Truth, like milk, arrives in the dark
But even so, wise dogs don’t bark.
Only mongrels make it hard
For the milkman to come up the yard.
The meaning of the word truth extends from honesty, good faith, and sincerity in general, to agreement with fact or reality in particular. The term has no single definition about which a majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute.
Correspondence theories state that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. This type of theory posits a relationship between thoughts or statements on the one hand, and things or objects on the other. It is a traditional model which goes back at least to some of the classical Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation is determined in principle solely by how it relates to “things”, by whether it accurately describes those “things”.
Social constructivism holds that truth is constructed by social processes, is historically and culturally specific, and that it is in part shaped through the power struggles within a community. Constructivism views all of our knowledge as “constructed,” because it does not reflect any external “transcendent” realities (as a pure correspondence theory might hold). Rather, perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience.
Consensus theory holds that truth is whatever is agreed upon, or in some versions, might come to be agreed upon, by some specified group. Such a group might include all human beings, or a subset thereof consisting of more than one person.
Most religious traditions have a body of doctrine that adherents of that religion view as truth. This may take the form of a creed or catechism, it may refer to a book such as the Bible or the Koran, or it may be an unwritten code shared by believers. Unlike scientific truth or observed truth, religious truth often makes the claim of being either revealed or inspired by God.
When there is a clash between religious truth and scientific truth, various methods have been used to reconcile the two. During the Middle Ages, for example, there was conflict between Roman Catholic dogma on the one hand and an emerging body of scientific knowledge on the other. Sometimes the established church sought to suppress scientific truth, as in the case of Galileo, but sometimes the two truths were allowed to coexist, which led to the doctrine of the two truths. According to this compromise, there is a lesser truth, scientific truth, which holds that the earth orbits the sun, and a greater truth, religious truth, that holds that the earth is the fixed center of the universe. According to the doctrine of the two truths, these two truths were both true in their own sphere.
The modern Roman Catholic church has rejected the doctrine of two truths, and accepts as true all scientific truth. Christian Fundamentalism claims that religious truth should be accepted by scientists, and that if science were not corrupt it would recognize, for example, the occurrence of a world-wide flood. Thus the conflict between religious truth and scientific truth continues.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Those that think it permissible to tell white lies soon grow colorblind.” author=”Austin O’Malley”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please – you can never have both.” author=”Ralph Waldo Emerson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The trouble about man is twofold. He cannot learn truths which are too complicated; he forgets truths which are too simple.” author=”Rebecca West”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Theories are private property, but truth is common stock.” author=”Charles Caleb Colton”/]
Once, when a stubborn disputer seemed unconvinced, Lincoln said, “Well, let’s see how many legs has a cow?” “Four, of course,” came the reply disgustedly. “That’s right,” agreed Lincoln. “Now suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?” “Why, five, of course,” was the confident reply. “Now, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Lincoln. “Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” author=”Leo Tolstoy”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.” author=”Denis Diderot”/]
What is truth and does it matter?
A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe asked the question, “Is there absolute Truth?” Sixty-six percent of adults responded that they believe that “there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” Seventy-two percent of those aged 18 to 25 expressed this belief. In a recent series of more than two hundred interviews conducted at random at a large university, people were asked if there was such a thing as absolute truth – truth that is true across all times and cultures for all people. All but one respondent answered along these lines:
- “Truth is whatever you believe.”
- “There is no absolute truth.”
- “If there were such a thing as absolute truth, how could we know what it is?”
- “People who believe in absolute truth are dangerous.”
I suggest that the situation that these surveys reveal is fairly typical of the Western World. As Clive Calver says, in an article ‘Thinking Clearly About Truth’, we “drift on a tide of uncertainty into a sea of unknowing.”
Oddly enough, those who claim that there is no such thing as absolute truth make scores of decisions every day on the basis that they believe some things are true and some are false. We all do. I will not turn on a light without believing in the reality of electricity, or drive a car without believing in the effectiveness of the combustion engine. No one flying in a cloud through mountainous terrain would want to be directed by a navigator who did not believe in the truth of his instruments. No one undergoing brain surgery would want to be operated on by a surgeon who did not believe that some things about the brain were true and some not true. And yet, when it comes to the most important issues of life – What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does it matter whether I am good or bad, or is there any such thing as goodness and badness? What happens when I die? Will I be called to account by the Judge of the Universe or will I not? Does he exist anyway? – it is assumed that either we can’t know or it doesn’t matter. Figuring out something that “works for me” is all that is required. Or I can assume the attitude of the late actress Marilyn Monroe who is said to have declared, “I believe in everything – a little bit.” The poet Steve Turner wrote a brilliant parody of this attitude and called it “Creed”. Part of it goes like this: “I believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter. I believe that there is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. “
Yet, in spite of the pervasiveness of these attitudes to truth in our post-modern society, lots of voices are being raised in protest.
