I have been spending some time recently thinking about truth.
No, that’s not quite right. I haven’t necessarily been thinking about truth, but I have been thinking about the subject of truth.
That’s not quite right either. I guess I’ve been thinking about thinking about truth. Meta-truth, if you will. And as I did so, I started to get that semi-relativistic head-throbbing that comes when trying to work out the paradoxes of epistemology. So I took a step back, took a deep breath, and eventually I realized something. It’s nothing hugely profound, or even novel. But I think it’s important, nonetheless.
Perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on ‘truth.’ Perhaps this is the wrong primary approach. This word ‘truth’ is, after all, deceptive. Because we are not often very certain of it’s parameters or its contents, we are often left with jumbles pieces and we know not how to assemble them. We end up being circus clowns of truthiness, juggling and dancing to keep up while endeavoring to keep a straight, serious, face. Truth is serious stuff, after all, and not for clowns.
This reminded me of something that good old Soren Kierkegaard said:
One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’ One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in error.
Yeah! Take that all you people in error. I’m gonna kick the truth into you…or something…. You’re gonna wish you ain’t done been wrong in all that error-having you have had…. Sorry, lost it there for a second. Kierkegaard has that kind of affect on me, it seems.
I will not comment on the quote itself, but will prefer to allow it to speak for itself. I have always liked it though, and am glad to pass it on.
What is the truth? Is there (or is there not) a god? I don’t know. How to evaluate something that is often so nebulous and slippery as the concept ‘god’ which makes belief in often impossible for the mere fact that we don’t know what the term is supposed to indicate. How can I say it does not exist when I don’t know what it is? How can I believe in it for the same reason?
(And how do so many people keep claiming that atheism is the claim that there is no god in light of this impossibility?)
But at least we can ask people to be truthful, to tell the truth as best they can, in order to have an honest discussion. But something is not quite right about that phrase. For some time I could not quite put my finger on what it was, but then it occurred to me; I’m not so much advocating truth as I am advocating honesty.
The simple, brute, fact is that we can’t always know that we have the “truth” in order to give it to others. If someone asks me to give them the truth, I often have little choice but to cock my head and follow-up with some question. I need clarification. And even if I receive the ideal level of clarification, I won’t necessarily be able to give the TruthTM.
But I can be honest. I can even give good reasons that support the opinion I am being honest about. But do I dare call it truth?
It seems that such a step is often considered arrogant. How do I know it’s true? What if I’m wrong?
What I think is going on here is that the term ‘honesty’ has a flavor to it which is often soft and bland. It has no zing to merely be honest. People want the truth, right? Being honest is merely stating an opinion. But giving the truth…well that’s just sexy!
There is a responsibility behind claiming to give the truth which may not seem as naturally wedded to being honest; and perhaps for good reason. But I feel that in presenting our beliefs, we have a responsibility to make sure that those belief have gone through some thought, fact-checking, and other considerations. They, perhaps, have not gone through peer-review, but that is what saying them is for.
And to think those ideas to be true? Well, at some point the ideas we hold, especially if they survive our vetting and the conversational battle-field, we will believe with the force of ‘truth’ (whatever that is) whether it is objectively true (whatever THAT is…) or not.
But recently I’m preferring the concept of honesty, responsible honesty, to truth.
And honesty, in light of politics (both governmental and interpersonal), is an idea perhaps more fundamental and important. The simple fact is that I don’t often believe that many people are truly…honestly…being honest with themselves or with other people.
I think that would be a good place to start for many people I’ve known in my life.
But they might not even know I’m talking about them. While they may see the truth in what I say, they may not see the dishonesty in which they live.