and feeling.
The final dialogue in his analysis truth and lying in a non-moral sense is the connection between art and science. Nietzsche supposes if everything that we conceptualize are layered metaphors and deceptive lies that we impose on ourselves, then science is just as much an imposition as art on our reality. Science is a binding that attempts to be truth. In contrast, Nietzsche describes art like dreams, in which art “constantly manifests the desire to shape the given world of the waking human being… which are just as multiform, irregular… charming and ever-new as things are in the world of dream” (151). Both the scientific and artistic man live in abstractions, however where science tries to portray metaphors as truth, art dares not deceive itself as truth. Embracing lying and art gives this intuitive person a more livened sensory experience free of reason, in contrast to the sheltered and indeed disillusioned scientific person.