What Is Truth?

I found myself recently engaged in a discussion which centered around the question “what is truth?”

An interesting question which poses many risks in terms of providing an answer. When I refer to risks, I am of course talking about the polar opposite exercise of earnestly pursuing too deep a philosophical debate that accomplishes little more than inflaming personal passions or, conversely, falling into a whimsical irreverence that is reminiscent of the Bill Cosby “why is there air” routine.

For those who may not recall the Cosby musings, the comedian related a story from his college days when he was dating a girl who was a philosophy major.

In his own unique way, Cosby wryly observed that while his girlfriend’s philosophy class debated the deep issues on subjects such as “why is there air?” he could not understand why such a question posed so great of a challenge. As an athletics major he knew the answer to why there is air . . . to blow up basketballs, footballs, volleyballs . . .

The above being said, as a writer I could not resist the urge to at least attempt to tackle the what is truth question, which I am happy to share with you now. I of course hope that you will generously provide your own “two cents” and offer your thoughts by way of a comment.

Interesting thoughts Jackie, which immediately turned my attention to “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” in which Neil Postman referenced the fear expressed by Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World that “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” The question of course is simply this, with the advent of citizen journalism broadening the artificially narrowed funnel through which traditional media disseminated “truths” one cannot help but wonder what impact this will have on the question/observations you have presented.

You indicated that “We the people are not as bewildered as we once were,” and perhaps this is even truer today with the accessibility to information afforded us through social networking and social medium. But is volume really the basis for establishing the foundation to which you are referring? Or are we in fact experiencing an increasing cacophony of competing and even conflicting ideals that bring us no closer to the truth than we were when we were the huddled masses willing and trustfully accepting what those in power fed us as universal truths?

Ultimately, and perhaps a victim to the human need for simple explanations delivered in neatly packaged idioms, I cannot help but recall the “there are three sides to every story . . . yours, mine and the truth” axiom.

I do not think truth is so much something that we possess as it is something we need to seek with both openness and humility, as well as the acknowledgment that our personal experiences and resulting predilections like the compass itself does not always point the way to the true north.

I am not talking about the mindless acquiescence to the seemingly random (emphasis on seemingly) occurrences of everyday life, but instead an earnest curiosity that challenges and therefore extends us beyond our known, and often passionately guarded boundaries of supposed understanding.

In short, truth exists around us and despite us, occupying it’s own immutable realms of infinite existence. An existence, which has yet to be fully revealed to us but for a few fleeting moments that are manifested in the acts of decency, courage and love we are sometimes privileged to either experience or witness from time-to-time.

Now we may try to emulate these genuine events based on a subconsciously obfuscated memory that is as fleeting as a wisp of smoke. Perhaps this means that we must therefore be content with the fact that our recognition and ultimate pursuit of these better angels represent the pinnacle of truth in our present world. In essence, accept the fact that the awareness of truth will have to suffice until we experience truth in its full glory in a new world.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. Now I have to go a find a few basketballs and footballs to fill with air.

7 Responses to “What Is Truth?”
  1. Caprice says:

    I am trying to write a book based on this idea of truth, perception and reality. There is a statement above which baffles me. You speak of truth being infinite which I would tend to agree with based on personal experience. But you go on to say that it manifests itself fleetingly in displays of courage and love etc. Is it that truth manifests itself only in positives acts or acts that is universally considered to be good and pure. Or can truth be displayed in acts of violence, anger and disfunction or is it that these negative displays are evidence of a truth or the truth that cannot be seen. For instance the idea that most molesters were once molested is the greater truth while one truth is that the person molests. Can many truths exist in pertaining to circumstances, events and the human condition?
    Which leads to the other statement that you made and my other source of confusion.
    “as well as the acknowledgment that our personal experiences and resulting predilections like the compass itself does not always point the way to the true north.”
    The idea of truth and perception I have had trouble explaining to others till this moment. All my ruminating exist on the basis of human dynamics and conditions that I have observed and experience. It came upon me one day that truth and perception are not always the same thing but one does dictate the other. Perception comes from what you say are predilections based on personal experience and observation, what I call empirical evidence from being alive ( I do not know if it right to say so). But is it enough to lay judgement on others based on their actions that do fit a generalization like zodiac scientists? Is it fair? And though an idea or perception may be universally accepted as truth is it even truth. I am a trinidadian and in my country their is a saying “if tanty say so and granny say so then is so” meaning if everybody believes something then it has to be true. How does one deal with these things in terms of their own lives and the disruption not fully founded conclusions may cause on one’s life.
    Which leads to my other question of perception and reality and where is the truth in these. My mind is a bit muddled to expand fully . But I will think on it some more.

    • Thank you for your comments and of course questions.

      From my perspective, our debates surrounding truth doesn’t change or alter truth in that it is a reality that exists beyond our finite understanding (this is why it should be pursued with a humble openness).

      While the “truth” of events within this framework is clear as it relates to the evil in the world to which you had referred, the issue is not its existence as a factual account, but is instead found in its relation to truth.

      What you are talking about is the fact of occurrence re crime or natural catastrophes versus the greater meaning relative to the truth of our existence.

  2. JRA says:

    Who cares what truth is. Everyone will continue to lie anyways.

  3. Willo says:

    To us analytic philosophers/philosophy majors, clarity of thought is valued above everything else, and with such a central question as “what is truth”, this article caused brain tumors in analytic philosophers everywhere.

  4. Willo says:

    To elaborate: (will try to keep it short).

    Note that when we ask “what does X mean” (where ‘X’ is some word), we are looking for something like, what we are refering to when we use that word (loosely) in everyday language. As such, we’d have lots of questions to ask if it was the case that “truth” refers to something in its own immutable realm of infinite existence. Questions such as, “how do we engage with this realm?” “what does it mean to say truth reveals itself?”. These are all weird things when it comes to a word which we can use so easily and often in every day conversation. “Is ‘truth’ a mass noun a count noun or a proper noun?” (you have used all three in this article, which suggests to me you are actually switching between different uses of the word ‘truth’). In particular, how does this metaphysics of truth if you will correspond to the very simple uses of the word ‘true’ with respect to statements. I.e. it is true that I walked my dog today. It is true that the sky is blue. It is true that 1 + 1 = 2. It is true that apples are always perfect cubes.

    I don’t want to pass on disrespect, but it’s clear by your extremely vague words amd incoherent ideas that you aren’t ready to tackle a question like “what is truth”. I’d warmingly recommend you do some reading in basic philisophical critical thinking, you’ll be surprised. 🙂

    • Thank you again Willo for your second comment on this subject. The fact that you have responded twice within so short a time frame is what every writer hopes to do . . . specifically, stimulate discussion and debate.

      It is not a matter of right and wrong as I am certain you can and will appreciate, but the journey of engagement.

      I may not agree with your take on a particular subject but, I am enriched by its contribution.

  5. Russ says:

    Currently I am a philosophy major at SJSU and in a class I took last semester we tackled the question “What is there?” which is very similar the question you are attempting to answer in this thread. The question itself is difficult to answer in the context you’re using. I would much rather answer this question in the manner of all things like I had to during my philosophy class. If you can understand what there is you can understand the truth, I would suggest reading some Berkeley, Hume and Locke so that you might be able to answer this question with a better stance. I myself have no input into the question of “what is truth” because I myself still have trouble understanding what there is.

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