Does art stand in opposition to the value of truthfulness? Agree or disagree with Neitzsche?

Does art stand in opposition to the value of truthfulness? Agree or disagree with Neitzsche?

I don’t think there’s any question that Nietzsche was captivated by art (including music of course…he was HUGE fan of Wagner until they got mad at each other and quit talking). He spent a lot of time thinking about why art and music are such an integral part of our humanity.

I was curious if anyone had thoughts on this:

From Standford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Freidrich Neitzsche: Section 3.2.4
…In Nietzsche’s presentations, the value of art and artistry routinely stands in opposition to the value of truthfulness—we are supposed to need art to save us from the truth (see Ridley 2007a, Landy 2002). Significantly, the opposition here is not just the one emphasized in The Birth of Tragedy —that the substantive truth about the world might be disturbing enough to demand some artistic salve that helps us cope. Nietzsche raises a more specific worry about the deleterious effects of the virtue of honesty—about the will to truth, rather than what is true—and artistry is wheeled in to alleviate them, as well:

  • If we had not welcomed the arts and invented this kind of cult of the untrue, then the realization of general untruth and mendaciousness that now comes to us through science—the realization that delusion and error are conditions of human knowledge and sensation—would be utterly unbearable. Honesty would lead to nausea and suicide. But now there is a counterforce against our honesty that helps us to avoid such consequences: art as the good will to appearance. ( GS 107)

2007a, Nietzsche on Art , London: Routledge.

Gardner, Sebastian, 2009, “Nietzsche, the Self, and the Disunity of Philosophical Reason”, in Gemes and May 2009: 1–31. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199231560.003.0001

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I say art is consumed for escapism. Sometimes we escape and revel in a lie (untruth) but sometimes we escape with truths also. I’m not sure what is true and what is untrue, what is real and what is illusion with almost anything in life, even when I feel completely confident and comfortable with whatever the subject, idea, physical manifestation is. I question everything because I don’t truly understand the universe and world that I’m living in. I don’t even trust myself. A human can’t feel comfortable in a world where he can’t even fully trust himself…And I believe, if we’re all fully honest with ourselves we would see that none of us truly trust ourselves or the world around us. We can deny our powerlessness and we can trick ourselves, but we are like puppets on a string.

We are denying all sorts of darkness and negativity in us and around us, all the time. Humans can’t live in a constant state of fear and sorrow. We need denial, we need escapism…constantly. We can tolerate glimpses of the darkness briefly, but we need to return to our state of denial in a relatively short period of time, or else we risk mental devastation. We do all sorts of things to cover the “bad” things in our world and in our minds. We escape with food, drugs, alcohol, friends, socializing, exercise, internet, TV, nature, sex, glittering Christmas lights, decorations, pretty ornamental things, intellectual interests, MUSIC and art…The list is endless. I can understand the idea that music / art can be seen as the opposite of truthfulness but I think that is a limiting way of viewing it. Music can be the ultimate truth also. It can be both truth and untruth at the same time. So, I guess I would have to disagree with the concept as a hard, fast rule, but I get the idea. Music is escapism = we escape what we call “reality” by dwelling in the realm of music, which suggests that we deny truth/ reality while we escape in music and art. The same thing happens while creating music and art. We drift off emotionally and mentally, to another world, a beautiful world.

Humans need denial as much as they need oxygen, food and water. Animals do also, though I don’t think they are as driven to “think” about their reality in the same way or same degree that humans do, but it’s an absolute necessity for every animal.

What is truth, though?

Maybe when we’re immersed in the beauty of a song or a musical piece, we are actually at the center of truth itself. Sometimes it sure feels like it when I’m really absorbed in music. It can be a transcendent experience…BUT, maybe that’s an escape from truth and is the opposition to truth that Neitzsche was talking about.

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I told my daughter truth about Santa Claus, I was surprised how well she took it. Made me wonder why I introduced the concept in the first place. She said she didnt need a fictional tale to make her happy when she has ‘minecraft’ where she can build her own fake christmas town and pretend that the villagers are elves and she is the santa dropping gift boxes in her fake snow mesa… :sweat_smile: :rofl:

yup art and truth are weird


I don’t think it’s in opposition. But it can be. Protest songs defy the “truth” of the power structure. But then you can have music and art in general just take you away from everything you know. Movies are a good example. I grew up watching Indian movies (before it was called Bollywood!). If ever there was escapism it would be an Indian movie from the 70’s or 80’s. Tough males fighting hundreds of baddies to save the love of his life from the oppressive villain, and then living happily ever after.

