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  • Perspectivism and Falsification Revisited:Nietzsche, Nehamas, and Me

In this article, I offer the beginning of a new interpretation of Nietzsche's perspectivism, one that restricts the scope of the knowledge to which it applies. I do so by presenting a new reading of one of Nietzsche's most important passages on perspectivism, Genealogy III:12. I arrive at this reading by revisiting Alexander Nehamas's 1985 interpretation of perspectivism, my 1990 alternative to it, and Nehamas's recent criticism of that alternative in the Journal of Nietzsche Studies. I argue that, despite some errors that I made, my developmental approach to interpreting Nietzsche's commitment to the falsification thesis still holds up against Nehamas's recent criticism. I then argue against his 2017 account of falsification in The Gay Science and his 1990 and 2017 accounts of perspectivism. In the end, I argue that we both made the same mistake of thinking that Nietzsche's perspectivism applies to all knowledge.


ascetic ideal, falsification, Nehamas, perspectivism, truth

I remember well my initial reaction when Nietzsche: Life as Literature appeared in 1985.1 I was busy working on my own book on Nietzsche and I was worried that Nehamas had already said everything I wanted to say in it. We were dealing with the same problem: the apparently problematic, even paradoxical nature of Nietzsche's perspectivism and his position on truth. And our aim was the same: to show that this position was plausible, perhaps even reasonable, and at least worthy of serious consideration. So I had to consider whether Nehamas's interpretation of Nietzsche's position on truth secured it against the various problems about which we were both concerned. I ultimately decided that it did not, that his book had not rendered mine unnecessary. Indeed, by the time my book came out, readers could be forgiven for thinking not only that Nehamas had not said everything that I wanted to say about Nietzsche and truth, but [End Page 3] also that, according to me, he got nearly everything on that topic wrong. I exaggerate here; indeed, I think my great respect for Nehamas's book was always apparent. But I have had the increasing sense over the years that he may have been more right than I gave him credit for. It therefore seemed time—especially given Nehamas's recent criticism of my 1990 account2—to revisit our disagreement concerning Nietzsche's perspectivism. In doing so, I did not discover that Nehamas was basically right. In fact, I argue that his 1985 interpretation of perspectivism was wrong in the ways I suggested, and I defend my 1990 interpretation against his recent criticisms. But I did discover that we both made the same mistake regarding the scope of Nietzsche's perspectivism—that it applies to all knowing. If we had limited the scope of perspectival knowing to that characteristic of philosophy and the human sciences, both of our interpretations would have been more plausible than they were.

The Falsification Thesis

In the period during which Nehamas's book and mine were written, an early essay that Nietzsche had never chosen to publish was very influential in defining his philosophy, especially in literature departments in the United States: "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense." Its influential message was that "truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions."3 I dubbed this sentence "the falsification thesis" because I took it to claim that all of our purported truths (as well as our admitted illusions) are actually false. Neither Nehamas nor I was sympathetic to this "semantic nihilism," as Arthur Danto called it, and we both sought to show that it did not infect Nietzsche's later philosophy.4 Nehamas quickly dismissed the nihilism of TL as a product of Nietzsche's early devotion to Schopenhauer and the latter's belief in a thing in itself, claiming that in his later work, Nietzsche denies the very idea of things or facts "in themselves." I took him to be right about this, if perhaps a little quick, and spent a whole chapter of my book clarifying the variations on the argument of TL for the conclusion that all of our alleged truths are actually illusions because they fail to correspond to the thing-in-itself (i.e., to things as they are, independent of us). I showed that none of them gave Nietzsche a good argument for this falsification thesis, and how he could nevertheless have convinced himself [End Page 4] otherwise (namely, by conflating different versions of it).5 So far, then, Nehamas and I did not disagree.

Our disagreement began when it came to dealing with Nietzsche's talk of falsification in his middle- and later-period works. Nehamas interpreted this not as I did—as a continuing commitment to what he now calls the "disastrous falsification thesis"6—but as a justifiable aspect of Nietzsche's perspectivism. According to Nehamas, Nietzsche allowed that many of our beliefs might be true, but also claimed that they involved falsity, due to their perspectival character, and that Nietzsche was right about this. In the section on "Perspectivism" below, I explain why I did not and do not find this plausible. But first, I defend my 1990 approach to interpreting Nietzsche's talk of falsification against Nehamas's recent criticism.

My claim was that Nietzsche completely overcame the falsification thesis, but only in works after BGE. Having analyzed the arguments of TL in some detail, I found it plausible that it would have taken Nietzsche a while to see his way clear of them, and I interpreted the indications of the falsification thesis in his middle-period works accordingly: as holdovers from the semantic nihilism of TL, which Nietzsche only gradually worked his way out of. I also argued that although Nietzsche might also seem to be committed to the falsification thesis in works after BGE, the commitment is merely apparent and can be explained away. I admitted long ago that I was mistaken in claiming that Nietzsche was still committed to the falsification thesis in BGE and GS V.7 But Nehamas claims that I was wrong in two other ways: in claiming that some version of the falsification thesis remains in the first edition of GS, and in the way I explain away evidence of that thesis in later works. Denying that Nietzsche ever held the falsification thesis after HH, he sees no evidence of or need for a change in Nietzsche's thought on falsification between GS and later works. According to Nehamas, in all of these works Nietzsche correctly claims that human knowledge involves the same kind of falsification. Before turning to perspectivism, I will defend my view of Nietzsche's claims about falsification against Nehamas's criticisms. In the following section, I argue that the first edition of GS still makes implausible claims about falsification, which Nietzsche sees as infecting our commonsense cognitive practices. The next section defends my view that in BGE and afterward, he fully overcomes the falsification thesis, coming to recognize [End Page 5] the falsification he worried about in GS not as part of our commonsense practices, but as the expression of a quite dispensable metaphysical interpretation of them.

Falsification in GS I–IV

I argued that in GS, Nietzsche still accepts a version of TL's falsification thesis, claiming that our commonsense practices and scientific knowledge falsify reality, but that he no longer bases this claim on the failure of empirical knowledge to correspond to things-in-themselves. As I argued, and as Nehamas agrees, Nietzsche already had an argument against the conceivability of the thing-in-itself in GS 54.8 But if there was no thing-in-itself to be falsified, what basis could he have for insisting that what we call "knowledge" falsifies reality? My claim was that he believed, following Kant and Schopenhauer, that there are certain a priori components of knowledge, and that these components falsify the information we get from reality, the "data of sensation." It seemed reasonable to treat this claim as a different version of the falsification thesis found in TL, taking Nietzsche to have recognized the problem with his argument in TL and having found a new argument to defend his original intuition that our everyday cognitive practices and empirical knowledge falsify reality.9 I still hold this view, although I now reject my 1990 interpretation of Nietzsche's argument in GS, first, because I defended it on the basis of GS 354, which belongs to Nietzsche's later works, and which, in any case, I misinterpreted; and second, because my claim that Nietzsche accepts Kant's view that there are certain a priori components of knowledge is wrong. What I should have said is that there are certain fundamental aspects of the framework implicit in our common-sense practices and knowledge claims that seem to be a priori because they cannot be derived from experience: in particular, the principles of logic and mathematics, and the concepts of causality and substance. Nietzsche has become a complete empiricist by the time he writes GS.10 His question was where these apparently a priori elements come from.

