‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’

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“Truth”? Who has forced this word on me? But I repudiate it; but I disdain this proud word; no, we do not need even this: we shall conquer and come to power even without truth. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power)

Lying on his deathbed, Hassan i Sabbah — the Old Man of the Mountainfounder and ruler of the Hashishim, otherwise known as the Order of the Assassinsleft his followers with this anarchic declaration: ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’

Both the terms hashish and assassin are claimed to have derived from the Hashishim Order, that simply signifies the followers of Hassan. The etymological richness of the order’s name exemplifies how meaning changes over time, accruing new values.

Philosophy is generally associated with the search for knowledge of the self and of the world, yet the search for ultimate meaning can be life-denying and therefore cripple human fulfilment.

There is no absolute truth.

Truth has been constructed by men through a historic process, and even our own understanding of who and what we are is the result of a lengthy process of training and cultivation through the evolution of morality and centuries of social development.

Meaning or truth is historical and flexible, rather than a-temporal and absolute.

Even conscience and free will are not natural givens, but the outcome of historical and psychological evolution of humanity. The existence of both is essential for society as much as it is for Moral philosophy, as it can attribute guilt and responsibility.

The creation of free will and a moral perspective demarcates the birth of the ‘absolute’ truth and consequently the unceasing seeking of ultimate knowledge and truth.

Man’s conscience, his sense of responsibility, is instilled by means of punishment, in a relationship similar to that between creditor and debtor.

‘How do you give a memory to the animal, man? …’ ‘A thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory…’ (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morality)

Science and philosophy are by no means an advance away from the will to truth, rather sophisticated versions of the same doctrine: a denial of sensual, present life in exchange for a pursuit of a believed, pre-determined truth — a truth that has been constructed through historical and psychological development, which differ for various civilisations, being simultaneously valid and null.

‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ This is a fundamental affirmation of unrestricted creative freedom: an apocalyptic avowal that goes beyond the call to destructive, unrestrained behaviour:

“Everything is permitted because nothing is true. It is all make-believe . . . illusion . . . dream . . . art. When art leaves the frame and the written word leaves the page, not merely the physical frame and page, but the frames and pages that assign the categories.” (William S. Burroughs)

Only when we acknowledge the absence of eternal or pre-existing truth, can we be free from the burden of guilt.

Only then can we become our own master, legislator, executive and judge in the pursuit of a fulfilling sensual and creative life.

Only then will we stop blaming the elusive other for our actions and assume responsibility for everything we do in drawing our own horizons of truth.

 

*

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/fifteen-minutes/

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71 thoughts on “‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’

  1. Thanks for one of the best posts I have read in a while. I would love to hear more about this sentence.
    “Only when we acknowledge the absence of eternal or pre-existing truth, can we be free from the burden of guilt.”

    • I have to say, I did not expect such a warm welcome for my post. Thank you so much.
      Ah yes… guilt. A treatise would not be enough to exhaust the topic.
      I will attempt to sketch out a few of my thoughts on the subject, although I doubt that my reply will be comprehensive. It may need a follow up post 🙂
      The idea of guilt to me is related to that of human conscience.
      With the advent of morality, our conscience – our sense of responsibility – has become skewed, because it is not internally but externally dictated.
      Morality upholds the validity of only one ultimate truth – an idea of perfection – and human beings are flawed and will always come short of it and will internalise that failure of coming close to the absolute as guilt — and a guilt that can never be effaced, since perfection is not achievable.
      Hence why, to embrace imperfection and accept the relativity of truth can be so liberating – to me at least.
      Warm regards,
      Vic

  2. “Man’s conscience, his sense of responsibility, is instilled by means of punishment, in a relationship similar to that between creditor and debtor.”

    I do right because I wish to, not because I fear punishment by doing wrong.

    I reject this argument.

    I have free will in the matter. 😉

    • Your parents must have been very liberal in your upbringing, because as a child I do not recall knowing right from wrong or even caring about what that meant. I did whatever pleased me – until of course adults would say different and yes, punish – it doesn’t have to be physical for it to count as punishment – to teach me that this is wrong and not acceptable as behaviour or speech or whatever else.
      So… when we come into adulthood, that fear of punishment is internalised to such a degree that we no longer remember its existence, it has become a part of us – this is what socialisation is after all :learnt behaviour.