My own take on it is also not hard and fast. Sometimes I want to forget there’s a pandemic and corrupt governments. Sometimes I need to be reminded of it. I remember a few years back when my wife almost died, for a year after she recovered I was in a kind of denial haze. I sat down and wrote a song which ended up expressing everything I needed to, in the form of music. I’m not sure what would have happened to me mentally had I not done that. So for me art is truth, escapism, nonsense, therapy, and whatever else the universe is telling me I need!

I’ve played around with this idea too… the concept is interesting. Beethoven said something similar, but he never went on to think about what truth really is.

I mean… as great as he was, Beethoven was obviously known for his music and not his philosophy. His view seemed to boil down to ‘music is ultimate truth, because I’m Beethoven, I know a lot of about music and I say so!’.

How do you figure?

Who? The artist, the consumer or both?

Interesting thoughts!!

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Reminds me of “Ode to A Grecian Urn” by John Keats, the point of which is:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"

This is a really difficult thing for me to answer but I’ll try to find the words to express what I can’t truly explain. Even as I think about this right now, my mind is spinning because I don’t think I have the linguistic capacity to give a good explanation. I’m also going down multiple rabbit holes in my mind. :cold_sweat:

Here’s an example of one idea of looking at it;

Everything has an opposite. Depending on our personal subjective perspective we create our own ideas, beliefs, emotions and physical experiences. If there are two juxtaposing opposite sides, we tend to see one side much clearer than the other…or we often see only one side. It’s all a matter of perspective. If I have a source of heat directed at the left side of my body and simultaneously have a cold source directed at the right side of my body I would be experiencing both at the same time, although my attention would probably be alternating back and forth between the two sensations. I believe that humans tend to think like that…We alternate between opposing beliefs and ideas, but we rarely notice the contradictions and the inconsistencies in how we think and believe. That’s probably because we have dominant beliefs and considerably less dominant beliefs. So we only tend to notice our dominant beliefs. I believe we can actually hold completely opposite views that are perfectly balanced if we practice and not fear the chaos that we might think this kind of thinking will bring to our minds. In a sense it is believing in everything and believing in nothing simultaneously. There’s no alternating back and forth between two opposing beliefs. It’s one solid understanding, an awareness. Maybe that’s what the ultimate truth is. To hold directly opposing views, ideas, thoughts in our minds without struggle, confusion and unease.

This is just a very tiny dive into one of the many rabbit holes I mentioned above. Human intellect can only get us so far in understand this. There’s something else going on with us humans, aside from intellect. I like what Einsten said regarding intellect and imagination. He valued imagination much more than intellect. He was a brilliant mind that was connected to his intuition and he thrived with his imagination. Without his imagination and intuition he would have been much less brilliant. Then again, I suspect all of the brilliant philosophers, scientists, artists, musician’s, craftsmen, creators of all sorts have those qualities. Even a modest intellect can be supercharged with imagination.

Jeez, I’m kind of going off the rails here, Jonathon. My answer is probably not very satisfying and incomplete. The rabbit holes in these kinds of conversations are endless! Mankind will forever be postulating these kinds of question. Will we ever have a definitive answer to the question you posed and other philosophical and scientific questions? Probably not, but it’s sure interesting stuff !


The artist while they are creating or performing and the consumer while they are consuming/ listening.

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All I can add to this is the perception that “the truth” in its unadulterated form, might truly be more than most of us can handle.
The world is in the grip of a pandemic. Many believe the impact has been inflated, to the point of it being a politicized hoax that aided our new President. The truth to people who have been directly impacted is quite different.
To imply that the pandemic is being used to someone’s advantage implies a very different truth.
Art is often an expression of the difference between two extremes, or at the very least a means of using one’s perception as a template to get those feelings out for others to interpret.
Art and truth can coexist, but by its philosophical existence, there will always be many versions of truth. Art is not a necessity for truth to exist.

Truth in it’s unadulterated form… What would that be?

It seems that we’d have to assume it HAS an unadulterated form. Right? And in order to say that it’s more than most can handle, well…wouldn’t we have to be able to define it before we can determine that?

So… regarding that, Neitzsche left it alone. He stayed away from metaphysics and focused on the psychological aspects. He never really proposed or critiqued correspondence vs coherence etc. He was more interested in questions like ‘do we prefer truths instead of untruths? And why is this the case with humans’ (Beyond Good And Evil 1/Geneology or Morals 3rd essay). It seemed to me like he was more interested in if and why humans value art, or if and why humans value truth, than what either of those are.

For me personally, I find the metaphysics equally interesting.

This thread is related to the other thread Jonothan started
about fact and opinion. I replied at length in that thread, so I’ll only summarize here, and in particular the relation between fact and truth. And aftwards I’ll give my take on what this has to do with music.

