Gnomicon 224

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  224
Saturday 22 December 2012
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There are no facts, only interpretations.
Friedrich Nietzsche (15 Oct 1844 – 25 Aug 1900)

A giant of proto-modern philosophy, Nietzsche here articulates a précis of what one might consider the fundamental intellectual driver of twentieth-century (and later) criticism, an enterprise that at times seems to have had as its central mission the dismantling of quondam cultural and literary certainties.  As ‘hard’ science (biology, chemistry, physics) grew ever more precise and effectual from mid-century on and ever more demonstrative of the fact that they ‘worked’, the fuzzier the envious humanities became in their espousal of a kind of protean meaninglessness.  The statement that there are no facts but only interpretations is – as I experience the world — most definitely not true, but it’s a wonderful and welcome propaedeutic for that nasty infestation of political correctness and narcissistic skepticism in so many university departments these days — which infestation now does appear to be waning somewhat, given that there indubitably are, after all, incontrovertible facts as well as the indeterminate interpretations of those facts (to trope Moynihan [“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”], everyone is entitled to her own interpretations but not her own non-facts).

If one takes the epigraph as a non-trivial bit of epistemological thinking and accepts it, it seems to me that nothing is knowable – a spurious piece of preciosity of much greater antiquity than that of Friedrich Nietzsche the “professor of classical philology at the University of Basel.” I have addressed the point elsewhere.

On the assumption that you buy into the non-factuality of the epigraph’s ‘fact’ and my ‘interpretation’ of it as a kind of charlatan’s chicanery, once something is unknowable then that very fact renders the something open to any interpretation that it can be made to stand for, be understood as, whatever the speaker or writer wishes it to be.  After all, if you can’t know it, how can you know that it can’t be just anything you please?  And here we are back to the point that Lucretius made all those many years ago made about all those clever philosophers pretending profundity.

I mean, come on!  Gravity is not a fact?  A carcinoma? Your birth?  How would you spin birth, cancer, gravity – interpretatively speaking, that is?

Nietzsche wrote a lot of interesting and worthwhile books and I in no way wish to detract from the high importance of both his works and his Nachleben for the intellectual history of the modern world, but in this particular case I venture – carefully, and with some trepidation – the double presumption of not only aligning myself with Lucretius against Nietzsche but also calling a fraudulent fancy a fraudulent fancy.

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