Is it true that the only truth is that there is no truth?
Is there such a thing as truth? If yes, where does it apply?
Is the truth what a given person believes?
When Is it important to determine truths?
How can we go about determining the truth in a given area?
Today he posts a bunch of responses. I’m a day late because I was on the road, but here goes.
I want to pursue this along two tracks.
First, Mike’s questions are so damn hard because the reigning theory of truth is problematic. We think of truth as a correspondence between a statement and state of affairs. This has gotten mixed up with a representational view of consciousness, that is, the view that we know the world by creating an inner representation of it. There are millions of examples of this way of thinking, starting with our view of insanity as having ideas in your head that don’t correspond to the world, but I happened upon some just yesterday in the book about Douglas Englebart, called Boostrapping by Thierry Bardin. Englebart wrote that language is “the way in which the individual parcels out the picture of his world into the concepts that his mind uses to model the world…” (p. 36). This view of consciousness and of our relation to our world is – IMO – insanely wrong, but it is the basis of our theory of truth.
Second, Friedman’s column says that the great world religions have to accept that none has the one and only truth. In particular, he chastises Islam for not yet accepting the validity of other religions. But Friedman is wrong, I believe, in lumping Christianity and Judaism together on this issue. Becoming Christian means accepting a body of beliefs as true. Becoming a Jew means having a Jewish mother. Jews are a people. That’s why Jews traditionally have not proselytized; suggesting that you ought to become a Jew is akin to suggesting that you ought to become Italian. And that’s why Jews have not maintained that their scripture needs to be accepted by everyone and that everyone needs to keep kosher. Thus, the “truths” of Judaism are different in type than the “truths” of Christianity and Islam: they are a set of practices more than a set of beliefs, and they are practices required only of those born as Jews. (I’m over-simplifying, of course. There are some practices – not killing, not lying, etc. – that Jews do hold are required of all.) Further, Judaism is thoroughly hermeneutic; it’s baked into the religion that scripture always needs to be interpreted. In fact, it needs to be interpreted not by individuals who randomly proclaim the Truth as they see it but by an historical community of thinkers and talkers. This multi-thousand year conversation among learned and thoughtful Jews is one of the truly distinctive marks of this religion.
So, where does this leave us with regard to truth? I’m going to state a position and not argue for it because: the argument is too long and complex for a blog and it’s too long and complex for the likes of me. Nevertheless, it strikes me as obvious. (Note: I didn’t make this up. I’m summarizing and interpreting a clump of thinkers that are generally called Continental Philosophers.) Truth is a way of uncovering the world. “Uncovering” is a good word to use because it implies that you are seeing what was there all along even though you weren’t aware of it. There are lots of ways of uncovering the world. Not all are equally good. Some are just plain stupid or loony. There are some tests that work for some types of uncoverings; science works real good as one way of uncovering the world. But there isn’t one killer test that can ride roughshod over all others: science works, but so does poetry. It’s important to recognize that we are not alone in our uncovering of the world. We do it together on the basis of a history of thought and art and stories and language that we cannot escape. Truth is not simply what anyone happens to believe. It is the way we – our culture and our history – have uncovered the world. It is not something in our head; it is the way our language allows the world to show itself to us.
Or, like, anyway, that’s my truth. Whatever. Dude.
Response from and to Tom Matrullo
The always insightful Tom Matrullo has responded to the above on his estimable site. After saying some nice things about my post, he concludes with:
…”the way our language allows the world to show itself to us” appears to remain, as they say, “inscribed” entirely within the realm of the eye, a system that seems ineluctably to entail a notion of truth as the relationship between a representational model and an underlying something that is real.
Or am I missing something here, David?
Is the problem that “show” sounds like it refers only the visual? My bad. The world shows itself to us through touch, sounds, and smells as well as through sight. But even if it were confined to sight, that wouldn’t mean that the model has to be representational. The Continental philosophers – more precisely, the phenomenologists – started from the insight (there’s that “sight” word again!) that the attempt to discern what was certain and knowable had led our philosophical tradition to over-emphasize raw perception. When you consider your relationship to the world in terms of perception, you are stripping out what’s meaningful in that relationship. We normally are not in the world as perceivers but as act-ers and care-ers. So, while we can seem to achieve a state in which we are forming mental images of an external world, that state is the exception and shouldn’t be taken as indicating the truth (there’s that word again!) of our relation to the world.
Tom, have I missed your point?
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