In GS 110, Nietzsche tells us that they are "errors" that helped our ancestors to survive. He claims that "over immense periods of time the intellect produced nothing but errors," a few of which "proved to be useful and helped to preserve the species," including "that there are enduring things, that there are equal things; that there are things, substances, bodies." These "erroneous [End Page 6] articles of faith" were "continually inherited, until they became almost part of the basic endowment of the species," that is, until they seemed to be true a priori. Our "higher functions, sense perception and every kind of sensation worked with these basic errors," and "even in the realm of knowledge these propositions became the norms according to which 'true' and 'untrue' were determined—down to the remotest regions of logic" (GS 110). So the idea is that aspects of our commonsense framework of a world of relatively stable middle-sized objects (the "things, substances, bodies" mentioned in the first part of the passage) involve a falsification of what really exists brought about by inherited beliefs that even affect sense perception and, in the realm of knowledge, seem to be a priori, but which are only errors that we inherited because they fostered the survival of our ancestors. And these apparently include principles of logic.

Nehamas's argument against my view focuses on Nietzsche's claims about logic in GS 111. According to this passage, logic "in man's head"—that is, being logical—"arose out of [being] illogical." Nietzsche's first ground for this claim is that "the disposition to treat the similar as identical—an illogical disposition, as there is nothing identical as such—is what first supplied any basis for logic." My reading: being logical requires us to treat objects as identical; but no two objects are truly identical; hence, being logical requires us to treat what is merely similar as if it were identical; therefore, being logical was made possible by an "illogical" tendency that falsifies reality.

Nehamas reads the quoted line differently, based on the sentences that immediately precede it:

Innumerable beings who made inferences in a way different from ours perished; for all that, their way may have been truer. Those, for example, who did not know how to find often enough " identity" as regards both nourishment and hostile animals—those, in other words, who subsumed things too slowly and cautiously—were favored with a lesser probability of survival than were those who guessed immediately upon encountering similar instances that they must be identical.

(GS 111)

As an example of what Nietzsche has in mind, Nehamas imagines a Pleistocene forager who insists on counting an animal's spots to determine whether it is identical to the (kind of?) animal that ate its neighbor. Nehamas denies that this means that it is "impossible to get things right: Nietzsche [End Page 7] never denies that one might count the animal's spots correctly. His point is simply that, in these particular circumstances, the effort would take long enough for the animal to make a meal of you."11

True, Nietzsche never denies that one might count the spots correctly, but then, this isn't his example! His example is of a forager who, disposed to be completely logical, will not assume that an animal is hostile unless it is identical to some previous animal that has been hostile. And so he does deny that the logical forager could get it right because he denies that there is an animal that is identical to a previous one. Only in that way does the example support Nietzsche's claim that being logical arose out of being illogical.

Nehamas does not explain how his spot-counting example explains Nietzsche's claim that logic arose out of illogic. Instead, he explains how logic came into existence through the tendency "to treat as equal what is merely similar" in terms of a second claim Nietzsche makes about logic: that "equality [identity] requires the concept of a stable substratum that remains the same although its features change."12 But Nehamas here runs together qualitative and numerical identity. The need for a substratum concerns numerical identity: a substratum that does not change is supposed to make possible a thing's remaining numerically the same while its features change. But it is clearly qualitative identity that is at issue when Nietzsche writes of the illogical tendency to treat as identical what is merely similar. The forager who did not know how to find often enough what is "identical" as regards nourishment—that is, what we call "identical," although it is merely similar—is clearly looking for qualitative identity, not the numerical variety. Nietzsche himself does cite the need for a stable substratum for logic to come into existence, but he does not suggest that that need is based on the tendency to treat as equal what is merely similar. After devoting several lines to explaining why the latter tendency is necessary for logic to come into existence, he adds that logic "likewise [ebenso]" requires a substratum when none exists (GS 111). So Nietzsche's point is that in order to become logical, people had to be illogical in two different ways: they had to treat the merely similar as identical and they had to assume the existence of a substratum that remains the same through change. They had to treat the objects in a certain domain as identical (qualitative identity) and take the particular object they were reasoning about to remain identical while they were reasoning about it (numerical identity). Nietzsche clearly thinks that our practices involve us in two different errors—mistaking the merely [End Page 8] similar for identical and assuming the existence of an unchanging substratum—both of which were conducive to survival and were necessary as a basis for logic.

But is Nietzsche right that our practices involve us in error? I deny that he is; hence, I insist that Nietzsche's position on falsification in GS needed improvement, which I claim it received in his later works. Nehamas denies that GS is committed to the falsification thesis at least partially on the grounds that its claims about falsification are correct. So he needs to claim that the practices Nietzsche discusses—perceptions and judgments of qualitative and numerical identity—involve us in error. He does not clearly do so. Instead, he claims that "logical identity doesn't apply to natural things," but adds that "it also doesn't need to." This is because, he says, "Nietzsche considers logic an idealization, a model we must not project directly on reality. There is no reason to assume that he is not already thinking of logic and mathematics as 'formal science, a doctrine of signs' (TI ' Reason' 3)."13 But if logic is a formal system, it makes no claims about reality, as Nietzsche recognizes in his later work.14 If that was already his view in GS 111, why does he claim that logic requires the concept of a substance, which we arrive at only by failing to "perceive the changes in things"? Nehamas takes Nietzsche's point to be "that although logical concepts are fine in formal contexts, they can't apply to everyday life," implying that the concept of substance is indispensable not to logic, the formal system, but only to the application of that system to reality. We go wrong when we "project the logical concept of identity—equality independently of any particular purpose or perspective, the formula 'A=A,' which we should think of as equality-in-itself—onto the ordinary objects of everyday experience."15

We make this mistake, on Nehamas's account, when we neglect to take account of the perspectival character of identity:

Nietzsche thinks of similarity as equality for a given purpose, a given perspective. "The same as last week's animal" is perfectly appropriate if your purpose is survival: any such animal is likely to be dangerous, even if this week's animal is not even a leopard but a cheetah instead. But what would count as "the same animal" if your purpose were to breed leopards would have to be something else again. What counts as "the same" differs with the context, the particular perspective, within which it is addressed.16 [End Page 9]

As we have seen, Nietzsche claims that logic is based on two errors, one of which is that of taking mere similarity for (qualitative) identity. On Nehamas's account, that "error" is "thinking that logical identity is actually manifested in the world of experience."17 Although he gives no example of this error, Nehamas must take this to be the error committed by our would-be ancestors who could not determine the "identical" with regard to nutrition or hostile animals quickly enough. It seems plausible that Nietzsche sees them as looking for logical identity in the world, and failing to survive because it wasn't there to find.

