Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Nietzsche on Conviction

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." (HAH #483)

Presumably, Nietzsche finds his dictum to be both true and convincing, and intends it to be such for others. Otherwise, why would he have written it down? But, like many of Nietzsche's asseverations, it is curiously self-defeating. For if it is true, then, by its own showing, it is not something of which one could be legitimately convinced. One can be legitimately convinced only of the truth, and if convictions are enemies of truth, then Nietzsche's dictum is not something about which one could be legitimately convinced.

But then why does Fritz assert it in such a cocksure and unqualified manner?

If true, then unconvincing. But if convincing, then untrue.

Nietzsche sees clearly that conviction does not prove truth: If S is convinced that p, it does not follow that p is true. What Nietzsche fails to see, however, is that conviction is not incompatible with truth: It is not the case that if S is convinced that p, then p is false.

Although convictions often block the path of inquiry, the point of inquiry is to know the truth and be convinced of it. Better to be justifiably convinced of a truth than to hold it in a merely tentative fashion. In the language of the great American philosopher C. S. Peirce (1839-1914), the goal of inquiry is the fixation of belief. But what is the fixation of belief if not conviction?

Here again we see how muddled and perverse Nietzsche is. He confuses the true proposition that conviction does not prove truth with the false proposition that conviction is incompatible with truth. All the while he presupposes both truth and the possibility of being convinced about some of it, namely, that part encapsulated in his dictum.

What's more, how can Nietzsche help himself to truth when his perspectivism entails its nonexistence? To say that truth is perspectival is tantamount to denying that there is truth. I have argued this elsewhere.

Is it perhaps Nietzsche's muddleheadedness that accounts for his popularity among French intellectuals?