In Beyond Good and Evil, chapter 1, #16, Nietzsche is criticizing idealism, and he says:

He who ventures to answer these metaphysical questions at once by an appeal to a sort of intuitive perception, like the person who says, "I think, and know that this, at least, is true, actual, and certain" — will encounter a smile and two notes of interrogation in a philosopher nowadays. "Sir," the philosopher will perhaps give him to understand, "it is improbable that you are not mistaken, but why should it be the truth?"

What does he mean by, "improbable that you are not mistaken?" To me it makes sense, "it is improbable that you are mistaken," or "it is probable that you are not mistaken," as the person in question indeed does think, but the proper question is why or what that means. But there is a double negative - is this an error in translation, or by Nietzsche himself? Or am I missing something?

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    It's not a translation error. The German sentence is "»Mein Herr«, wird der Philosoph vielleicht ihm zu verstehen geben, »es ist unwahrscheinlich, daß Sie sich nicht irren: aber warum auch durchaus Wahrheit?«" I'm less certain about the translation in "but why should it be the truth" because I'm not sure what Nietzsche was trying to say there, but I guess it's possible he just accidentally added one negation too many into the sentence. Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 9:41
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    Nietzsche appears to be saying "You're probably wrong (to be saying 'I think therefore I am'), but (even if you are right) how does it lead to truth?" "aber...auch" is a distinctively German collection of words that isn't really best translated "but"; maybe "but still", or "yet" would be better. You should probably post on a philosophy or German forum if you're concerned about the philosophy or the translation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 12:42
  • You are probably missing that the philosopher in the quoted paragraph is snide and arrogant and uses a phrase that is deliberately too complicated, assuming his interlocutor will not understand it (i.e. the double negative is a studied insult). Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


In the quoted passage, Nietzsche seems to be referring to followers of Descartes if not Descartes directly. In a nutshell, Descartes's meditation is famously encapsulated in the phrase: "cognito ergo sum" The famous: "I think; therefore, I am."

Nietzsche's criticism of a giant in world of philosophy, might be better translated as "...it is improbable that you are not fooling yourself." That is Descartes meditations can't be an error in judgement. What Nietzsche questions is why understanding one's own existence also leads through the same meditation, to Truth.

And whether Truth is defined as Plato's Logos, or as Dante's Beatrice, or as Nietzsche hypothetically defines the Truth in the first sentence of the Preface, you have to acknowledge that Truth wouldn't always immediately follow from self-knowledge.

  • I understand, and this is also the interpretation I had initially. But it seems like there was an extra negative in there. If this is the right interpretation (and it seems to make sense, and to align with the rest of the context), I would have expected, "It is improbable that you are fooling yourself," "It is improbable that you are mistaken." In other words, "you are probably right, Descartes, about the fact that you are, but why should that be the Truth, capital T?" My question was, is this a typo by Nietzsche, or is the interpretation wrong? Or am I still miscounting negatives? haha
    – BenG
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 11:33

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