Michael Novak, in an article in the Reader’s Digest, declared that “the most critical threat to our freedom is a failure to appreciate the power of truth.” This link between freedom and truth was strongly argued by Pope John Paul II in his recent encyclical Veritas Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, in commenting on this encyclical, said, “In the absence of truth, power is the only game in town.”[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Man has always sacrificed truth to his vanity, comfort and advantage. He lives… by make-believe.” author=”W. Somerset Maugham”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”When one has one’s hand full of truth it is not always wise to open it.” author=”French Proverb”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” author=”Attributed to James A. Garfield”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.” author=”Arthur Schopenhauer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” author=”Herbert Agar”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A ship captain one day recorded in the ship’s log, ”First-mate drunk today.” It was a true statement, but was the first incident where the mate had been drunk while on duty. The mate pleaded with the captain to amend the statement, but the captain refused, saying it was a true statement. The next time the First-mate was in charge of the ship, he recorded in the log, ”Captain sober today.” ” author=”Source Unknown”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth sits upon the lips of dying men.” author=”Matthew Arnold”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” author=”Marcus Aurelius”/]
Be Careful with the Truth
By Larry Pryor
Writing letters of recommendation can be hazardous–tell the truth and you might get sued if the contents are negative. Robert Thornton, a professor at Lehigh University, has a collection of “virtually litigation-proof” phrases called the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations, or LIAR.
Here are some examples:
- To describe an inept person–“I enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.”
- To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow workers–“I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine.”
- To describe an unproductive candidate–“I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”
- To describe an applicant not worth consideration–” I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment.”
‘What is truth?’ The tunnel vision of Pontius Pilate
By Andrew Kania
Very little is known about Pontius Pilate, aside from that infamous occasion when he was required to decide on a case involving blasphemy and sedition in the person of the miracle-worker from Nazareth named Jesus Christ.
There was something peculiar about this case. Claudia, Pilate’s wife, had even had a dream about it. As the Evangelist St Matthew tells us, ‘While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him’.’
From the Scriptures we can surmise that Pilate must have had a fairly good Roman education, for the questions directed at Christ are poignant and thought- provoking: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’; ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?’ ; and, ‘What is truth?’.
Pilate seems sincere as he tries to understand the man before him but he becomes perplexed, in particular, with the latter question that Christ does not answer, ‘What is truth?’ He is also quick to inform the Jews, ‘I find no crime in him’.
Ironically, it is this last phrase that reveals Pilate as both a man of virtue and of cowardice. For Pilate is wise and good enough to understand that the man in front of him is innocent, but has not the strength of character to stand up for the truth when pressed.
Although some may feel sympathetic toward Pilate, and have even considered his defense of Christ’s innocence to be a mark of saintliness, there can be no excuse for Pilate having Christ scourged, when he knew Christ to be an innocent man.
This view is cemented when Pilate addresses the crowd, after the scourging: ‘See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him’. And yet again shortly after, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him’.
The shallowness of Pilate’s commitment to justice is revealed when he is tested by the Jews regarding his loyalty to Caesar. For this reason alone, his concern for personal security and ambition, Pilate knowingly accepts false witness and sentences to death a man not only innocent of crime, but one completely free of sin.
From the Gospel accounts Pilate cements for himself a place in history for villainy, for a man who kills in error is distinct from one who kills with the knowledge that what he does is wrong. Pilate’s tunnel-vision in permitting a sentence of guilt for Christ arises from a pre- existing condition of pride. He will risk only so much for the truth and no further; he cannot see the full canvas being painted out in front of him, for he chooses not too.
What other reason did the Procurator have for sentencing Christ to be executed while insisting that a plate be placed on the cross, written in three languages, that Christ was King of the Jews, had he not had more than a mere suspicion that somewhere in what he ordered written was that truth he so desired to find.
When Pilate addressed the crowd with ‘Ecce homo'(Behold the man’) he knew that he was condemning to death an innocent man. He knew that he had had an encounter with the Truth, but he also knew that for him, the Truth was not worth dying for, but rather it was better off dead.
The apocryphal Gospel of Peter and The Acts of Pilate both try to piece together the life of Pontius Pilate after the Crucifixion, and some of the Church Fathers have even quoted them as sources. Yet what became of Pilate, we do not know. Perhaps he did turn toward the God that he had had executed.
But one thing is certain enough on that afternoon when his order to kill Jesus was carried out. When an earthquake shook the ground below his feet, and a thunderstorm rocked the sky above his head Pontius Pilate, knowing that he had killed an innocent man, a man that had so disturbed his wife in a vision, could not have been impervious to the gravity of what he had done.
He must have known, as he entered and exited historical memory, that his actions would forever be a testimony to when you chose anything but the truth.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion. ” author=”Francis Bacon”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.” author=”Francis Bacon”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.” author=”Francis Bacon”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”You never find yourself until you face the truth.” author=”Pearl Bailey”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” author=”Allen Bloom”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Falsehood is cowardice, the truth courage.” author=”Hosea Ballou”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Man can certainly keep on lying… but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel… but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God.” author=”Karl Barth”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterward.” author=”Georges Bernanos”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.” author=”Josh Billings”/]
What is the truth?
