A Life-Affirming Method for Truth: Nietzsche and Wittgenstein on Truth, Dogmatism, and Relativism

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Bostwick, Will
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Sewanee, Tennessee , Philosophy Department, University of the South , Truth , Relativism , Dogmatism
Throughout his work, and especially in his later work of Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche is preoccupied with the notion of truth, and the problematic philosophical truth claims of the past. In his later work Wittgenstein explores the notion of language-games and how they serve as a mechanism for asserting and assessing knowledge in truth claims. In this paper I argue that Wittgenstein’s grammatical method of contexts and rule-following provides a solution to the problem of truth that Nietzsche was never able to resolve, but illustrates vividly, especially in the final sections of GMIII. I have divided my argument into four main sections: the first regards a debate over Nietzsche’s account of truth, the second is my interpretation of Nietzsche’s illustration of the truth problem, the third regards Wittgenstein’s account of truth and his method as a solution to the problem, and the fourth addresses possible fundamental inconsistencies in their philosophies. In the first section I lay out a detailed debate between two Nietzsche scholars: Maudmarie Clark and Alexander Nehamas. I consider their distinct accounts of truth and dogmatism in Nietzsche’s philosophy and conclude that each of them offers a helpful but incomplete analysis of Nietzsche’s position. Both articulate in different way a central issue in the paper – the conflict between dogmatic truth claims and the rejection of the metaphysical or Platonic notion of the thing-in-itself. In the second section, I go on to show that Clark and Nehamas’ failing may have been in trying to construct and defend a totally complete account in Nietzsche. I argue that Nietzsche never offered a fully developed account of truth, but rather that he offered criticisms of traditional philosophical truth claims, and hoped to initiate a reassessment of the value of truth in contemporary philosophy. In the third section I argue that Wittgenstein provides a coherent and defensible account of truth and that his account satisfies the basic demands in Nietzsche’s account of the problem. I argue that Wittgenstein’s method, composed of language-games and grammatical rule following, amounts to the limited notion of truth that Nietzsche had in mind, and that his method is ultimately quite tenable. In the fourth section I consider the objection that Wittgenstein’s method entails a sort of relativism that Nietzsche clearly denies. This follows from Clark’s inability to determine how to resolve the issue of competing perspectives and Nietzsche’s various assertions that he does not think that truth is relative to the individual. I argue that the criticism recognizes an under-development in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Ultimately, I conclude that, while Nietzsche did not foresee all of the changes Wittgenstein’s method would make to traditional philosophical truth claims, Wittgenstein’s method does, in the end, provide a solution to the basic components of Nietzsche’s illustration of the problem.