Assassin’s Creed – The Many Takes on the Creed: “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted”

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Note: Please be warned that this post really requires you to be in an “Assassin’s Creed mindset.” A majority of this post was written with the assumption that you had played at least a portion of Assassin’s Creed titles. Also, spoilers warning, just in case.

There is just something strikingly intriguing about the Assassins in Assassin’s Creed. They assassinate, but claim to serve the greater good. They practice not to kill unnecessarily, especially innocent civilians, and held great responsibilities and respect to all those they had killed, even if they are foes. They believe their assassinations of corrupted political leaders, military generals and anyone belonging to the higher social hierarchy, will bring peace, stability and freedom. The Assassins look like a group who are constantly staying on the edge of the gray zone of the morality between good or bad, providing if good and bad morals can even be judged in the first place.

But perhaps one most intriguing aspect of the Assassins, is their creed, their mantra – “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” But what does this creed entails?

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Before I continue, let’s have a look at this page, it is a wiki page detailing about The Creed, but if you’re too lazy to read, I’ll sum it up the best I can. There are three main tenets of the creed:

  • Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent
  • Hide in plain sight
  • Never compromise the Brotherhood

At the same time, there are also three contradictions observed in the creed, namely The Three Ironies:

  • The Assassins seek to promote peace, but commit murder.
  • The Assassins seek to open the minds of men, but require obedience to rules.
  • The Assassins seek to reveal the danger of blind faith, yet practice it themselves.

They don’t particularly hide their contradictions, and in fact, seems to be a part of their creed. According to wiki: “Though seemingly hypocritical, the ironies did not undermine the Assassins’ cause. Rather, they demonstrated the way in which they embraced contradiction, “that one may be two things – opposite in every way – simultaneously.”

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If I’m not mistaken, this quote “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is based on a novel called “Alamut”, and at the same time, also served as the main inspiration for the very first Assassin’s Creed game. I think there can be a lot of interpretations, but one way of taking it is this – If nothing is true, that means everything is a lie, and if everything is a lie, that means there are no moral limitations to govern one’s action, and thus, all is permitted. This, however, doesn’t seem quite right since it seems to argue that the Assassins are basically madmen who murder without remorse, which is a far cry from what we had seen from them, having their own set of rules and whatnot.

Let’s have a look at the creed again. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” Now that when I think about it, it is quite a contradictory phrase. If nothing is true, that means “nothing is true” is also not true, and if “everything is permitted”, that means, everything, even including truth, is permitted. This argument however, seems to point out that there ARE “truths”, despite the contradictory statement.

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“To say that nothing is true, is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that we are the architects of our actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic.”
~by Ezio Auditore da Firenze

Ezio spoke of the creed to great length during one scene in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. This is what I could infer from it – To say that “foundations of society are fragile” could mean that society are masses who are easily controlled by the higher power, and in realizing that, he who realized it, must now enter into a personal battle within himself to gain his identity and self-worth, and thus the realization of the truth-the “shepherds of our own civilization.” The second line seem to theorize that for every actions that we had committed, we must live with the outcomes, whether or not they are good, or bad, and not run away with it. Thus, “everything is permitted.”

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Let’s take a step further in our thoughts. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” If nothing is true, everything is a lie; God does not exist, and perhaps even the reality you’re living right now is a false one. And because it’s false, you can do anything since they are not real. Indeed, if we implement the idea of subjective reality and objective reality here, suddenly, it becomes very interesting.

As we know, there is an “outer story” of Assassin’s Creed; where Desmond Miles (since he is STILL the feature character for most of the Assassin’s Creed titles at the moment, I’ll just use his name for now and ignore the “main character” in Black Flag), in the present world, dives into his ancestor’s memories, and relieving the medieval worlds that his ancestors experienced. In a way, this virtual experience is just like lucid dreaming. Desmond is inside a dream, yet he is aware he is dreaming, and because he is aware of it, he knows no fears and does not need to fear the possibility hurting his real body (the dreamer) – allowing him to perform feats fearlessly such as leaping from the top of a building, or assassinating someone without a guilty conscience, or perhaps just entering into a battle with odds totally against him. When you try to put the pieces together, it becomes a bit surreal; it is as if you’re playing a game within a game.

