This essay addresses two central and contested themes in Nietzsche’s philosophy: the incorporation of truth and the free spirit. I argue that it is the free spirit who takes up the challenge of incorporating truth and that to understand this figure we have to address what this incorporation involves. Nietzsche poses the task as an experiment (GS 110). It is not, therefore, given that such incorporation will be possible. I address two particular problems that the task of the incorporation of truth without limits involves. Firstly, Nietzsche claims that some horizons of meaning and boundaries to our sense of self are necessary for life (UT II, 1, p. 63). Thus, the pursuit of truth without any fixed horizons or boundaries has to be reconciled with this need. Further, I suggest that if the later free spirit marks a difference from the free spirit of 1876 to 1882 it concerns, at least in part, a deepening in Nietzsche’s understanding of the challenges involved in the incorporation of an unbounded truth. In his late work, Nietzsche is acutely aware that there is no investigation without presuppositions, including a commitment to the value of the investigation (GM III 24, GS 344). So the question arises of how a free spirited investigation with flexible presuppositions can be distinguished from limited investigations with fixed presuppositions.
The free spirit’s association with truth, which occurs in both Nietzsche’s middle and late work (HH I 633, Z II On The Famous Wise Men, GM III 24), has previously been recognised. I argue, further, that the free sprit has a distinct way of practicing truth. Hence, having first presented evidence that Nietzsche continuously associates the free spirit with the incorporation of truth, I go on to clarify the practices that this incorporation involves. The free spirit is the figure who is able to cultivate the habits of particular kind of scepticism, which does not arise from an inability to engage (AC 54). This will require learning to do without the need for certainties (HH II WS 16, GS 347). It will involve actively exploring and undertaking experiments in knowledge that do not have any set limits. Horizons will come to be seen as mutable- open to being rubbed out and redrawn. Thus, while life depends on establishing some boundaries around itself and relies on some horizons of meaning, to incorporate an unbounded truth one must loosen one’s attachments to any particular horizon of meaning, and to any fixed boundary to one’s sense of self. It will further require establishing an understanding of our horizons of meaning, and how they relate to our boundaries of self. Through the cultivation of such an awareness, the free spirit can avoid turning the inevitable presuppositions of their truth practice into an unquestionable foundation that cannot be revised, unlike the false free spirits and “last idealists of knowledge [Erkenntnis]” (GM III 24), for whom the value of truth remains unquestionable.
Mitcheson, K. (2015). The experiment of incorporating unbounded truth. In R. Bamford (Ed.), Nietzsche's Free Spirit Philosophy (139-156). Rowman and Littlefield International