The nature of facts is the basic question of epistimology, the philosophy of knowledge, and the basis for the philosophy of science. In essence there are two ways of interpreting reality: there is no such thing, all is a figment of our imagination, or reality is something that exists independant of us (the observer). Most people (including myself) would probably adhere to the second option. However, there are many reasons from many different disciplins to assume that we have no way of directly observing reality. We have no option but to interpret it. By sharing our observations we can come to some sort of agreement about reality. “Lets call this red, and this green” for instance. Scientists will go a bit further than that by using calibrated instruments and a whole set of interconnected theories to explain the colour red in terms of light particles/ waves, wave length light reflection, etc. But in essence all observation is subjective and any theory is based on what’s called ‘intersubjectivity’: agreements between scientists about their theories and concurring observations that the theory ‘works’, i.e. it can effectively predict some kind of behaviour.
The idea of “truth” for a philosopher is digital: a statement is either true or false. It’s a logical category: IF a,b and c are true THEN it logically follows that x is also true. In other words, truth is always conditional. IF scientists all agree that colour is the effect of light particles hitting a surface where only a part of the wavelength is reflected back which can be observed as a certain clour, and scientists agree that the frequency range from 640 to700 Nm is called “red”, THEN what I’m observing now (with whatever instruments) can be described as “red”. If I call this “green”, it is only a false statement if you have the prerequisition of concurring with all relevant scientific theories about the nature of light and the ways of measuring it as well as the social agreements on what we call red aand what we call green, yello, blue etc.
You could set up a similar logical argument about the statement: “the elections were stolen” and would have to include things like: what is democracy, how is interpreted in the US, how do elections work in the US, how are votes cast, counted, controlled, etc etc. The point is, you would all need to agree on all those suppositions to come to an agreement about the truth of falsehood of this statement. This is more or less what US courts have done, so for me there is no doubt. In many cases however all the necessary suppositions are not made explicit and people are simply not seeing the same version of reality. Logical yes- no categories just don’t work, and emotion presides.
Ah, emotion! So far I managed to leave that out, but of course we are all emotional animals. The deepest and oldest parts of our brains are where emotion resides. Truth is not just a logical category. Truth is also very much an emotional category! Because reality is inherently subjective, everybody has their own version of reality. Scientists might be more aware than others of all the theories which have been more or less incorporated into society as being regarded as true (mainly because they ‘work’: they enable you to drive your car, follow Twitter on your Iphone etc.). But even scientists are just people (and thus animals) too, so their theories are always subject to emotion. Scientists can become very heated about some detail of scientific theory that no-one else cares about or is even aware of. There is no such thing as ONE TRUTH, but there is a hell of a lot of emotion when it comes to interpretations of what is true and what is false.
Now, finally, music: I really don’t know what music is. I am an (amature) musician so I undoubtably have an observation bias towards thinking music is important to us humans. But it’s evident music causes emotional repsonse in a lot of people. It’s fascinating. There are one or two evolutionary theories about how music developed, and they are very interesting to me, but they still don’t ‘explain’ the emotional response and why we think so highly of it. My theory on the relation with truth is simply this:

  • music causes a deep emotional response
  • the interpetation of whether something which you feel is important is true or false can lead to a deep emotional response
  • so music may enhance the emotional response of some view on the truth of a certain observation (“it was wrong for the US to start a war in Vietnam”, “you’re seeing someone else”).
    The last reason is why protest songs can be so effective in bringing people together (right or left). This does lead to another interesting question: is abstract art or music without lyrics less related to interperetations of truth than songs that include statements about truths are?

So to come back to the question if art stands in opposition of truth: I think art can enhance the emotion related to interpretations of true and false. Thereby it might stand in the way of a rational (scientific) discussion of how to interpret observations. But only because art enhances emotions, not because art itself is true or false.

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I find Nietzsche interesting, but always had trouble with the nihilistic stuff. I do find existentialism quite fascinating. I can relate to nihilism to some degree, as it was explored in early Buddhism, though not under that name or banner. I believe Nietzsche became associated with postmodern nihilism, which is problematic for society IMO. It could explain a lot of the dysfunction that now plagues us.

I sense elements of nihilism and existentialism in that. Or pehaps even postmodern nihilism. I do think there’s something to the reality of unease and discomfort in self and the perception of life. The “Truth” that the Buddha spoke was basically “life is suffering”. While many people dislike that as seeming negative, it’s important to set a foundation of something truthful to then search for optimism (or meaning). According to the Buddha, craving or attachment was the cause of suffering, so the solution is to liberate ourselves from those things and achieve Nirvana (not the band :joy:). Needing to latch onto truths can be a form of attachment. :wink: Nirvana in a sense is “freedom from suffering” (take note Curt Cobain).