By Kevin Cauley
Perhaps an equally fundamental topic as the existence of self, is the question of whether or not we can truly know something. The prevailing philosophy today regarding the subject of epistemology (the study of knowledge) is that one simply cannot know objective truth. It is, in fact, fashionable to say that one simply cannot be sure about anything, to claim utmost ignorance, and to ultimately not draw any definitive conclusions.
Such false thought comes from almost every philosophical circle that exists. The prevailing philosophy today, postmodernism, says that it is simply a waste of time to try to know objective truth. The philosophy of existentialism claims that truth is wholly subjective and that it can only be “known” from that perspective. Logical positivism claims that truth is merely a function of language and that without language, there would not be any truth. In one way or another the vast majority of philosophical circles have dismissed real objective truth as merely being a fictional construct imposed by purely subjective means. These philosophies declare, “There is no truth and even if there is, one cannot know it.”
It is, however, a very problematic thing to say, “There is no truth.” What about that statement itself? Does it not reflect that which is true? If it does not, then wouldn’t that statement itself be false? If to say, “There is no truth” is in itself a truth, then that is to admit to the contradictory of what one is trying to affirm. Self-contradictory statements are obviously false. The same can be said regarding the statement “One cannot know anything.” If one cannot know anything, then how, pray tell, can one know that one cannot know? Another self-contradiction.
THE TRUTH on the matter, however, is that there is such a thing as real objective truth. THE TRUTH on the matter is that one can indeed KNOW that truth. There is merely the matter of learning the Source of ALL TRUTH, and submitting to that Source in regard to one’s life. For now, we will be satisfied with the FACT that the existence of TRUTH and KNOWLEDGE points to something greater than our own selves. The existence of those things, in fact, implies a TRUTH Imparter and a KNOWLEDGE Giver, seeing that no subjectively claimed truth can stand the scrutiny of its own claim.
Joining then what we have said regarding self and now what we have regarding truth and knowledge, we see that with the existence of self and the existence of truth and knowledge, there is a relationship between those things. The self knows some truth.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.” author=”Otto von Bismarck”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” author=”William Blake”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth never penetrates an unwilling mind.” author=”J. L. Borges”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth, though it has many disadvantages, is at least changeless. You can always find it where you left it.” author=”Phyllis Bottome”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth is always exciting. Speak it, then. Life is dull without it.” author=”Pearl S. Buck”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction; for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.” author=”G. K. Chesterton”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I am the way, the truth, and the life.” author=”Jesus Christ”/]
Truth or Consequences
By Scott Wiley
The truth-seeker never starts with the desirability of the consequences to determine truth of a proposition. However, many today start their approach to truth on the assumption that if the consequences of a principle, doctrine or action are undesirable – especially if they are undesirable to themselves – then that principle, doctrine or action cannot be truth. Basically consequentialism is the idea that the truth of a claim or action is determined by whether or not it produces more good than an alternative claim or action. Generally the discussion revolves around utilitarian ethics, pragmatism, and a complicated type of proportionalism.
In the theological debates of the last 50 years or so, this is the grounds for much of what has been termed the “new morality” or “situation ethics” claiming that persons are more important than principles. Ultimately the value attached to a truth claim is reduced to “does it work for me.” This has the advantage of seeming to settle all the uncertainties. Problem is, the uncertainties created by consequentialism itself cannot be overcome by consequentialism.
- How do we know that we really have identified the best result?
- How do we know whether or not to look to the short-range good, or the long-range good? Are they identical? Are they at odds?
- How do we know that our choice really is the best one in the long run?
Consequentialism more or less takes the approach that a truth is true if it maximizes things of intrinsic value, and minimizes that which lacks intrinsic value. The problem is that is a circular argument. It assumes what is seeks to prove. A person must first have prior knowledge of what is of intrinsic value, in order to determine what does maximize intrinsic value. It also has a built in backdoor, that allows one to define the consequences and play the consequences to the individual off against the consequences to the group.
The result is that if a truth does not result in the desired outcome, it is not true. But if we do not already know that the desired outcome represents truth, we cannot know if the outcome is really to be the most desired. Someone said: “The greatest good for the greatest number is the principle of tyrants.” Millions can be sacrificed in the name of a greater good, deaths justified by the consequences.
Further, our Americanism tends to elevate the individual (more in theory than in practice) above group. Happiness is considered a right and it is considered unjust to deprive anyone of that which will make him happy. Thing is, the rights one claims may not really be rights that belong to him. That law or principle that justifies that “right” may be a bad law/ principle. It could, as a consequence of the claim, increase one’s personal happiness and/or quality of life, but in fact be based on a false truth-claim.
Consequentialism fails as a measure of the truth of an action or claim. The truth may indeed be expensive and painful and undesirable. The truth may create tension, difficulties, and apparent contradictions. But it remains truth.
- Truth is true – even if no one knows what it is.