I have two objections to Nehamas's interpretation. First, the non-survivors in Nietzsche's story did not fail to recognize that identity is relative to a specific purpose. They were looking for what was identical relative to the purpose of gaining nutrition or avoiding predators. Their problem was that they insisted on identity (for that purpose) when survival depended on being satisfied with similarity (for that purpose). Making identity relative to a purpose does not clarify the error to which Nietzsche refers. Second, given Nehamas's interpretation of the story, the error that concerns Nietzsche here must be the one made by these non-survivors. But Nietzsche is not saying that they made an error. Indeed, "their ways may have been truer" (GS 111). The people who made the errors that concern Nietzsche—the ones that were necessary for becoming logical—are the ones who survived and passed their "erroneous articles of faith" on to us.

It is even more obvious that these errors do not fit Nehamas's account when we remember our discussion of GS 110. Nehamas claims that, as is the case with "equality" in GS 111, the "errors" of GS 110 are ones that "suppress the background interests and purposes—the perspectives they embody—that allow them to apply to ordinary situations." But this seems false. The errors Nietzsche is concerned with in both of these passages, ones that were inherited continually until they "become part of the basic endowment of the species," are mainly ones that introduce stability into our picture of the world. Those "who did not see things exactly" had an advantage over those who saw everything as in flux (GS 111). Further, Nehamas's interpretation does not make good sense of Nietzsche's position. Obviously, the background conditions that allow concepts to apply to objects cannot themselves be suppressed or the concepts would have no survival value. So it must be the explicit knowledge of these conditions that was suppressed. But if such knowledge had practical value, suppressing it would not have promoted survival, and if it did not, no one would have acquired it (on Nietzsche's [End Page 10] evolutionary picture), and there would be nothing to suppress. So Nehamas's somewhat contorted interpretation of GS 110–11 still leaves Nietzsche with an implausible position. And since, as I have argued, it does not fit the text, the more straightforward interpretation that does fit the text is preferable, even if it leaves Nietzsche with an implausible position.

In fact, when Nehamas finally gives an example of the errors he thinks Nietzsche has in mind, they are of a different type than the inherited errors that concern Nietzsche in these passages. For instance, to explain "the error" of "thinking that logical identity is actually manifested in the world of experience," Nehamas writes: "But there is no privileged set of features, no essence either of an individual or of a class of objects that qualifies them all as members of a natural kind—a species-essence that makes them all strictly speaking identical, equal independently of any particular interest or purpose we may have in describing them."18 But these claims concern issues that arise only once philosophers and other thinkers (including biologists, as Nehamas goes on to show) start making claims about the structure of the world. The "errors" Nietzsche claims to be talking about in GS are not made only when one starts theorizing,19 but are an inherited aspect of our basic cognitive practices because they helped our ancestors to survive. It is not plausible that this is true of claims about essences and natural kinds.

But Nehamas may well be right that Nietzsche's criticism of qualitative identity claims is most plausibly interpreted as directed against such philosophical claims about essences and natural kinds. To have this jibe with GS 110–11, however, Nietzsche's view must be that such philosophical claims—as well as the commitment to an unchanging substratum in cases of numerical identity—are ones to which we are committed insofar as we engage in commonsense practices of judging qualitative and numerical identity, that such judgments would not make sense otherwise. But this is where Nehamas's Nietzsche (and probably Nietzsche himself in GS) is wrong. To consider the person who took the hemlock to be the same person who spoke to the jury several days earlier, I need not assume that the two are qualitatively identical or that they share a common substratum. It is enough to assume that one could trace the journey of the person addressing the court through time and space to a position in the prison where the person takes the hemlock. A thing in the ordinary sense "remains the 'same thing' when we can attribute to it spatio-temporal continuity under the same concept."20 And, as Nehamas argues, it is "perfectly appropriate" to ask, say, for the same apples one bought last week, without requiring [End Page 11] them to be qualitatively identical. One wants the same kind of apple, but Nehamas himself claims that "same kind" here should be interpreted in terms of similarity. But if so, that is a reason for denying that our common-sense practices commit us to a notion of qualitative identity that fails in its application to objects of experience. Nietzsche then has no basis for insisting that our ancestors looking for the same kind of apple made the mistake of thinking that the apples were qualitatively identical rather than merely similar, nor that such mistakes aided survival or were passed on to heirs. If Nehamas is right about the "errors" with which Nietzsche is concerned in these passages, the conclusion to draw is that Nietzsche was mistaken in taking these to be part of or otherwise implicated in our commonsense practices and the framework needed to make sense of them.

Falsification in Nietzsche's Later Works

Nehamas cites as evidence of "statements that seem to support the falsification thesis" a passage from TI ("Errors" 3):

The thing itself, to say it once more, the concept of thing is a mere reflex of the faith in ego as cause. And even your atom, my dear mechanists and physicists, how much rudimentary psychology is still residual in the atom. Not to mention the thing-in-itself, the horrendum pudendum of the metaphysicians.

I had argued that "the thing itself " Nietzsche attacks in TI is not our ordinary concept of a thing, but "the metaphysical concept of a substance, the concept of an unchanging substrate that underlies all change."21 It is therefore not a necessary component of thought or of our commonsense practices, and so Nietzsche's rejection of it is not an expression of the falsification thesis. Nehamas agrees with the latter part of this claim, of course, but he disagrees that the falsification with which Nietzsche is concerned here is not part of our commonsense practices or framework. He argues against my claim on the grounds that "the passage describes four different objects as fictions: the thing itself, the ego as cause, the physicists' atom, and finally, the thing-in-itself."22 Because Nietzsche clearly distinguishes the thing itself from the thing-in-itself, Nehamas continues: "The thing itself, then, must be the ordinary object that is supposed to be something over and above its [End Page 12] many features, capable of remaining the same, even while they continue to change." But it is not clear how this claim is supposed to follow from the evidence cited or even what the claim is.