      I agree with you. I do what I feel is right not because I fear punishment, but that is not to say that I did not get to this position by having been punished sufficient times to know better than do wrong 😉

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  4. My mind revolts!! There is no TRUTH in what you say : ) Great post, and the idea of absolute truths has been one of my own struggles. The whole concept is like a maze you can get lost in and never find your way out.

    • Quite 😉 what I say is certainly only one truth amongst many. Thank you for your comment. It made me smile and I am glad if it helped you even in a little way through the maze.

  5. This sounds like moral relativism or perhaps deconstructivism (not that I could necessarily tell the difference). If there is no pre existing truth, how can what you cay be true?

    Under such a doctrine, a person that I would deem to be reprehensible could draw his own horizon that rape was acceptable, much in the way that Hassan said that everything was permitted, because nothing was true.

    I would say that virtuous life is a better guide to living guilt free.

      • I’ve read some books by academics who are very critical of moral relativism. But I’m glad that Vic made this post, as it’s reminded me that I should take this topic in my second book.

        If we accept that we live in a narcissistic age, then anything that is a product of that age should be viewed with suspicion. This includes moral relativism (who can say what is right or wrong for another), deconstructivism (nothing is really true, and anything you say I can deconstruct and then reconstruct into my own truth), and Critical Language Studies (CLS – a re-hash of Marxist-Leninist stuff).

        There is value in some of the old-fashioned, traditional ways.

      • Yep, I always say truth is as real as anyone’s reality and perceptions. I’m wary of truths to a certain degree, I somewhat relate better to honesty. Honesty even to the worst of us all, still holds strong in the actual sense of the word.

        This excludes the basic truths and old fashioned values as we know it 🙂

      • Honesty is a wonderful thing. Especially when we have the capacity to be honest about ourselves.

        Afraid it’s bedtime for this old man. Good night, Dotta.

      • I’m taking this lovely comment with me for morning tea! Thank you, Dotta. And the wonderful thing about this: your horizons of truth are yours to behold whatever they are 🙂

        >

      • Rape and pillage were old fashioned traditional ways of encountering the other – I imagine however that is not what you value. So… you would pick and choose which traditions are valuable and which not, but deny others their own choice as being equally valuable?

        >

      • Vic, we as societies already do this via our criminal codes. It could be argued that limited moral relativism is embodied in the right to individual liberty, so long as that moral relativism/exercise of individual liberty in no way affronts the liberty or right or freedom of another individual.

        However, when viewed from an external frame of intellectual reference, it becomes coherent to me. How can something be “right” for one individual and yet “wrong” for another individual in the exact same circumstances? Thus do I reject moral relativism on intellectual grounds.

        It’s not a case of one person imposing their will or system on everyone without thought. There has to be reason involved in the process, and healthy debate. Yet any philosophy which would, as an example, not condemn the Holocaust is in my eyes not tenable.

        It goes without saying that this is an intellectual dispute and not a character attack in any way. I do thank you for these interesting posts and commentary, as it is helping to shape my preliminary thinking for my Book Two.

      • Don’t take me wrong, navigator. I did not take it as a personal attack. We have had many a lengthy discussion in the past for neither to misunderstand debate in that way.
        I understand your position, and perhaps there is much more that could be said on the matter. We will I am sure find ways to get into the detail of this in future exchanges as well.
        My regards,
        Vic

    • And who is to say what a virtuous life is? And why should their say so have greater validity than mine? What I say is one truth amongst many, it is not and it does not claim to be ultimate truth. The kind of person you deem reprehensible who decides that rape is acceptable – have they not decided so already? With or without that “doctrine”? What does truth and rape have to do with one another? How do you connect the categories? Unless you are introducing categories that I have deliberately absented, such as good and evil? In that case, do you consider moral relativism to be an inherent evil? If so – why? Thank you for your comment navigator. So many questions in return as always 🙂

      >

      • Having no appreciable grounding in philosophy, I default to the principles of classical geometry in such matters. One defines axioms and proceeds to build upon this axiomatic foundation a logical and coherent edifice.