- Truth is true – even if no one knows why it is true
- Truth is true – even if no one likes it
- Truth is true – even if people cannot agree on what it is
- Truth is true – even if it is painful
- Truth is true – even if it is not personally beneficial
Sometimes we must choose truth and accept the consequences no matter how difficult they are.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction.” author=”Lord Byron”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” author=”John Calvin”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” author=”Albert Camus”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” author=”Winston Churchill”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”This is the truth: as from a fire a flame thousands of sparks come forth, even so from the Creator an infinity of beings have life and to him return again.” author=”Marcus Tullius Cicero”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth hurts — not the searching after; the running from!” author=”John Eyberg”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is no truth. There is only perception.” author=”Gustave Flaubert”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is the torch that gleams through the fog without dispelling it.” author=”Hermann Hesse”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”To attempt seeing truth without knowing falsehood. It is the attempt to see the light without knowing the darkness. It cannot be.” author=”Frank Herbert”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth has a million faces, but there is only one truth.” author=”Hermann Hesse”/]
B.J. Clarke Tells This Story
He was driving into town to do his radio show when he came upon a terrible accident. Out in a field, just off the road, there was an overturned School Bus. Police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and all kinds of emergency vehicles were on the scene. EMT’s were tending to children and loading some into ambulances as other ambulances rushed away from the scene toward the hospital. All the way for the rest of his drive, he could only think about how terrible it was going to be for all of those parents to hear that their children were involved in that accident and injured or even killed. When he arrived at the radio station he began to ask the receptionist if she knew what had happened and if there was any news. She began to laugh at him! “You don’t know, do you?” She said. “What are you talking about,” he asked. “There was no accident. They’re conducting a drill. They’ve taken some of the kids from the school to participate and they’re testing the Emergency response for a major accident.” Now B.J.’s feelings of worry and concern for the children and their parents were real. But the genuineness of his feelings did not prove the truthfulness of the event. What he believed was real produced real feelings, but he was deceived. How many people today have been deceived into believing that something is true based on their emotions and feeling? Their feelings are genuine, but if they are based on falsehood instead of truth, their feelings are worthless. Do you seek the truth that is based on your feelings?[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Live truth instead of professing it.” author=”Elbert Hubbard”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Proverbs are always platitudes until you have personally experienced the truth of them.” author=”Aldous Huxley”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth consists of having the same idea about something that God has.” author=”Joseph Joubert”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.” author=”James Russell Lowell”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is no such thing as a harmless truth.” author=”Gregory Nunn”/]
When Tolerance Trumps Truth
By Donald De Marco
When Christ told his disciples that his teaching provided them with a liberating truth (“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free”), he was, at the same time, offering a blueprint for a liberal education.
In today’s post-modern world, the notion that truth leads to freedom is regarded as intolerant of other religious views. The new blueprint in the post-modern world is that tolerance, not truth, leads to freedom.
Tolerance has been absolutized, while truth has been relativized.
In philosophy this is critical, if an idea is out of order it is “lost, not in the usual sense that it is not to be found where you expected it to be, but in the much more radical sense that it is no longer to be found anywhere.”
One of the more urgent problems in the modern world is the recovery of philosophy (and truth along with it) so that we understand how various realities relate to each other, whether they be God and man, philosophy and politics, the state and its citizens.
The reason for the exaggerated importance given to tolerance and its promotion over truth, rests on the fact that we now live in a pluralistic world consisting of a wide diversity of values, customs and religious beliefs.
How, then, is it possible for people to live in harmony with each other and be tolerant toward each other’s differences?
If truth is invoked, it would presumably have the insidious effect of making one group appear superior to another and consequently intolerant. The answer to this problem has been the adoption of relativism and its concomitant removal of a philosophy that is anchored in truth.
Relativism in certain aspects has become the real religion of modern man. It represents the most profound difficulty of our day.”
The experiment in trying to be tolerant in the absence of any regulatory truth has proven to be a failure. It has inevitably led to a decisive intolerance of the Christians, for example, and not because they oppose tolerance, but because they refuse to accord it a higher status than truth.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, in the year 44 B.C., reasoned that religion without truth is merely superstition.
“We should do ourselves and our countrymen a great deal of good,” he wrote in his treatise, On Divination, “if we were to root superstition out entirely.”
But the great statesman and philosopher, mindful of the human proclivity to throw the baby out with the bathwater, was quick to assert that he did “not want religion destroyed along with superstition.”
He urged the abolition of superstition, but the retention of religion. We do not need superstition, he proposed, but we do need religion.
The distinguishing factor, for Cicero, was natural science that revealed the truth of things.
“That there is some eternal Being,” he wrote, “who stands out above the rest, and that the human race ought to serve and admire him, is an admission that the beauty of the universe and the orderliness of the celestial bodies compels us to make. Therefore, just as religion, being associated with natural science, ought actually to be propagated, so every root of superstition ought to be weeded out.”
Simply stated, Cicero enjoined his fellow countrymen to use truth as a way of distinguishing religion from what he deemed not worth tolerating, namely superstition.
Truth is needed to support religion as its preamble, but also points out that without truth there can be neither unity nor peace: “A great epoch in the history of mankind lies ahead of us in the millennium. It will not begin until there is a universal acknowledgement of the unity of truth in all areas of culture to which the standard of truth is applicable; for only then will all men be able to live together peacefully in a world of cultural community under one government. Only then will world civilization and world history begin.”