Before I explain the ambiguity in Nehamas's claim, I note that he takes Nietzsche to make a "similar claim" in GM I:13, denying the "existence of the very same objects: everyday things, subjects, atoms, and things-in-themselves." So Nehamas clearly takes "the thing itself " to be an "everyday thing," hence an aspect of our commonsense practices and framework. But what exactly are "everyday things"? I would take that category to include desks, chairs, pens, computers, parks, trees, and flashes of lightning. My claim about Nietzsche's rejection of "the thing itself" in TL was a denial that it was directed against ordinary things in this sense. Does Nehamas disagree? It is difficult to tell. His gloss of "the thing itself " quoted above is ambiguous. The "ordinary object that is supposed to be something over and above its many features" could be simply the desk or the chair that has these features, that is, is black or brown or green, for instance, and that remains the same desk or chair even as its color fades a shade or two. Or it could be something in addition to the desk or chair, say, a substance in the sense of an underlying substratum that is the true bearer of the properties that make up the object. Nehamas doesn't tell us which it is, but either option is problematic for his interpretation. If the latter, it is the concept that I claimed Nietzsche rejects in TI, not the ordinary concept of thing, but the metaphysical concept of a substance or substratum. If the former, it fits the ordinary concept of a thing, but it is hard to see why Nietzsche would consider his claim about the four objects he rejects in TI ("Reason" 2–5) a "lie," or as "contradicted by everything empirical," unless, of course, he still holds the mistaken substratum view about ordinary objects that he held in GS. But Nehamas has given no reason to think he does beyond his rejection of "the thing itself."

What makes a concept "metaphysical"? According to my analysis of TI, it is precisely that the concept is "contradicted by everything empirical," in the sense that it fails to apply to anything to which we have empirical access. Note that this is not true of things that fit our ordinary concept of a thing, which remain the same thing if their route through space and time can be traced under the same concept. Why would anyone think that concepts that fail to apply to anything to which we have empirical access have any application at all? I took Nietzsche's answer to be that they assumed that grammar reflected the structure of reality. Philosophers came to believe that [End Page 13]

they had nonempirical access to reality and a basis for rejecting the relevance of sense testimony because they were reading (misreading, on Nietzsche's account) the structure of reality off of the structure of language. Whereas the senses show "becoming, passing away, and change" (TI III, 2), the subject-predicate structure of our language(s) led them to assume [the existence of] an underlying substrate for change, something that does not itself change, but which is the subject of properties which do change. The latter is the concept of a thing or substance that Nietzsche holds responsible for "falsifying the testimony of the senses"

[in TI "Reason" 2–5].23

Although Nehamas does not consider my account of what makes a concept "metaphysical," he does consider the possibility that in GM I:13 Nietzsche attacks only the metaphysical concept of the subject. He rejects that possibility on the grounds that it "is actually a concept that everyone uses constantly in everyday life."24 But this is a bad argument. First, that a concept may be used in everyday life does not preclude its being a "metaphysical" concept in the sense I claimed Nietzsche gives to that term.25 Second, consider how Nehamas describes the concept that he says "everyone uses constantly in everyday life": "the idea of a subject distinct from everything it thinks and does—a 'neutral substratum,' a 'being behind doing, effecting, becoming,' a '"doer" added to the doing' who remains unaffected by everything done."26 If one focuses on the "'doer' added to the doing," it might seem that we use this concept "constantly in everyday life." We describe the human world not simply in terms of doings, but in terms of persons doing things, engaged in doings. But what kind of "doer" does Nietzsche object to being added to the doing? As already quoted, Nehamas tells us that it is "a subject distinct from everything it says and does," and a "neutral [or better: indifferent] substratum." The former is a subject that is not constituted, even in part, by what it says and does, and the latter is presumably an underlying entity that is itself without qualities or characteristics (that would incline or cause it to act in certain ways). I do not use such a concept "constantly in everyday life," and I very much doubt that Nehamas does. I have no use for the kind of subject Nietzsche is talking about in GM I:13.

Nietzsche leaves no doubt as to who does have use for this concept, namely, leaders and adherents of "popular morality [Volks-Moral]," more [End Page 14] specifically, "slave morality," the origin of whose judgment "good" he is explaining in this very passage. They "need the belief in a neutral 'subject' with free choice [. . .] because it [makes] possible [. . .] that sublime self-deception of interpreting weakness itself as freedom, of interpreting their being-such-and-such as a merit" (GM I:13). The "free choice" of the "neutral 'subject'" that Nietzsche rejects in this passage is clearly the same as "freedom of the will, in the superlative metaphysical sense," the desire for which, he claims, "still reigns in the minds of the semi-educated" (BGE 21). It is belief in a subject with freedom in this metaphysical sense that makes possible the self-deception of interpreting qualities one is stuck with as a merit.

So, yes, the idea of the subject to which Nietzsche refers (and the existence of which he denies) in this passage is certainly used by ordinary people in everyday life. But it is a metaphysical concept and not a necessary aspect of the framework that makes sense of our everyday practices. This is the issue between Nehamas and me. His Nietzsche, even in his later works, takes our everyday practices and the framework that makes sense of them to involve us in a necessary falsification of reality, whereas the falsification that I claim Nietzsche rejects in his later works is not necessary, but results from the dispensable and false assumption that grammar provides a basis for insight into the structure of reality. So because verbs take grammatical subjects, "common people" say that the lightning flashes, apparently believing that there is something called "lightning" distinct from the flash constituted by an electrical discharge (GM I:13). I have some doubts that this is what most people believe about lightning, but I do not think it affects Nietzsche's point, which is that it is easy to be misled by the structure of grammar into certain assumptions about the nature of reality, and that slave morality exploits this tendency for the purpose of convincing people that a neutral subject with free will, of the kind that makes one deserving of heaven or hell, is the source of all action. Nietzsche clearly thinks that an educated person will recognize that the lightning just is the electrical discharge that constitutes the flash, as he claims that the learned use "the atom" only as an abbreviated mode of expression "for convenient and handy household use" (BGE 12). So it is only a certain metaphysical conception of the subject, the atom, or things that Nietzsche rejects in his later works. In TL he calls them "lies" and not merely "errors," as he called them in GS, when they included the claims that there are "things, substances, bodies." This makes sense if, as on my view, he sees them no longer as an inherited part of our [End Page 15] commonsense practices and framework, but as a misinterpretation of them, motivated by the ascetic ideal.


We come now to the main source of the falsification that Nehamas claims to find in both GS and later works, Nietzsche's claim that knowing is perspectival: "There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival 'knowing'" (GM III:12). If we ignore for the moment the quotation marks around "knowing," the claim seems obviously to be that all knowing is perspectival. My 1990 account emphasizes that Nietzsche is characterizing knowing in metaphorical terms, setting up an implicit comparison between seeing and knowing. Nehamas and I treated that metaphorical statement as equivalent to characterizing knowledge as "interpretation." So we agreed in effect that Nietzsche was using two different metaphors to make essentially the same point about knowing. But what was that point? Why compare knowing to seeing? About this Nehamas and I disagreed.

According to my account, the point of calling knowledge perspectival is to emphasize the impossibility of knowing things-in-themselves. The passage supports this interpretation. Nietzsche prefaces his perspectivist claim by asking us to "guard ourselves better"

against the tentacles of such contradictory concepts as "pure reason," "absolute spirituality," "knowledge in itself": here it is always demanded that we think of an eye that cannot possibly be thought, an eye that must not have any direction, in which the active and interpretive forces through which seeing becomes seeing something are to be shut off, are to be absent; thus what is demanded here is always an absurdity and a non-concept of an eye. There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival knowing [. . .].