I think it can be both. From a metaphysical viewpoint, the physical universe operates on duality. We can be both happy and sad at the same time (“tears of a clown”), there’s truth/lies, good/evil, light/dark, hot/cold. A transcendent experience is typically beyond duality, as much as is humanly possible. I think art came from the striving for truth, but also became an expression of our emotional nature. Think of primitive cave paintings, ancient flutes and drums, story-time by the fire pit. Art grew out of human culture and our need to find meaning IMO. Truth is potentially transcendent, if it can exist on its own beyond human consciousness, but if we were immersed in it we likely would no longer have an ego or a physical body. :innocent:

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Not to derail the thread, but I think this is a good example of potential duality or polarity in thinking. You could say it is true that there is some agent that is causing disease and people are suffering. You could also say that it’s true that some, especially in the media, are inflating the crisis for ratings and ad revenue. You could also say that it’s true that some politicians “don’t let a good crisis go to waste” and use fear to control people. These may not be different truths, but different expressions of the same truth. Or the same reality. There are also economic interests like pharmaceutical companies that benefit from a pandemic. I would say it is unlikely all or even some of those statements are false, and they could all likely be true. Since it seems nearly impossible to prove many theories, we may come to different conclusions, but if we frame it in terms of “certainty vs. doubt” I would say there is a high degree of certainty for all aspects to be true or viable. Indeed, sometimes what we call truth is more a case of certainty or confidence … rather than doubt. “A preponderance of the evidence” as it were. “Proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” Look for who benefits and profits … vs. those who suffer and lose. :wink:

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I think it can be reliably said that humans have some advanced type of intelligence that very few of our animal relatives even approach. And that we constantly strive to understand things and explore our environment, beyond our survival needs (i.e. animal instinct). If we are only smart animals by happenstance, it’s hard to understand where drives for art and truth come from. You could argue it is associated with the enhanced intelligence, but this is where metaphysics comes in for me, and where nihilism falls short in many cases. If you presume there is something beyond (meta) the physical that drives us toward a higher resolution of our being, it could be easy to explain our primitive attempts to mimic and merge with the “original source” of these things. I also don’t mean to set up a dualistic dichotomy here, one or the other, since evolution may be a process expressing the original source. Tools and communication (language) are not exclusive to humans, but may have been building blocks to enhance our ability to strive toward greater and greater understanding of ourselves and the universe. Perhaps truth and art could be defined as “striving to understand life at a deeper level”?

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I’m glad you spelled out the interrelated complexities, because I do think that’s what makes it such a difficult issue. Nobody, not even the courts, knows enough to simply categorize things one way or another. And speaking of courts and judges, they aren’t necessarily arbiters of “truth” even though we might like to think so. Their role is to accept or decline legal cases based on established guidelines, call for evidence, and make rulings related to legal precedent. Hopefully the result is “justice” … but as with any human system, it has never been perfect and is at times quite flawed. And if I might add some clarification, there were many court cases brought to the justice system in regard to the election integrity, and the vast majority were dismissed or rejected without even being considered. It’s important to ask whether that was because they did not have merit, or they did not meet the prescribed case criteria, or if they would risk opening up cans of political worms that no public official was willing to undertake.

I think art can help express existing emotion. It’s possible it enhances emotion by refining it for better understanding IMO. It may even create new emotions we weren’t feeling, as the artist makes their impact on us with their emotions and viewpoint.

Regarding emotion and truth, I recall that quantum physics states that all matter in the physical universe is vibrating (unless it’s at 0 degrees Kelvin). Therefore, you and I and everything in our environment is literally vibrating at this very moment. In music, we tend to call that manifestation of sound “resonance” or “dissonance”. What if vibration were the essence of truth? Vibration would simply cause resonance or dissonance with our emotions (intuitive nature), which could be interpreted as more truthful or less truthful (or false). On a scale (no pun intended), the relative strength of resonance or dissonance might speak to our cultural interpretations of true or false. Beyond duality, IMO, vibration simply exists. It is our humanness that interprets the good, bad, and the ugly. :hear_no_evil: :see_no_evil: :speak_no_evil:

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To me, unadulterated truth is basically just the wave function of the universe. Anything other than that is just wrapping a story around things to make sense of it. The truth that we value is truth that can be used to tell a story, and by telling a story you are, by definition, reducing truth to something that it is not.

That, to me, is why art is the antithesis of truth. But in that same sense, you can say that truth has no use unless you apply art to it.


oh man, is this some kind of Segway into quantum computing? :sweat_smile:

That’s a truth for which I can’t come up with a good story. I’m hoping someone else will though.

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Segway is out of business.

I don’t know about quantum computing but quantum mechanics has a lot to say about ‘truth’; mainly there is no truth, only probabilities.


thats why we call it the “Truth Table” :grin:
Possibility of the truth is the truth and truth of a possibility is the truth

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This depends on having an observer. And since the information is then relayed you have multiple observers, all of whom are subject to uncertainty.

You might even be uncertain about me.

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