In an earlier work, Six Great Ideas, Adler distinguishes between the ideas by which we judge (truth, goodness and beauty) and the ideas by which we live (liberty, equality and justice). His basic point is that we cannot enjoy liberty, equality, and justice (ideas that virtually everyone endorses enthusiastically) unless we know something about truth, goodness and beauty.
For example, there can be no justice without truth. In the absence of truth, no verdict (verum + dicere — to tell the truth) can be delivered that separates the guilty from the innocent or justice from injustice.
It is a profoundly sad irony in the modern world that people are willing to ignore the very means that is indispensable for producing what they most ardently desire. They shun truth and expect justice to flower in a barren desert.
Marcello Pera, a non-believer, describes the present situation in the West as anything but the tranquility that arises from mutual tolerance, but as a “prison-house of insincerity and hypocrisy known as political correctness.”
People live in constant fear that any gesture or statement suggesting that one thing might be better than another is not only not tolerated, but met with scorn, derision and often severe reprisals. As Pera avers, “The adjective ‘better’ is forbidden.”
Philosophy, it should be emphasized, is not a luxury for the elite or an idol game indulged in at universities. Philosophy, because it is properly concerned with truth, goodness, beauty and other fundamental verities, is indispensable in providing the basis for civilization and all the benefits that flow from it, including unity, civility, justice, peace, art and science.
By setting tolerance above truth, tolerance degenerates into intolerance, while truth is abandoned altogether. The result is akin to what Plato describes in the opening of the seventh chapter of his Republic: cave dwellers who are intolerant of education, mesmerized by shadows, and closed to the light of truth that could improve their lives. The rejection of truth does not make people tolerant. As the great philosopher Jacques Maritain has stated, “The man who says ‘What is truth?’ as Pilate did, is not a tolerant man, but a betrayer of the human race.”
Tolerance can hardly be the first principle of human conduct. And it has never been the founding principle of any civilization. We are called to love, not to be tolerant.
Tolerance is not a first step or pro-active; it is acquiescence, capitulation to something to which one neither approves nor disapproves. It presupposes moral neutrality. It is a response, not an initiative, leaving the question, “Response to what?” unanswered.
When it is used as a first principle, it soon contradicts itself. The Spanish government, in the interest of expressing tolerance to married couples of the same sex who have adopted children, has replaced the “offensive” terms “father” and “mother” on birth certificates with “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B.”
What is initially tolerance toward same-sex couples soon becomes intolerance toward the very words “father” and “mother.”
The implication here is that expressing a philosophical opinion on this matter is not only discriminatory, but also indicative of a psychological disorder. Relativism that is the underpinning of an out-of-control political correctness conveys the message that human beings are fundamentally incapable of grasping the truth of things, that they would rather fight than think.
It is more than a bit ridiculous to ask a man who is about to be boiled in a pot and eaten, at a purely religious feast, why he does not maintain a relativistic view toward all religions.
The mind, and even the heart, may entertain absurdities, but it is most unlikely that one would continue denying reality when his nervous system calls his instinct for self-preservation to attention. A relativist cannot afford to get too close to reality.
Relativism is a default philosophy that emerges as a result of an unwillingness to put truth and tolerance in their proper order. But it is unworkable on a practical level and creates immense, though unnecessary, stumbling blocks in the path of education, democracy, and the implementation of the natural law.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” author=”Elvis Presley”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”One fool will deny more truth in half an hour than a wise man can prove in seven years.” author=”Coventry Patmore”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The absolute truth is the thing that makes people laugh.” author=”Carl Reiner”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.” author=”Robert J. Ringer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth does not do as much good in the world as the semblance of truth does evil.” author=”Duc de La Rochefoucauld”/]
“What is truth?”
By Bruce Foltz
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. For everyone who is on the side of truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him: “What is truth?”
Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judaea, would have been educated in the classical tradition that was so strongly influenced by Plato, and thus shaped indirectly by Plato’s teacher Socrates. According to Socratic/Platonic teaching, the truth is to be found within. We all possess the truth within us, and what we need from the teacher is someone to prompt us to recall what we already know, but of which we have somehow lost track; what we need is a “mid-wife” of the soul like Socrates to help to give birth to what is already alive within us. Yet what if we humans stand outside the truth in some decisive manner? What if deep inside we really are clueless?
Then we would need a teacher of a different sort. Not a Socrates whose teaching employed a style of questioning designed to evoke the inner truth we already possess, but a teacher who could give us what we are lacking altogether, i.e. someone who not only possessed the truth, but who was the truth–not just a teacher, but a teacher who was a savior as well. But what would “truth” mean, if this were so? No wonder Pilate asked “What is truth”. It was a question not about this or that truth, but about the nature of truth itself. It is indeed when we are confronted with a different kind of truth that we pose this question. And if we are confronted with too many kinds of truth at once, or if the clash of truths is too violent, our minds can get overloaded, the circuits can get crossed, we can conclude in despair that truth is utterly relative to the individual, and this possibility can haunt us throughout our lives.
