11. Language as a presumptive science

You can read the aphorism I discuss here below the main article.

Synopsis and my take on it:

The importance of language for the development of culture lies in the fact that in language man has placed a world of his own beside the other, Languages describes the world, becomes its own world, but is not the real world  a position which he deemed so fixed that he might therefrom lift the rest of the world off its hinges, and make himself master of it.” Man thought that the construction he made out of language was so stable that he could rule the world with it As far as people believed as “æternæ veritateseternal truthfor a great length of time, he has acquired that pride by which he has raised himself above the animal; he really thought that in language he possessed the knowledge of the world. The maker of language was not modest enough to think that he only gave designations names to things, he believed rather that with his words he expressed the widest knowledge of the things;” Language is the first step towards science. From “which the mightiest sources of strength have flowed” From the belief that science came out of language a strong force came into the worldMuch later—only now—it is dawning upon men that they have propagated a tremendous error1 in their belief in language. Fortunately, it is now too late to reverse the development of reason, which is founded upon that belief. Reason is based on the falls belief that language can be used to name or rule the world  Logic, also, is founded upon suppositions2 to which nothing in the actual world corresponds,” As an example the “supposition2 of the equality of things, and the identity of the same thing at different points of time” But science came out of the world where they thought such things existed In the world of languages things like circles and straight lines exist. “It is the same with mathematics, which would certainly not have arisen if it had been known from the beginning that in Nature there are no exactly straight lines, no real circle, no absolute standard of size.”

In one sentence:

Reason would not exist without our first wrong words.

1In the translation by Hollingdale there is a note at this place that points to the following assay from Nietzsche: On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1973) This is a quote from that book: “Every word immediately becomes a concept, inasmuch as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases—which means, strictly speaking, never equal—in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal.” Read more here

2Zimern translates “Voraussetzung“ with supposition (a hypothesis beforehand) and Hollingdale translates it with presupposition (an assumption beforehand). In German the word Voraussetzung is defined as: eine feste Vorstellung, die das weitere Tun oder Denken leitet (a fixed idea that guides further action or thinking). Which correspond better with the English word Presupposition.


Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I translated by Helen Zimmern 1909

  1. LANGUAGE AS A PRESUMPTIVE SCIENCE.—The importance of language for the development of culture lies in the fact that in language man has placed a world of his own beside the other, a position which he deemed so fixed that he might therefrom lift the rest of the world off its hinges, and make himself master of it. Inasmuch as man has believed in the ideas and names of things as æternæ veritates for a great length of time, he has acquired that pride by which he has raised himself above the animal; he really thought that in language he possessed the knowledge of the world. The maker of language was not modest enough to think that he only gave designations to things, he believed rather that with his words he expressed the widest knowledge of the things ; in reality language is the first step in the endeavour after science. Here also it is belief in ascertained truth, from which the mightiest sources of strength have flowed. Much later—only now—it is dawning upon men that they have propagated a tremendous error in their belief in language. Fortunately it is now too late to reverse the development of reason, which is founded upon that belief. Logic, also, is founded upon suppositions to which nothing in the actual world corresponds,—for instance, on the supposition of the equality of things, and the identity of the same thing at different points of time,—but that particular science arose out of the contrary belief (that such things really existed in the actual world). It is the same with mathematics, which would certainly not have arisen if it had been known from the beginning that in Nature there are no exactly straight lines, no real circle, no absolute standard of size.

Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80

11. Die Sprache als vermeintliche Wissenschaft. – Die Bedeutung der Sprache für die Entwickelung der Cultur liegt darin, dass in ihr der Mensch eine eigene Welt neben die andere stellte, einen Ort, welchen er für so fest hielt, um von ihm aus die übrige Welt aus den Angeln zu heben und sich zum Herrn derselben zu machen. Insofern der Mensch an die Begriffe und Namen der Dinge als an aeternae veritates durch lange Zeitstrecken hindurch geglaubt hat, hat er sich jenen Stolz angeeignet, mit dem er sich über das Thier erhob: er meinte wirklich in der Sprache die Erkenntniss der Welt zu haben. Der Sprachbildner war nicht so bescheiden, zu glauben, dass er den Dingen eben nur Bezeichnungen gebe, er drückte vielmehr, wie er wähnte, das höchste Wissen über die Dinge mit den Worten aus; in der That ist die Sprache die erste Stufe der Bemühung um die Wissenschaft. Der Glaube an die gefundene Wahrheit ist es auch hier, aus dem die mächtigsten Kraftquellen geflossen sind. Sehr nachträglich -jetzt erst – dämmert es den Menschen auf, dass sie einen ungeheuren Irrthum in ihrem Glauben an die Sprache propagirt haben. Glücklicherweise ist es zu spät, als dass es die Entwickelung der Vernunft, die auf jenem Glauben beruht, wieder rückgängig machen könnte. – Auch die Logik beruht auf Voraussetzungen, denen Nichts in der wirklichen Welt entspricht, z.B. auf der Voraussetzung der Gleichheit von Dingen, der Identität des selben Dinges in verschiedenen Puncten der Zeit: aber jene Wissenschaft entstand durch den entgegengesetzten Glauben (dass es dergleichen in der wirklichen Welt allerdings gebe). Ebenso steht es mit der Mathematik, welche gewiss nicht entstanden wäre, wenn man von Anfang an gewusst hätte, dass es in der Natur keine exact gerade Linie, keinen wirklichen Kreis, kein absolutes Grössenmaass gebe.


Sources:

I will read a Dutch translation that is based on the work of researchers Colli and Montinari. I also use a translation from R.J.Hollingdale and the Gary Handwerk translation from the Colli-Montinari edition. Both are more modern than the copyright free translation I use here. This is a translation from 1909 by Helen Zimmern, who knew Nietzsche personally, but there was no critical study of Nietzsche’s work done back then and this translation suffers from that. The same goes for the translation from Alexander Harvey. My German is not good enough to pretend that I can translate it better than the professionals do but I will use the original as a referee.

  1. Menselijk al te menselijk een boek voor vrije geesten, translated by Thomas Graftdijk, 2000. Buy it here
  2. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by R.J.Hollingdale, 1986
  3. Human, all too human a book for free spirits I V3, translated by Gary handwerk 1997
  4. Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909. Read it  here
  5. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908. Read it here
  6. Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80. Read it here

 

 

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