(GM III:12)

Nietzsche thus makes evident that he is using the metaphor of perspective to emphasize the need to guard against falling prey to certain "contradictory concepts." The main one is "knowledge in itself," which we can take as short for "knowledge of things-in-themselves."27 The others are concepts of the kind of subject or faculty of knowledge that would make such knowledge [End Page 16] seem possible.28 Nietzsche is claiming that we are unable to form a coherent idea of the objects to which such concepts could apply, although we may be seduced into thinking that we can.

Comparing knowing to seeing does not prove that such concepts are contradictory. To show that, one would have to examine the concepts themselves. It is simply a way of emphasizing that the concepts are contradictory, of saying that the idea of knowing things-in-themselves is as ridiculous as the idea of seeing things from no perspective at all. Nietzsche's use of the metaphor of perspective to characterize knowing therefore places no real limit on knowing. It rules out non-perspectival knowing (i.e., knowing things-in-themselves), but that is because we have no coherent idea of what such knowing would even be.

Nehamas reads the metaphor of perspective differently: calling knowing "perspectival" focuses not on the impossibility of non-perspectival knowing, of seeing things from no perspective, but on the possibility of seeing things from other perspectives. And the passage also supports his reading. To "there is only a perspectival 'knowing,'" Nietzsche immediately adds: "and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our 'concept' of this matter, our 'objectivity' be." This puzzled me. Nietzsche was evidently calling attention to the possibility of multiplying perspectives on a matter as a remedy for a limitation that otherwise afflicts knowing. And its perspectival character seemed to be the source of that limitation, as it clearly was on Nehamas's reading. I could not see how that could be right. As I argued above (and in 1990), in claiming that there is "only a perspectival 'knowing,'" Nietzsche is warning us against certain contradictory concepts by comparing them to the recognizably absurd idea of seeing something from nowhere. But if so, then the perspectival character of knowing is not the source of a problem that needs to be remedied. So I concluded that this use of the metaphor of perspective involved an unfortunate holdover from his earlier view. I was wrong about this, and Nehamas was right to recognize the importance to Nietzsche of the multiplicity of perspectives. However, I believe he drew the wrong conclusion from this, one that left Nietzsche stuck with a version of the falsification thesis.

That conclusion is evident from Nehamas's presentation of perspectivism as "Nietzsche's famous insistence that every view is only one among many possible interpretations," which he takes to be motivated by "the common [End Page 17] view that literary texts can be interpreted equally well in vastly different and deeply incompatible ways," adding that Nietzsche "holds that the same is true of the world itself, and all the things within it."29 But this brings Nietzsche's position perilously close to the falsification thesis, entailing as it does that for any view V, there is an equally true or viable view according to which V is false. Nehamas seems to recognize the need to avoid this implication because he attempts to interpret perspectivism as fallibilism, the claim that any view could be false, hence in need of revision, rather than that it is false.30 If perspectivism were fallibilism, it would evade the charge of nihilism or self-refutation. The problem is that it would not give Nehamas a basis for what he takes to be perspectivism's implication for practice: the requirement that the perspectivist "present his views and values . . . simply as his own, suitable for himself and those who may be like him," and not as ones to be accepted by all.31 The fallibilist claim that one's views could be false does not require one to abstain from thinking that others should accept them, any more than it requires one to abstain from accepting them oneself.

So it is not surprising that Nehamas returns to an interpretation of perspectivism that makes all beliefs false, as when he attributes the following to Nietzsche (without citing a source): "They say: the world is only thought, or will, or war, or love, or hate . . . separately, all this is false: added up, it is true." 32 On this model, perspectivism holds that every set of beliefs denies or leaves out of consideration competing, but equally legitimate views. That the world is only war is logically incompatible with the claim that it is only love; and it must be false if the other is true. But, as the quotation makes clear, this makes each of the beliefs false. The only true view would be one that combines them all, and Nehamas claims that perspectivism rules out such an omni-perspectival view.33

In Nehamas's recent article on the topic, we find that he is still reading the metaphor of perspective in a way that promotes the falsification thesis: "Nietzsche's perspectivism implies that it is impossible" that "the world as we represent it is identical with the world as it really is," because "everything we know about the world proceeds from a particular point of view that has no more claim to represent it as it really is than do several others."34 Nehamas does not say that our representation of the world is false, but he fails to explain what it means to deny that a view represents the world as it really is other than that it is false. The same problem occurs later, when he tries to explain that falsification occurs "if we forget that we must necessarily describe what enters consciousness through a particular perspective that [End Page 18] reflects the needs, interests, and purposes with which we approach it. We then conclude that things are 'in reality' as our particular perspective upon them, which we suppress, indicates."35

The problem is that our views are false if things aren't in reality as the representations from our perspective on them indicate. Nehamas does not make a case that, or seek to explain how, holding as true a view that comes from a particular perspective differs from concluding that "things are 'in reality'" as that perspective indicates. And in the absence of any such clarification, we are left with no basis for denying that on his reading, perspectivism makes our views false.

Nehamas attempts to avoid this conclusion by comparing the belief that things are "in reality" as one's perspective indicates to a belief that Nietzsche clearly rejects: the "faith in grammar": "Similarly, when Nietzsche charges that the philosophical distinction between substance and property is an unthinking projection of the grammatical distinction between subject and predicate onto the world, the source of the error is neither language nor grammar itself. It is thinking that language and grammar reflect the structure of the world."36 The similarity is supposed to be that Nietzsche does not think that grammar itself or being grammatical produces errors. It is only "faith in grammar," the belief that grammar reflects the structure of reality, that leads to error—for example, to positing an unchanging substratum as the subject of all of a thing's properties.37 Similarly, Nehamas suggests, Nietzsche does not think that the perspectival character of knowledge, or accepting the views offered by one's perspective as true, produces errors. It is only the belief that the way things are from one's own particular perspective reflects the way things are "in reality" that leads to error.

But these cases are not relevantly similar. Nietzsche criticizes the "faith in grammar" because it sets up an a priori source of truth as a basis for counteracting the evidence of the senses. Empirical evidence tells us that everything changes, but, following the structure of grammar, philosophers are led to posit an unchanging substratum as the subject for changing predicates. This is not relevantly like the case of thinking that the world is "in reality" as one's perspective indicates. For in this case, we often have empirical evidence that some proposition T is true, say, that global warming is taking place and that carbon emissions contribute substantially to it. But, according to Nehamas, because my knowledge that T comes from a particular perspective, it follows that things are not "in reality" as T indicates that they are. To keep this from being an outright denial of T's truth (or positing [End Page 19] a thing-in-itself), we can say that T no more reflects the nature of reality than does a view from some other perspective. In that case, however, we must conclude that T is no more true than not-T, for example, the view from the perspective of the coal industry. Which means that T is not true at all. Ironically, it is Nehamas who, in effect, claims to have in perspectivism an apparently a priori basis for challenging empirical evidence.

The Other use of the Metaphor of Perspective

Having argued that Nehamas's interpretation of perspectivism leaves Nietzsche embroiled in the falsification thesis, I now consider whether his reading of the metaphor of perspective in GM III:12 is correct. As we've seen, the passage uses the metaphor in two different ways, one of which aims to emphasize the contradictory character of certain conceptions of knowing and does nothing to imply that things are not "in reality" as one's perspective indicates. A second use of the metaphor (which actually occurs first) calls attention to the multiplicity of perspectives, hence to the fact that one's own perspective is only one among others. Are the two uses of the metaphor connected, and does the second support Nehamas's interpretation?

To answer these questions, it is helpful to have in view the four-segment structure of GM III:12, which begins by mentioning a number of philosophical doctrines that Nietzsche considers expressions of the priestly ascetic ideal because they demand self-denial in the service of a devaluation of natural human existence.38 These doctrines include the demotion of pain and physicality to an illusion and Kant's denial that we can know things in themselves, as well as the very idea of the thing-in-itself (here called the "intelligible character of things").39 The second segment then suggests that we not be ungrateful, "particularly as knowers," to the philosophical tradition for doctrines that required us to turn against our natural perspective, the perspective that inclines us to believe in physicality and the evidence of the senses. And we should not be ungrateful, even though these doctrines were fostered by an ideal that Nietzsche rejects, because of the necessary training and discipline they have provided:

to see differently for once, to want to see differently, is no small discipline and preparation of the intellect for its future " objectivity"—the latter understood not as "disinterested contemplation" (which [End Page 20] is a non-concept and absurdity) but rather as the capacity to have one's pro and contra in one's power, and to shift them in and out: so that one knows how to make precisely the difference in perspectives and affective interpretations useful for knowledge.

(GM III:12)

Here Nietzsche begins to present his conception of objectivity, which is non-ascetic because it represents something presented as valuable as dependent on our natural impulses and perspective. He uses the term "perspective" for the first time in the passage to present this conception. He then interrupts his presentation to urge us "gentlemen philosophers" to guard ourselves against certain contradictory conceptions of knowing—this is the third segment—and, as we have seen in detail, he uses the metaphor of perspective for this purpose. Immediately after this second use of the metaphor, he goes back to presenting his conception of objectivity—and this is the passage's fourth and final segment:

and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our "concept" of this matter, our "objectivity" be. But to eliminate the will altogether, to disconnect the affects one and all, supposing that we were capable of this: what? Would that not be to castrate the intellect? [. . .]

(GM III:12)

So we have two uses of the metaphor of perspective, one to present Nietzsche's conception of objectivity, the second to warn us against certain contradictory conceptions of knowing. These uses are connected in that Nietzsche warns against these contradictory conceptions precisely because they bring with them a conception of objectivity that contradicts the one he is presenting. Believing that one has a capacity for knowing things-in-themselves would incline one to think of objectivity as "disinterested contemplation," which Nietzsche rejects as a "non-concept and an absurdity."

What does Nietzsche mean by "objectivity" here? One possibility is accurate representation. When Tyler Burge writes about the origins of objectivity, he means the origins of the ability to accurately represent the world.40 And this is what Nietzsche seems to mean at the end of the passage when suggesting that the more perspectives we bring to bear on a matter, [End Page 21] the more complete will "our 'concept' of this matter, our 'objectivity,' be." The point seems to be that bringing more perspectives to bear on a matter will increase what we know about it. This makes perfect sense and, in fact, seems pretty obvious. If "needs, interests, and purposes" constitute perspectives, as Nehamas assumes,41 then it should be obvious that there are many things that any one person is likely not to know about a matter of any complexity, and that one can learn about these, thus filling in our "concept" of the matter, by consulting with those whose interests induce them to focus on its other aspects or by developing those interests oneself. This gives us no reason to doubt that things are "in reality" as our perspective indicates, but only to conclude that there is more to the world than our interests may allow us to appreciate.

But this can't be quite right. It suggests that the problem to be remedied by the employment of different perspectives is that individual human beings don't have the time or interest to discover all the facets of things that are there to be discovered. Why would Nietzsche consider this a problem, much less credit the ascetic ideal with helping to solve it? It does nothing to threaten the knowledge we claim to have, and Nietzsche's ideal is certainly not to know everything there is to know. We need a better understanding of the problem that the ascetic ideal helped remedy and how it did this. It is evidently a problem with knowing itself, and Nietzsche claims that the training provided by the ascetic ideal prepared the intellect for the remedy, which is the intellect's "future 'objectivity' [. . .] the capacity to have one's pro and contra in one's power, and to shift them in and out." Here "objectivity" seems to have a second sense, the intellectual (and perhaps ethical) virtue of being disposed to be objective, in the sense of unbiased or impartial. The problem that needs to be remedied is evidently that humans are too ensconced in their own perspectives, unable to distinguish the world as it is in itself from the world as it is from their perspective. The ascetic ideal has given "gentlemen philosophers" training in turning against their natural perspective, in believing that things are not as they are naturally inclined to believe they are. Nietzsche does not, of course, endorse the ascetic doctrines according to which the view of things from our natural perspective is an illusion. The view I have been defending is, in effect, that he did endorse it at one point (without realizing that he was operating under the influence of the ascetic ideal) and it took him several books to fully recognize and overcome his error. What he learned from this, he is telling us in GM III:12, [End Page 22] is something invaluable: "how to make precisely the difference in perspectives and affective interpretation useful for knowledge."

Although he no longer thinks that the view of reality from his natural perspective is false, the point is that he can now disengage from that perspective. He can recognize that his perspective colors the world, so that under its influence, he is seeing things not as they are "in reality," but only as colored by his own perspective. But this appears to be what Nehamas has been saying all along: it's not that knowledge falsifies reality due to its perspectival character; it is rather that it tempts one to believe that things are "in reality" as one's perspective indicates they are. The role of the ascetic ideal in Nietzsche's account of perspectivism suggests that he agrees with Nehamas that this temptation is difficult to overcome and that he needs Nehamas's distinction between how things are "in reality" and how one's perspective indicates that they are. The problem is that, as I have argued, it is difficult to earn a right to that distinction without falling back into either the falsification thesis or an affirmation of the thing-in-itself. In my concluding section, I suggest all-too-briefly how one might earn that right.