So let us dispose of this ghost at once, so that we can think seriously about the truth, for this kind of subjective relativism can be easily refuted. Let us take the relativist’s claim that all truth is subjective or individually relative and simply ask whether or not it is true. If it is true, then at its own command it is rendered entirely subjective–i.e. “all truth is merely subjective” must itself be merely subjective, true only to the person who made it, and therefore having no claims on anyone else. And if it is not true, then we needn’t bother with it in the first place. It is, then, because this kind of relativism is so easy to refute that no one who has thought for long about the question of truth has seriously maintained it. Yet if there are, or might be, different kinds of truth, then the truth would be relative in another sense. Not subjectively relative, but relative to the standards proper to the kind of truth with which we are dealing. Take, for example, a mountain, a beautiful, enchanted mountain of your childhood, where magical places abound. Later, perhaps in high school, you take a geology class, and discover another mountain, one that is not in the least enchanted but the product of entirely comprehensible forces that worked over long periods of time. You could rashly conclude, in discovering a different kind of truth about the mountain, that all truth is subjective and arbitrary. Or you could decide that the mountain, and that the mountain you loved before was just an illusion. Or you could engage in a rearguard strategy, immersing yourself in all kinds of occultist lore in order to resurrect the enchantment you missed. But if you were luck, you would discover that the economist discloses yet another mountain, as does the ecologist, as does the poet, as does the Bierstadt painting, as does indeed the Navaho creation myth. Out of all this, you might well develop a pluralistic epistemology.
Now in philosophy, “epistemology” is the “theory of knowledge” (in ancient Greek, the word for knowledge is epistemè): the study of what counts as knowledge, and therefore what counts as truth. So your more sophisticated epistemology might maintain that all these mountains were true in their own way, but that it was quite important that you knew the strengths and limits of each of these kinds of knowledge–as well as of the ways of relating to the mountain that they variously require.
But there is an additional consideration, for often different kinds of truths make overlapping and competing claims. (The boundary-lines between kinds of truths are rarely neat and tidy.) And often within a given kind of knowledge, there are competing standards of truth. Either we already possess the great truths about life within us–or we do not. If we do, then we need one kind of teacher, and if not, then we need another kind. They can’t both be true–or if they can, then some higher, more inclusive vantage point needs to be discovered that would allow us to reconcile them. If the first option is the case, then the truth (when we “recollect” it) will have a familiar look to it (since we had it all along), whereas if the second turns out to be the case, then the truth (if we are fortunate enough to find a teacher who can deliver us from error) will most likely have a surprising, and perhaps even a paradoxical, character.
Another example, this time taken from the readings for this part of the course: Plato thinks that the ultimate truths about reality have a certain character. They possess a clarity and lucidity that is absolutely compelling, and have a logic about them that can’t be refuted. Lao Tzu, on the other hand, thinks what appears to be the opposite: that the ultimate truth is opaque and subtle, perhaps like a misty Chinese landscape painting. Are these competing standards for ultimate truth? Or are these two talking about different kinds of ultimates? Once again, Plato felt that seeking out contradictions, and rejecting the beliefs that led to contradictory conclusions was the best way to attain the truth. In contrast, Lao Tzu believes that truth has a very different “look and feel.” The best truths, he implies, are not just contradictory, but paradoxical!
Different kinds of truth? Or competing claims about what truth is like? These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked frequently as we all continue to ask: What is truth?[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is so rare that it is delightful to tell it.” author=”Emily Dickinson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.” author=”Ralph Waldo Emerson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” author=”Ralph Waldo Emerson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and must therefore be treated with great caution.” author=”J. K. Rowling”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” author=”Madame de Stael”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”If you shut the door to all errors truth will be shut out.” author=”Rabindranath Tagore”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” author=”Mark Twain”/]
Truth and a Jar Full of Beans
By Tim Stafford
A pastor I know, Stephey Belynskyj, starts each confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right. Belynskyj then turns to the list of favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste.
Belynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, Belynskyj says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song.
When Belynskyj told me this, it took my breath away. “After they say that, do you confirm them?” I asked him.
“Well,” smiled Belynskyj, “First I try to argue them out of it.”[do action=”vfquote” quote=”God is, even though the whole world deny him. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.” author=”Mohandas Gandhi”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth is one, but error is manifold.” author=”Simone Weil”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth provokes those whom it does not convert.” author=”Bishop Thomas Wilson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I worship God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him. I am prepared to sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest. Even if the sacrifice demanded my very life, I hope I may be prepared to give it.” author=”Mohandas Gandhi”/]
By Jim Fairer
The word ‘true’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘treowe’ meaning ‘believed’. ‘Believe’ itself is from ‘gelyfan’, ‘to esteem dear’. So etymologically, ‘truth’ would be something believed to be of some value, rather than necessarily being correct. ‘Believe’ is still used in the older sense, as in “I believe in democracy” – a different sense to ‘believing in Father Christmas’. Such ambiguity facilitates equivocation – useful to politicians, etc, who can be economical with the truth. One function of language is to conceal truth.
In an experiment by Solomon Asch, subjects were given pairs of cards. On one were three lines of different lengths; on the other card a single line. The test was to determine which of the three lines was the same length as the single line. The truth was obvious; but in the group of subjects all were stooges except one. The stooges called out answers, most of which were of the same, obviously wrong, line. The self-doubt thus incurred in the real subjects made only one quarter of them trust the evidence of their senses enough to pick the correct answer.