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This indeed plays with the idea of subjective reality and objective reality. As far as I know, objective reality is the idea where everyone has their own consciousness -they all have their own subjective mind but the world is an “external” one which we don’t have control over. In contrast, subjective reality plays with the idea that YOU are the only one with consciousness; you are the “experiencer.” It is also interesting too because due to the “outer” setting of Assassin’s Creed, we can really implement this idea in a literal fashion rather than just a philosophical concept they are meant to be. We can conclude that Desmond is experiencing a subjective reality, or perhaps-solipsism, if we were to limit ourselves to the perspectives of Altair, Ezio, Connor or Edward within the medieval worlds.

Sometimes, subjective reality plays with the concept that since you’re the only individual with consciousness, you, as the “experiencer”, can manipulate anything and anyone around you to the way you see fit, and to a larger scale-change the world. It seems fitting too if we relate it to the context of Assassin’s Creed. There is a synchronization rate every sequence in Assassin’s Creed that seems to infer the actual accuracy to what happened in real history. However, you have the choice NOT to follow the written script. If you’re supposed to go stealth like a proper assassin in that particular sequence, you can instead charge in like a mad warrior and counter-kill everyone. If you’re supposed to use a particular weapon, say rope dart, for example, you can ignore it and use hidden blades instead. Providing you don’t do it in a consecutive manner, you can even kill civilians. Unless there are some specific limitations (they are some segments of Assassin’s Creed where you really DO have to follow what the sequence tells you to or you will be desynchronzied), you ARE changing the world, despite in small doses. And thus, everything is permitted. At this point, we are already breaking the fourth wall quite tremendously, since with the ability to “manipulate” your surroundings, it’s just as if playing a game itself; with you, the one with the conscious mind-the main character, and the others, the NPC.

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I think it’s interesting just like how contradictory two-faced the creed can be – it seem to take on different forms depending on the way you interpret it, to the point that it somehow breaks the fourth wall at some point. What do you think of the phrase: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted?”

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This entry was posted by Kai.

5 thoughts on “Assassin’s Creed – The Many Takes on the Creed: “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted”

  1. As for “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” the first thing which comes to my mind is that no statement is so logically false as saying “Nothing is true.” And you touch on that quite well in your article. Ezio’s explanation of the creed seems so far removed from the actual words that the creed’s words could be replaced with anything. And also, as you write, the assassins don’t really act according to the creed’s words, but a moral code. Assassin’s Creed was a fun game, but that motto vexed me every time I heard it.

    If anything, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” hearkens to a statement in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” Then again, Dostoyevsky was a Christian, and he would have considered the God-man–Jesus Christ–to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” So, God and Truth are linked. To lack one is to lack the other.

    • “Ezio’s explanation of the creed seems so far removed from the actual words that the creed’s words could be replaced with anything”
      Perhaps, it’s intentional. In order to emphasize just so many forms that the creed can take. Although I do agree Ezio’s interpretation did seem like it’s taken to quite an extreme, lol. I actually like Black Flag’s interpretation. Taken from the game from Edward Kenway: “It might be that this idea is only the beginning of wisdom, and not its final form.” There are no “final answer” in Black Flag, and it seem to be interpreted as being open to all kinds of possibilities, for if “nothing is true” and “everything is permitted”; then indeed all kinds of possibilities exist.

      Hmm, wiki seems to that the quote’s based on Alamut, but even in both sources, the quote isn’t exactly the same; although relevant. I found there’s a third source though-“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche, where the exact quote appeared as “Nichts ist wahr, Alles ist erlaubt”. Honestly not sure which one’s the exact one by now :p

      • I agree that the quote seems directly drawn from Alamut, and Alamut probably directly borrowed from Nietsche; however, Dostoyevsky had a profound influence on European thought and one of the people he influenced was Nietsche. So, I’m pretty sure the idea may be traced back to Dostoyevsky’s The Karamazov Brothers, which novel is also known for the Grand Inquisitor scene.

        Many traditional views and values began to be questioned in the 19th century, and Dostoyevsky’s works reference many of these new trains of thought. For example. his Notes from the Underground discuss the question of whether science could prove that free will does not exist and then be able to predict a person’s every action. But, Dostoyevsky is my second favorite author, so I’m happy to reference him whenever I can. :)

        • Well, most of those seem legit enough to be Assassin’s Creed-related in some form or another, so I guess any of them would work as far as references go :p (I’m not really knowledgeable on the novel side of things)

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