Perishing of the Truth: Nietzsche's Aesthetic Prophylactics

British Journal of Aesthetics 50 (4):427-437 (2010)
This paper offers an interpretation of Nietzsche’s well known unpublished remark, ‘Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish of the truth .’ I argue that it is not helpful to construe this remark as a claim to the effect that art falsifies the truth by, for example, peddling lies or deceptions. Rather, I suggest, the remark should be taken to refer to the various ways in which art can present us with the truth in such a manner that we do not perish of it. And of these ways, I argue, the most interesting is that in which art facilitates awareness of putatively ugly truths while actually abolishing their ugliness: a striking discussion of this possibility is to be found in Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy . I conclude that, overall, Nietzsche is best understood as a conditional cognitivist—as someone who thinks of truth as valuable, but not as valuable no matter what; and I suggest that what makes his position interesting and distinctive is the alethic pessimism (‘Truth is ugly’) that runs through his version of cognitivism
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