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Is Nietzsche's On Truth and Lies In A Non-Moral Sense a Work of Fiction or a Work of Philosophy

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Hume, like Nietzsche, published his first major work, the Treatise, at the age of twenty-eight, and, just as Hume followed his seminal debut with the Essays Moral and Political, Nietzsche devoted his energies immediately after The Birth of Tragedy to a series of discourses, the Untimely Meditations. Outside of their scope, though, fell a work initially unpublished, ‘On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense’ (1873). Beginning his thesis in the form of a fairy tale, Nietzsche goes on to argue that “Truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions”, his contention that Man creates fantasies to substitute unpalatable aspects of his existence, consciously obscuring his true circumstances beneath a veil of false desires and precarious ideals.

This paper, discussing the stylistic and generic nuances of Nietzsche’s essay, examines whether it is ultimately a work of fiction or of philosophy. In considering that interdisciplinary question, I focus upon a range of Classical and Early Modern texts, evaluative, poetic, dramatic, political, and psychoanalytical, that themselves explore humanity’s propensity for myth-making in the name of a romanticised rather than objective empiricism.

This talk is part of the Pembroke Papers, Pembroke College series.

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