The Limited Scope of Nietzsche's Perspectivism

My proposal is that Nietzsche's perspectivism—specifically, his use of the metaphor of perspective to formulate his idea of objectivity—be taken to apply only to the kind of knowing that proceeds from the viewpoint of substantive (ethical as opposed to merely cognitive) value commitments, and not to the kind involved in ordinary empirical knowledge or the natural sciences. I have argued elsewhere that Nietzsche takes both philosophy and the human sciences to be based on such value commitments, and can do little to review my reasoning here.42 But consider what "knowers" Nietzsche would take to be in need of the "objectivity" made possible by the ascetic ideal. I do not see a problem regarding objectivity in the natural sciences that might be addressed by shifting one's "pro and contra [. . .] in and out."43 One might perhaps think here of the ability to make trade-offs between different cognitive values, say, information and simplicity, moving them "in and out" to check on the difference it makes to one's theory. But this ability is not plausibly seen as addressing a problem of objectivity (in the sense of impartiality, as Nietzsche is using it at this point in the passage) or as being [End Page 23] encouraged by learning to take a stand against one's natural perspective. Nietzsche's description makes much more sense if he is talking about the kind of knowledge he is seeking in GM.44

As he makes clear in the Preface to GM (P:5), his real question in GM concerned "the value of morality," and it was only for the purpose of answering that question that he sought knowledge of its origin and development (GM P:6). But one can answer a question concerning the value of something only from the viewpoint of certain value assumptions. Isn't Nietzsche therefore in danger of distorting the facts about the origins and development of morality by seeing them from the viewpoint of the values that his whole study presupposes? The same problem seems to afflict the human or interpretive sciences more generally. Interpreting human behavior requires us to rationalize it, to see it as making sense. And that is possible only from a perspective constituted by norms concerning how it makes sense for a rational agent to think or act.45 But clearly, many of those whose behavior Nietzsche interprets in GM do not share his standards for how it makes sense for a rational being to think or act. How can he keep from distorting their motivation and the genealogy of their values when he is considering them from the viewpoint of values that they themselves would not accept?

I take Nietzsche's answer to be his perspectival account of objectivity: "the capacity to have one's pro and contra in one's power, and to shift them in and out: so that one knows how to make precisely the difference in perspectives [. . .] useful for knowledge (GM III:12)."46 This answer concerns the importance of not being locked into one's own perspective, of being able to disengage from one's own values and consider things from the viewpoint of values one does not share. One way in which this would be "useful for knowledge" is that it would allow the investigator to distinguish the way the world is "in reality" from how various perspectives indicate that it is. The problems that arose for Nehamas's use of this distinction do not arise if the perspectives in question are only those constituted by substantive value commitments. For then there is an "in itself" that one can contrast with the way things appear from one's value-laden perspective, namely, the empirical world. This need not make the empirical world the new "thing-in-itself," the true reality, for there are some real aspects of human life that can be recognized only from the perspective of substantive value commitments.47 But it contributes to knowledge, I take Nietzsche to be saying, to be able to recognize differences in how the empirical world appears from different perspectives. [End Page 24]

For instance, Nietzsche's own values would keep various aspects of the world from becoming evident to him, such as all of the "ingenious means for comforting [. . .] invigorating, alleviating, narcotizing" that the ascetic priest has recognized (GM III:17). In attempting to view the world from the viewpoint of the priest's values, Nietzsche thus gains access to aspects of the empirical world that his own perspective blocked from view, but which do not disappear once he returns to his own value perspective. His objectivity in the sense of impartiality, his ability to distance himself from his own values, thus allows him to increase his objectivity in the first sense I distinguished, thus making more complete his concept of human beings, and of how they were seduced by the ascetic priest. But there are other elements to which the priest's perspective gives access that actually depend for their existence on that perspective and disappear when one switches to a different one. This is true of human "sinfulness," which Nietzsche insists is "not a factual state but only the interpretation of a factual state, namely of being physiologically out of sorts—the latter seen from a moral-religious perspective that is no longer binding on us" (GM III:16). Presumably it is no longer binding precisely because it no longer appears to be there once we shift perspectives.

This merely scratches the surface concerning how Nietzschean objectivity in the second sense I distinguished—impartiality, being able to disengage from one's values—increases objectivity in the sense of knowledge. I hope it is enough to bring out that one reason for interpreting Nietzsche's perspectivism as limited to knowledge that is based on substantive value assumptions is that, so interpreted, perspectivism responds to a real problem: namely, how objectivity in either sense is possible, when interpreting human thought and behavior requires making value assumptions that the persons being interpreted may not share.

But doesn't Nietzsche say that all knowing is perspectival? Actually he doesn't. He says that there is "only a perspectival 'knowing.'" Why the quotation marks around "knowing"? Possibly to indicate that there is something peculiar or idiosyncratic about what he is calling "knowing" here, such as that he means "the kind of knowing done by philosophers." This is what he evidently means when he puts "knowing" in quotes in another passage, written the year before GM. In talking specifically about the kind of knowledge he attributes to "true philosophers," he writes: "Their 'knowing' is creating, their creating is legislating [. . .]" (BGE 211). Further, when he says there is "only a perspectival 'knowing,'" he is specifically addressing [End Page 25] "gentlemen philosophers." What's the point of being so explicit about his audience? Perhaps to indicate that his topic is the kind of knowing in which its members engage. In fact, all of the uses of "perspective" in sections of GM prior to III:12 fairly clearly refer to viewpoints that are constituted by values that are substantive or ethical and not merely cognitive. But even if one insists that Nietzsche's claim is that all knowing is perspectival, the important point is that this does not entail that the perspectival account of objectivity is appropriate for all knowing. He is using the metaphor of perspective in two different ways, and even if one of them implies that all knowing is perspectival, which I doubt, the other use of the metaphor need not be taken to apply to all instances of knowing.

Maudemarie Clark
University of California, Riverside


. An earlier version of this article was presented at "A Symposium on the Work of Alexander Nehamas" at Princeton University in October 2016. My thanks to the organizers of that event, Joshua Landy and Lanier Anderson, for inviting me to present a paper in honor of Nehamas's work, to Alexander Nehamas, Ken Gemes, Robert Pippin, and other members of the audience for their helpful comments, and to Monique Wonderly for written comments on that version.

1. Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

2. Alexander Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," Journal of Nietzsche Studies 48.3 (2017): 319–46.

3. I refer to the following translations of Nietzsche's works: "On Truth and Lie in a Non-Moral Sense," in Truth and Philosophy: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the 1870's, ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1979); The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1974); Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1973); On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998); Twilight of the Idols, in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1968).

4. We were basically in agreement that, in the blunt form in which it is stated in TL, it runs into the problem of self-reference. It raises the question as to whether it is true that nothing is true, and neither option leaves Nietzsche with a defensible position. Further, it seemed implausible that Nietzsche did not consider true many of the claims he himself puts forward.

5. Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 63–94. [End Page 26]

6. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 324.

7. Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick, "Nietzsche's Post-Positivism," European Journal of Philosophy 12.3 (2004): 369–83; Maudemarie Clark, "Nietzsche and Green on the Transcendental Tradition," International Studies in Philosophy 37.3 (2005): 37–60; Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick, The Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

8. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 118–19; Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 321.