        I suspect these axioms derive from the concept of natural law. I see them as being unproven assumptions as per Occam, and this overall approach as being analogous to string theory in theoretical physics. String theory apparently is actually a geometry from what I understand. It’s a question of correctly identifying the axiom set in its entirety, after which the logical developments of the construct or system should consistently match observation once corrected for relativistic distortions.

        I would be quite reluctant to ask a rape victim what her or his experience has to do with truth.

      • That may be so, but since you introduced the issue of rape into this particular discussion, I wanted to understand on what basis you believed it to be pertinent to the topic. Hence my question.

    • You are absolutely right 😉
      It is an absolute statement. I’ve actually written a post that deals with that little quirk of phrase – will be published at 8am on HarsH ReaLiTy.
      The phrase in any case – like all absolute statements – is open to interpretation hence why, as you say, every one is entitled to their opinions and what they believe to be true.

  6. “Only then will we stop blaming the elusive other for our actions and assume responsibility for everything we do in drawing our own horizons of truth.”

    Ahh… a world full of actual, personal accountability would be like paradise… now you have me daydreaming! 🙂

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  9. An excellent, thought provoking post, Vic. I have to agree adding that Free-Will can be viewed, if you like, as the antithesis of organised religion, yet, by the same token, is an equally rigid doctrine constructed to control: I do what I want bacause free-will allows me to choose which of the roads ‘the state’ has constructed for me.’ Personally I try do do what,s right because it is the right thing to do, but I concur, this is only through the fear or punishment when I was a child.
    Take care, Chris.

    • I find that by thinking of truth in this way I leave myself open to the fluidity of life and the changes it demands. I have another post in mind, inspired by some of the comments on this regarding the socialisation of children. Will see if I can polish it sufficiently to make it publishable.
      Thank you, Chris. I agree with you regarding the idea of free will. I tend to think that it is not as much free as socially constructed. Rousseau’s General Will would be an interesting one to look into on this.
      Warm regards,
      Vic

  10. The older I get, the more I find myself agreeing that there’s no such thing as absolute truth. I think a turning point for me was reading the Mitrokhin Archive, when it became clear that those involved in the intelligence services during that era (and possibly still today, for all I know) were so enmeshed in the web of espionage, counter-espionage and counter-counter-espionage, that in truth (ha!) no-one really knew who was working for anyone else. Obviously that’s a very particular set of circumstances, but it made me think about how important is an individual’s perception of the world around them; is that really any different to the “truth”, or just different to someone else’s perception?

    Anyway, I can’t think about this stuff for too long or my brain starts to hurt! Thank you for a very thought-provoking start to the day.

    • My pleasure and I will have to admit in turn that while I seem to dedicate a lot of time to topics as this, it is never something that I can dwell for too long at any one time without needing a good dose of humour to intervene at some point. Alas, no such luck – as long as academia still has a claim on me, I have to continue.
      Thank you for your comment. I love the connection you made between truth and intelligence services. It is, as you say, more often than not a matter of perception. I think this is the case too for those in search of ultimate truth, with the exception that they would assert that theirs is the true perception.
      Have a lovely day.
      Warm regards,
      Vic

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  13. Philosophical dialogues interest me greatly and this blog is one I will definitely follow “religiously”. I am curious to know what your thoughts are regarding the philosophical construct between facts, relativity, and truth. For instance, isotopes are facts that are true because they can be measured. To what percent is the probablity of that hypothesis true?

