In Whining, Veritas

Truth is an odd concept in philosophy. A famous film has the line ‘archaeology is the search for facts; if you’re after truth, Prof. [whoever]’s philosophy class is down the hall’. Amusing. And interesting, if only for the sharp implication that facts and truth are so obviously distinct.

At least, some philosophers may find that interesting. Some philosophers do, or have, troubled themselves with theories of what truth may be. There are, for example, correspondence theories of truth, which generally hold that statement A about x is true if statement A’s claims match the worldly state or whatever of x. For example my statement that I failed to rotate the dolphin this morning is true if the dolphin was not rotated that morning by me. Alternatively it is false if I perhaps gyrated the dolphin, or spent my time that morning rotating something else. Generally this approach is a) valid, b) correct and c) utterly pointless. If, in real life or philosophical musing, you are sufficiently lost that you need to think about this variety of truth then you need a handler, not a theory.

Things become more interesting, potentially more useful, but often very confused when other varieties of truth are spoken of. Not least because on contrast to much philosophical work not a great deal of effort goes into keeping them distinct. For example it is entirely true that nothing is True. I won’t devote much time to pointing out that all systems of belief (for it is there where capital letters threaten us with such Platonically sinister intent) are untrue. Or, more accurately, unTrue. More interesting philosophers have written much about the idea of Truth as in some way transcending the utterly mundane correspondence type truth above being entirely vacuous. That in some way beliefs, belief systems, exist or inhere in some sense beyond their being contingently hosted by at least one person. This is rarely given much explicit treatment, but it is utterly endemic among people, and codified by philosophers and theologians. Religion, culture, morality, justice, virtue, superstition, meaning – they are all grand codifications which are endlessly touted as cause for this or that.

To be mildly circular, it isn’t true, of course. Grind the universe to powder and no particle of truth or belief will be found. Reset the species and new contingent truths will arise, as firmly held and immutable in the eyes of people as the present ones are. All Truths are false, and they are all as false as each other.

The most interesting philosopher, who also never felt trivial, and yet true, correspondence truth was worth mentioning, and who also knew all Truths are false, nevertheless considered that all false Truth was not all equal. Some lies – like virtue – can be beautiful. Or so I say. Some – like religion – can be demeaning and infinitely perverse. That philosopher was probably kinder than I. He didn’t much begrudge some who needed to lie to themselves to get by. Not many possess anything like the strength or (pause for laughs) honesty to encompass the lies for what they are and live without delusion. Or, more on topic, not many possess the type of nature which can truly recognise all human custom and structure as calumny and yet steer a valid course.

Some might even wonder if a topic written with such disdain for Truth was really meant in any serious fashion.


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