9. In "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood" (332), Nehamas rightly points out that Nietzsche does not deny that truth is ever accessible in GS. Although this is correct, Nehamas exaggerates how much truth Nietzsche implies we have. He certainly believes that we have arrived at enough truth (presumably through science) to recognize that our commonsense views, and much of science, are false. But he does not give up his claim that all of our everyday practices involve us in error and perhaps still holds that science, even when it does give us true information—e.g., that everything changes—is still largely packaged in concepts that make it a falsification of reality.

10. Maudemarie Clark, "On Knowledge, Truth, and Value: Nietzsche's Debt to Schopenhauer and the Development of His Empiricism," in Willing and Nothingness: Schopenhauer as Nietzsche's Educator, ed. Christopher Janaway (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998).

11. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 327.

12. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 328.

13. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 328.

14. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 105.

15. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 328. A serious problem for Nehamas's defense of Nietzsche's claims about logic concerns whether taking an everyday object to be identical to itself is really problematic. Nehamas addresses this problem in note 24, claiming that Nietzsche would not reject A=A for ordinary objects "if we considered it synchronically," but then suggests that Nietzsche would deny that we can consider it synchronically on the grounds that the thing would have changed before we could finish saying that it is identical with itself. But the amount of time it would take to say something is irrelevant if one is claiming that any attempt to apply logical notions of identity to ordinary objects falsifies reality. What, then, is the falsification in "The computer in front of me at time t is identical to the computer in front of me at time t"? In the end, perhaps recognizing the inadequacy of his response, Nehamas brushes the issue aside, claiming that "Nietzsche's main concern, in any case, is with identity over time." But even if this is true, Nietzsche still clearly believes that being logical commits us to making judgments of synchronic identity and that these involve us in error. And because Nehamas has committed himself to Nietzsche's being correct in GS concerning the errors he claims we make concerning logic (327), the question of synchronic [End Page 27] self-identity cannot be brushed off. Finally, Nehamas himself seems to commit Nietzsche to a claim of synchronic identity when he explains the example of lightning in GM I:13, by taking Nietzsche to claim that the lightning "is not numerically distinct from its flash" (323).

16. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 328.

17. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 329.

18. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 329.

19. I have sometimes thought that this is what Nietzsche must mean when he claims that the intellect produced "nothing but errors," namely, that all attempts at theoretical speculation about the basic structure of the universe were erroneous. But it seems implausible that speculation would have much effect on survival way back then.

20. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 107.

21. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 107.

22. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 323.

23. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 106–7.

24. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 323.

25. I make this point in Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 108.

26. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 323.

27. In addition to the linguistic similarity, a reason for assuming that Nietzsche is rejecting knowledge of things-in-themselves here is that he has already made clear at the beginning of the passage that the ascetic doctrines he takes issue with in the passage include Kant's very idea of the thing-in-itself ("intelligible character").

28. Nietzsche's way of undercutting the assumption of its possibility is to think of knowing as like seeing in this sense: just as something can be seen only from a perspective, and not as it looks in itself, it can be known only from a perspective, and there is nothing to know about it as it is in itself. I found examples of the assumption about knowledge that the metaphor of perspective was designed to disable in both Nietzsche's early work and in the second edition preface to The Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., trans. N. Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1933). Here is Nietzsche arguing for the possibility of a metaphysical world, a world that differs from the empirical world: "We behold all things through the human head and cannot cut off this head; while the question nonetheless remains what of the world would still be there if one had cut it off" (HH 9). And here is Kant's argument that we must be able at least to think of objects as things in themselves: "otherwise we would be landed in the absurd conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears" (Bxxvi). In both cases, the assumption is in effect: if there is something an object appears to be (from a perspective), then there must be something it is in itself, from nowhere, as it were.

29. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 3.

30. For instance, he claims that perspectivism commits one only to the thesis that for any interpretation, "an alternative could, in principle, always be devised" [End Page 28] (Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 63). Calling a view "perspectival" is not to dismiss it as "mere interpretation" (or as false), therefore, unless one has a better interpretation to offer, an interpretation whose truth can then be called into doubt only by a still better interpretation. So any view could be false, but that is not to say that it is false. Nehamas uses the same strategy to dissolve the threat of self-refutation. Perspectivism is the thesis (P) that every view is an interpretation, from which it follows that P itself is an interpretation. But if P is an interpretation, it is possible that some views are not interpretations. Doesn't this make P false? No, the interpretive character of P shows only the possibility that some views are not interpretations, and therefore the possibility that P is false. But this cannot show that P is false. To show that, one would need to produce a view and show that it is not an interpretation.

31. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 4.

32. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 50.

33. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 49.

34. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 331.

35. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 339.

36. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, 339.

37. Note that this is a major part of the basis for my claim that Nietzsche changes his view between GS and TI.

38. See Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, 172.

39. By "seeking error precisely where the true life instinct most unconditionally posits truth," these doctrines require denial of our natural impulses, hence what Nietzsche stresses here: cruelty to self. However, the demand for self-denial is not enough to make a doctrine ascetic because a life-affirming ideal could also make such a demand. The ascetic character of the Kantian doctrines in question comes from what Nietzsche takes to be their underlying motivation: to keep things of higher value—here, knowing and its object—free from essential connection to aspects of natural human existence, in particular, the senses and affects. This is what exhibits the ascetic devaluation of life, of natural human existence. Anything of true value must be pure, disconnected from the merely natural. So speaks the ascetic priest and his philosophical descendants.

40. Tyler Burge, Origins of Objectivity (Oxford: Clarendon, 2010).

41. Nehamas, "Nietzsche on Truth and the Value of Falsehood," 339.

42. See Clark and Dudrick, Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, esp. chaps. 5 and 6, and Maudemarie Clark, "Will to Power and Sexuality in Nietzsche's Account of the Ascetic Ideal," Inquiry 60.1–2 (2017): 96–134.

43. This is not to deny the importance of "diversity," i.e., of people with different perspectives, to the natural sciences. This importance is due to the fact that people who bring different interests to bear on material may be able to pick up on things that others would not notice. But, of course, once they notice them, they can bring them to the attention of people with other perspectives, and these people will not [End Page 29] have to adopt a different perspective to recognize their truth. So this doesn't seem to involve any shifting of "one's pro and contra" in and out, nor to be therefore what Nietzsche is talking about in the passage.

44. Christopher Janaway, in Beyond Selfishness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 202–22, proposes starting its interpretation with how perspectivism applies to GM. However, he then goes on to treat it as applying to all knowledge, in a way that I find problematic. See Brian Leiter, "Knowledge and Affect: Perspectivism Revisited," July 30, 2017, available at SSRN (, for a critique of Janaway's interpretation.

45. See Clark and Dudrick, Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, esp. 111–35.

46. Having left "affective interpretations" out of the quotation, I should perhaps mention that I take Nietzsche's view to be that a person's values are constituted by the affects (emotions and feelings) that have authority within her psychic economy. See Clark and Dudrick, Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, esp. 171–210.

47. Clark and Dudrick, Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, esp. 111–35. [End Page 30]

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