    • A very interesting question, Karen. Thank you. Regarding facts – these are “true” as part of a framework (whether scientific or philosophical or other). That framework comes with sets of rules that makes everything immanent to it verifiable. However, whether something can be proved to be a “truth” or a “fact” within the limits of that framework, it does not make it true absolutely.
      As theories evolve and change so do their “facts” – so that the truth of today becomes the disproved theory of tomorrow and so on.
      I am sure that there is much more to be said on the topic, but I hope I managed to answer your question at least in part.
      Warm regards,
      Vic

  14. Shew vic – I have an inkling of what you may be conveying – yet my brain is not gelling somehow – mainly because I am tired, so I am thinking I will give it a read through later with no family distraction and ‘get my head around it’. An interesting topic for me 😉

  15. Nice post. I tend to agree with you on truth. I don’t think there is an absolute truth, and a chasing after it is similar to chasing after the wind hoping to catch it

  16. Been thinking about this (obviously or obliviously – whichever you prefer 😀 ) as I said I would.
    It came to my mind two things:
    FACT can not be made fiction – but fiction can be made to seem as fact.
    And the other is: Perhaps there is absolute truth – but we just do not understand it yet nor ever will.
    This is how we form our society isn’t it? We HAVE to have lines to decide what is good and what is not. They sure do get blurred though ;).

    • Thank you, Belinda. Two very interesting points. Regarding “fact” – what are they? I often think that a fact is only that when viewed from within the paradigm which declares it a fact. Move outside that framework, and all you have is another hypothesis. So yes, there are facts, but these belong to systems of thought (whether scientific or philosophical, or even social) that give them validity and legitimacy from within.
      On the second one… I will leave the question of absolute truth aside and focus instead on the organisation of society that you touch on. Certainly, certain rules – laws – norms – values – have to be fixed to some degree in order for a society to function. But societies are not stagnant and as times change, those “fixed” points necessitate some degree of revision.
      This is all for now, but happy to return to it again if you’d like me to. 🙂

      • Thanks vic – ofcourse these kind of chats can go on for years -so a little more won’t harm 😉

        This concept of societal norms may be different in different societies – yet as each society moves along we move further and further from solid concepts into wishy washy jargon and seeking to find a way to free ourselves of our inherent humanness. Each individual journey is unique in its timing and understanding of the fundamentals of humanity – we are all in very different places and show each other in very different ways how we may think feel and see the world around us.

        But surely at our core we are all the same? And the experiences we have ordain as to either stay in our domino universe or to choose to leave it.

        Humans are human – and elephants are not mice – and nor are men. Surely the behaviours and inherent nature is different? Or are they the same at the base structures? What is learned within the behaviour of these species and what is inherent in their nature?

      • All very good questions, and as you say, Belinda, we could discuss this for years and still find more to add to it. I always liked the distinction ancient Greeks made between Human beings, animals and gods. Whilst the latter two will always be the same, human beings have the capacity to change. Animals learn too much of their behaviour, hence why such problems can occur when cubs are orphaned. They are not born with much of the knowledge, they follow their instincts and learn all the rest. I am tempted to say that it is very much the same for us too. 🙂

      • – I look at elephants – a most prestigious creature (in fact it would serve us all to look closer at our friends who share the planet with us) They do not change over the aeons – they know their roles their place and it is passed down instinctively one on one in some contexts – yet on others – it is taught – There are male elephants who become delinquents due to not belonging to a matriarchal herd. They have no family – no foundation – no absolutes – they roam aimlessly pleasing themselves in their pursuits. They are not a pretty site and they are not happy creatures because they have sought to define their own path. They cause chaos when encountering a herd and they are violent and aggressive and WILL not conform on any level to basic concepts of what they are designed to be and what is good for them and THEIR society and future generations.
        SOME things are relative – some animals HAVE changed = physically they have adapted to their new environments and hence their behaviour has changed along with it…but some have not.
        What part of humans has changed though?
        If we want to bring the evolutionary factor in, then from the time we changed from ‘ape’ to ‘human’ what has the difference been?
        The difference for me is the ability to decipher and unravel CERTAIN aspects of our universe – not all (no never all)

        1+1= 2 no matter the paradigm? 😉 Or not so? – unless I have a Tardis or unless I AM A GOD who can manipulate such things?

      • Cross 1 and 1 over and you have ten (X) 😉

        Thank you for yet another wonderful comment, Belinda. Loved your elephant story. Beautifully penned.

      • Pleasure dear 😀
        X hugs then sweety.

        But – put one pen in front of two writers…:D

        My son said to me a day or two ago -‘What if troll science ACTUALLY works but people are too sceptical to try it?!’ (his exact words)
        Love it!!

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