Schopenhauer noticed the reluctance of the establishment to engage with new ideas, choosing to ignore rather than risk disputing and refuting them. Colin Wilson mentions Thomas Kuhn’s contention that “once scientists have become comfortably settled with a certain theory, they are deeply unwilling to admit that there might be anything wrong with it” and links this with the ‘Right Man’ theory of writer A.E.Van Vogt. A ‘Right Man’ would never admit that he might be wrong. Wilson suggests that people start with the ‘truth’ they want to believe, and then work backwards to find supporting evidence. Similarly, Robert Pirsig says that ideas coming from outside orthodox establishments tend to be dismissed. Thinkers hit “an invisible wall of prejudice… nobody inside… is ever going to listen… not because what you say isn’t true, but solely because you have been identified as outside that wall.” He termed this a ‘cultural immune system’.
We may remember our experiences and relate them accurately; but as to complex things like history, politics, peoples’ motives, etc, the models of reality we have can at best be only partly true. We are naive if taken in by ‘spin’; we’re gullible, paranoid or crazy if we give credit to ‘conspiracy theories’; and, with limited knowledge of psychology, scientific method, the nature of politics etc, the ‘truth’ will tend to elude us there too.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The logic of the world is prior to all truth and falsehood.” author=”Ludwig Wittgenstein”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth is at the beginning of anything and its end are alike touching.” author=”Kenko Yoshida”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth is on the march and nothing will stop it.” author=”Emile Zola”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Another poll sheds light on this paradox of increased religiosity and decreased morality. According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of the American people also say they agree that “an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church or synagogue.” Thus the key to the paradox is the fact that those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms — terms that make no demands on behavior. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, embodies this attitude. “I believe in God,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It’s ‘Sheila-ism.’ Just my own little voice.” author=”Charles Colson”/]
Dr. Norman Geisler and Dr. Frank Turek make some important points regarding truth in their book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”. Some of their material is quoted below:
“We demand truth in virtually every area of our lives. For example; we demand truth from:
- Loved ones (no one wants lies from a spouse or a child)
- Doctors (we want the right medicine prescribed and the right operations performed)
- Stock brokers (we demand that they tell us the truth about companies they recommend)
- Courts (we want them to convict only the truly guilty)
- Employers (we want them to tell us the truth and pay us fairly)
- Airlines (we demand truly safe planes and truly sober pilots)
We also expect to be told the truth when we pick up a reference book, read an article, or watch a news story; we want the truth from advertisers, teachers, and politicians; we assume road signs, medicine bottles, and food labels reveal the truth. In fact, we demand the truth for almost every facet of life that affects our money, relationships, safety, or health.
On the other hand, despite our unwavering demands for truth in those areas, many of us say we aren’t interested in truth when it comes to morality or religion. In fact, many downright reject the idea that any religion can be true. As the reader has probably noticed there is a huge contradiction here. Why do we demand truth in everything but morality and religion?
Why do we say, ‘That’s true for you but not for me,’ when we’re talking about morality or religion, but we never even think of such nonsense when we’re talking to a stock broker about our money or a doctor about our health?
Although few would admit it, our rejection of religious and moral truth is often on volitional rather than intellectual grounds-we just don’t want to be held accountable to any moral standards or religious doctrine. So we blindly accept the self-defeating truth claims of politically correct intellectuals who tell us that truth does not exist; everything is relative; there are no absolutes; it’s all a matter of opinion; you ought not judge; religion is about faith, not facts! Perhaps Augustine was right when he said that we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us”.
What is Truth?
“Very simply, truth is ‘telling it like it is.’ Truth can also be defined as ‘that which corresponds to its object’ or ‘that which describes an actual state of affairs.’
There are many truths about truth. Here are some of them:
- Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independent of anyone’s knowledge of it. (Gravity existed prior to Newton.)
- Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times (2+2 = 4 for everyone, everywhere, at every time).
- Truth is unchanging even though our beliefs about truth change. (When we began to believe the earth was round instead of flat, the truth about the earth didn’t change, only our belief about the earth changed.)
- Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held. (Someone can sincerely believe the world is flat, but that only makes the person sincerely mistaken.)
- Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it. (An arrogant person does not make the truth he professes false. A humble person does not make the error he professes true.)
- All truths are absolute truths. Even truths that appear to be relative are absolute. (For example, ‘I, Bob, feel warm on November 20, 2003’ may appear to be a relative truth, but it is actually absolutely true for everyone, everywhere that Bob had the sensation of warmth on that day.)
In short, contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible. We can believe everything is true, but we cannot make everything true”.
The Roadrunner Tactic:
“If someone said to you, ‘I have one insight for you that will absolutely revolutionize your ability to quickly and clearly identify the false statements and false philosophies that permeate our culture,’ would you be interested? That’s what we’re about to do here. It goes like this: how to identify and refute self-defeating statements. An incident from a recent talk-radio program will demonstrate what we mean by self-defeating statements.
