What does Nietzsche mean by "there are no facts, only interpretations"?

  • I came across this philosophical thought.

    There are no facts, only interpretations

    written by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). As translated from Notebooks, Summer 1886 – Fall 1887, in The Portable Nietzsche (1954) by Walter Kaufmann, p. 458:

    "Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying "there are only facts," I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations".

    I tried to understand it but cannot get a satisfying answer. What does he mean with this quote?

    Maybe that you cannot truly know anything for sure? That everything you percive from the outside world is only your brains interpretation of reality. So it would be possible that we live in a video game or that you are actually the only living thing and everyone else is part of your imagination. I personally would still say that there ARE facts but that we cannot know them for sure.

    Looks like Kant: we can't know the noumenon, we only know the phenomena. More importantly: **where does Nietzsche say this?** Reference is good :)

    Bonus question: Does this quote state a fact? ;)

    "Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying "there are only facts," I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations".Notebooks, (Summer 1886 – Fall 1887). It seems the ages old debate realism versus antirealism.

    @DBK, when first I read about it I thought it's right but when thought more I am curious about the word "Interpretation".

    I support @DBK that Fact is what we see (and believe). But what I think about "Interpretation" is that we cannot prove `Wrong` thing by just Interpret it as a Fact. Even if we Interpret it but then it cannot become reality.

    Then by implication if this is true then your statement is also a interpretation. Seems like it is self defeating unless you are trying to prove their are no facts.

    I just had an argument with my dear friend about facts. And I told essentially the same thing. There are no FACTS there's only assumptions. By that I mean. what used to be a fact in 1900 can be a myth or a joke in 2100, what used to be a fact in 2014 might be false prophecy in 2016. Only the creator of this universe knows all the facts, and only this energy could explain all of the facts, but it's still silent. When humans look for facts, they are really just assuming this to be a fact. 100 Different people doing the same Experiment can find 100 Different facts contradicting each other!

    @NullPointer: I think this is stupid statement. " In order to stay alive you need to eat" - this is truth, so what is there to argue about?

    Just try to give a simple answer to the statement. For example red colour, it is because 'Red' is used to interpret red colour so we understand that 'Red' is red. Another example, red is understood as good luck in the East but danger in the West, and all these are interpretation.

    What is a "fact"? Is it a "fact" that several different countries were engaged in war against each others from 1939 to 1945? Is it a "fact" that Germany defeated Poland in September 1939? Is it a "fact" that Hans Schmidt died during the victorious German campaign against Poland in September 1939? Can a "fact" be composed of other "facts"? Are several different "facts", grouped together, one only "fact"? Why do we think it is important to analyse, from several different standpoints, Polish defeat in 1939, but not Hans Schmidt's death? (continued)

    If one states that Hans Schmidt's death is part of German campaign against Poland, is one stating a "fact"? Are relations between "facts" also "facts"? This seems a word that is easy to use, perhaps too easy, and very difficult to define.

    There is a good reason you're having trouble understand this: taken literally it's completely incoherent. Nonsense doesn't have a "gist". But taken non-literally, it could be understood as gesturing towards some important considerations.

    @NullPointer- There is no real mystery here. Ask yourself, 'What is a fact?' Can you pick one up and carry into the laboratory for experiment? Certainly not! If I observe an event and consider it a fact, just in what does that fact consist? Say that I'm observing an apple on a tree. What are the parameters of what constitutes a fact? Is it only the apple, or the tree, what about the weather and the time of day, etc. As you can plainly see there is no outstanding or isolated 'fact'. Only by interpreting this 'event' and framing it into an hypothesis can it become. usable for scientific study.

  • commando

    commando Correct answer

    8 years ago

    An important thing to keep in mind when reading Nietzsche is that most of the time he is trying to reveal things through insights.

    The point of this particular quotation is to reveal the assumption at the base of many philosophies (in this case, most specifically positivism): that objective facts exist.

    Positivism holds, roughly, that the phenomena we observe through our senses are physical in nature and that they actually happen in a material world. Thus positivists take these phenomena as objective fact and use it for their world-explanation, for example by making physical laws. Nietzsche's statement is that fundamentally, positivists are interpreting observed phenomena as physical (instead of non-physical, e.g. Berkeley), and real, when in fact they have no definite justification to do so. Thus, facts are really the subjective result of information: there is nothing necessarily "true" about them, other than how they fit into a particular interpretation.

    Just as the interpretation of a book is up to the reader, so too is Nietzsche pointing out that the interpretation of our world is up to the person observing. Now, here he does not make any claim as to whether, as with a book, there is an "author" who intended a particular meaning that we are supposed to pick up on, and that this meaning is the "correct" interpretation, but holistically that idea would probably be repugnant to Nietzsche: he effectively rejects all teleology, metaphysics, and meaningful notion of truth, which leaves no room for there to be a "correct" interpretation of the world.

    Ultimately what this means is that, to Nietzsche, it is much less important whether we "understand" how the world "works" (if that is even a meaningful thing to say), and much more important that we develop an interpretation that works for us. One of Nietzsche's primary themes is the advance of humanity into a stronger (intellectually, culturally, and maybe physically) race, and the proper interpretation of the world could aid in achieving this. In Nietzsche's terms (and this is straying from this quotation against positivism to a generalized summary of Nietzsche), this would be the interpretation that best frees us from life-rejecting restraints such as Good vs Evil and lets us become stronger by exercising our will to power and working toward the overman.

    Would you consider Nietzsche a pragmatist? If so, comparing his thought to pragmatism (something I am just beginning to study) may be enlightening.

    I would disagree with this interpretation of Nietzsche, or at least flag that there are grounds for significant disagreement. Nietzsche, for all his rambunctious, poetic, assertions—especially in notes, as above—that sometimes conflict with one another, assumes a basically Aristotelian position that there are objective states of flourishing for human beings. He spends so much effort trying to undermine conventional ideas, though, that it's possible to miss what he relies on to support his own. He's neither an antirealist about truth and values nor a pragmatist.

    @commando: I think this is stupid statement. " In order to stay alive you need to eat" - this is truth, so what is there to argue about?

    What means "*the proper* interpretation"? Otherwise, great answer. +1

    Nietzsche says there is no objective truth. But he seems so objectively confident about the truth value of his statement! Doesn't it give birth to a circle?

    @user13599 “Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.” And that is interpretation.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM