Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nietzsche's Skepticism

Since I wrote up two posts on Friedrich Nietzsche, I thought I would share this great post by Hendrik van der Breggen (at APOLOGIA) on Nietzsche's skepticism. He summarizes Nietzsche's views on truth and knowledge and then gives his critique of those views. Hendrik teaches philosophy at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada.

An excerpt of Breggen's post:

"Also, when Nietzsche says God is dead and not relevant, Nietzsche presumes that these non-existence and non-relevance claims are true—so Nietzsche’s claim about God indirectly refutes his denial of truth. Moreover, when Nietzsche sets out his will-to-power theory, he is presuming a truth position about this theory/interpretation actually being either simply true or pragmatically justified, which again indirectly refutes his denial of truth. Furthermore, when Nietzsche claims that there are only interpretations and no facts, he presupposes this claim to be in fact true, once again indirectly refuting his denial of truth.

Nietzsche’s perspectivism is similarly problematic. On the one hand, if there is no truth, then perspectivism isn’t true. On the other hand, if there are only perspectives (interpretations), then the thesis that there are only perspectives is a perspective too—one among many. So why go with it?

In other words, as philosopher Paul Copan points out, perspectivism faces a dilemma: “The perspectivalist either (A) says something trivial and thus not worth paying attention to (‘it’s all perspective, but that’s just my own individual perspective’), or (B) contradicts himself (‘it’s all perspective—and I’m speaking for all perspectives—so if you disagree, you’re wrong’).” Either way, perspectivism falters.

But perhaps Nietzsche (or a present-day postmodern disciple of Nietzsche) might reply that there is a missing option: (C) it’s all perspective, but it’s pragmatic for us all to accept perspectivism, for the sake of life. It turns out that this option is problematic too.

First, if C is set out as a truth and not merely a useful claim, then C self-refutes. That is, C would be set out as a non-perspectival truth claim about the usefulness of perspectivism, a claim that transcends perspectives, which C precludes (because, according to C, it’s all perspective).

Second, if C is not set out as a perspective-transcending truth, then the result is a debilitating infinite regress. That is, for us to accept C, C too must presume a perspective that makes it pragmatic for us all to accept it; but, then, that perspective must presume another perspective which makes it pragmatic for us to accept the perspective about perspectives; but, then, that other perspective…and so on. In other words, there is an infinite regress that makes C unintelligible.

So, if option C is the case, then either there is a self-refutation or an infinite regress. Either way, C falters too.

In other words, Nietzsche’s claim that it’s all perspective, all interpretation, doesn’t hold.

Therefore, Nietzsche’s perspectivism does not block our knowledge of the world. As a matter of fact, the obvious remains: there are truths, there are facts, and many of these can be known (albeit fallibly and non-exhaustively).

Significantly, these known truths and facts serve as the ground for interpretation to occur in the first place, and this allows us to do science, history, natural theology, etc.—and apologetics."

Read the full post by clicking here.

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