The program’s liberal host, Jerry, was taking calls on the subject of morality. After hearing numerous callers boldly claim that a certain moral position was true, one caller blurted out, ‘Jerry! Jerry! There’s no such thing as truth!’
I scrambled for the phone and began to dial furiously. Busy. Busy. Busy. I wanted to get on and say, ‘Jerry! To the guy who said, ‘there is no such thing as truth’-is that true?’’
I never did get through. And Jerry, of course, agreed with the caller, never realizing that his claim could not possibly be true-because it was self-defeating.
A self-defeating statement is one that fails to meet its own standard. As we’re sure you realize, the caller’s statement ‘there is no truth’ claims to be true and thus defeats itself. It’s like saying, ‘I can’t speak a word in English.’ If someone ever said that, you obviously would respond, ‘Wait a minute! Your statement must be false because you just uttered it in English!’
Self-defeating statements are made routinely in our postmodern culture, and once you sharpen your ability to detect them, you’ll become an absolutely fearless defender of truth. No doubt you’ve heard people say things like, ‘All truth is relative!’ and ‘There are no absolutes!’ Now you’ll be armed to refute such silly statements by simply revealing that they don’t meet their own criteria. In other words, by turning a self-defeating statement on itself, you can expose it for the nonsense it is.
We call this process of turning a self-defeating statement on itself the ‘Road Runner’ tactic because it reminds us of the cartoon characters Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. As you may remember from Saturday morning cartoons, the Coyote’s one and only quest is to chase down the speedy Road Runner and make him his evening meal. But the Road Runner is simply too fast and too smart. Just when the Coyote is gaining ground, the Road Runner stops short at the cliff’s edge leaving the passing Coyote momentarily suspended in midair, supported by nothing. As soon as the Coyote realizes he has no ground to stand on, he plummets to the valley floor and crashes in a heap.
Well, that’s exactly what the Road Runner tactic can do to the relativists and postmodernists of our day. It helps them realize that their arguments cannot sustain their own weight. Consequently they crash to the ground in a heap.
How can we distinguish truth from error?[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Throughout the whole world error & truth travel the same highways, work in the same fields & factories, attend the same churches, fly in the same planes & shop in the same stores. So skilled is error at imitating truth that the two are constantly being mistaken for each other. It takes a sharp eye these days to know which brother is Cain & which is Abel!” author=”A. W. Tozer”/]
Today error surrounds us on all fronts. It has become very powerful and widespread. In many instances it is blatant and in your face. In some cases it is subtle and lurks like a snake in waiting for its prey. And who are the most vulnerable to be led down the path of error?
- The Proud: Personal pride or ego will often blind you to the truth.
- The Self Seeking: You can’t see the truth when envy and narcissi distort your perception.
- The Ignorant: Ignorance is a playground for error in those who fail to seek both knowledge and wisdom.
So how do we know what is the truth?
- Does it magnify virtue?
- Does it put a virtue(s) at the center of attention?
- Is it in keeping with my guiding theology?
- Does it humble me?
- Does it deepen my love for fellow man?
- Is it diametrically opposed to vice? Non-compromising.
- Does it make virtue more attractive and vice intolerable?
If you can answer yes to all these questions then it’s probably the truth and you should feel confident taking that path.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Postmodernism is not the opposite of realism. Rather, postmodernism only questions the blatant acceptance of reality. If postmodernism did not ask the question of truth, but rather, assumed that (it is true that) there is no truth, it would be just as unassuming about truth as realism is.” author=”Abigail Muscat“/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Wisdom is found only in truth.” author=”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”First and last, what is demanded of genius is love of truth.” author=”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” author=”Nadine Gordimer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Truth, like a torch, the more it’s shook it shines.” author=”William Hamilton”/]
Without Objective Truth, Based On Natural Law, Society Will Reach A Dead End!
Miami, Fla., Apr 26, 2013 / Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami told judges and lawyers at the city’s 2013 Red Mass that freedom and law must be based on reality and objective truth.
According to Archbishop Wensk, “When a democracy bases itself on moral relativism and when it considers every ethical principle or value to be negotiable … it is already, and in spite of its formal rules, on its way to totalitarianism,”
“The might of right quickly becomes might makes right.”
The archbishop continued, showing that American jurisprudence has gone from an acknowledgement of self-evident truths and unalienable rights based on the Creator to a belief in a supposed “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
Archbishop Wenski warned against any and all endorsements of moral relativism, which determines truth “by one’s own will” rather than “the nature of things.”
Opposed to moral relativism, the view held by America’s Founding Fathers, is one that believes “men and women are not self-creators but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received, and it must reflect the reality of things.”
Without objective truth based on natural law, society will reach a “dead end,” the archbishop said.
“And our pluralistic society has reached this dead end when it seems to be based precisely on a common agreement to set aside truth claims about the good and to adopt instead relativism governed by majority rule as the foundation of democracy.” Such a society loses the true understanding of justice, and is ruled only by the un-tempered will of the majority, he explained.
Settling on moral relativism for lack of self-evident truths ? , objective truth’s……..Hmmmmmmm, sounds like these lawyers and judges could use a refresher course on the virtues.