Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Jon McGinnis, Associate Professor


Rohloff, Waldemar

Griesedieck, David


This thesis is a reflection upon and evaluation of Nietzsche’s conception of language as presented in his early and posthumously published essay On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense. I take Nietzsche in On Truth and Lying to be launching a full scale attack on traditional accounts of language and truth. He counters such conceptions by presenting what he takes to be the “forgotten” origin of language, which he presents as consisting of a threefold process of metaphor formation. This conception of the origin of language is rather technical and, as I will try to show, is doing quite a lot of work for Nietzsche, not only in his criticisms of other philosophies of language, but also in much of his later writings. What becomes manifest throughout this analysis of Nietzsche’s writings is a form of linguistic skepticism; however, I will try to show that Nietzsche’s conception of the origin of language is not bereft of its own metaphysical assumptions. I will try to show that his conception of the origin of language is a variation upon an already prevalent philosophical conception of language, one that presupposes a certain metaphysical gap between language and reality; thus, Nietzsche’s continuous criticisms of the failure of language are due, not to surveying language at work and finding it wanting, but rather to already having something very similar to what I will call an imagistic conception of language. I will then introduce Wittgenstein (particularly his discussion of pain) to show that what manifests itself in Nietzsche’s account of language as a threefold process of metaphor formation is that Nietzsche is only thinking of our relation to reality upon what I will call a spectator-spectacle model. Only by generalizing the application of this model to characterize our dealings in and with the world does there seem to be a gap between language and reality. I will then show that Wittgenstein does a great deal to reduce the force of this model and thereby revealing Nietzsche’s pronouncements on the failure of language to capture the becoming that is life to be unfounded.

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