Tuesday, July 2, 2013

But just what is "truth," anyway?

In my last post, I wrote about how knowledge does not come about but by parents, that is, through an exclusive relationship of trust. But this exclusion doesn't last, and it becomes at some point clear that truth doesn't depend on the will of one or two people. I can verify it directly. I have my own sense of right and wrong, and this sense is worth trusting.

Or is it? The only reason I learn to trust my own senses is because I first trust someone else's. I learn what "blue" and "red" mean because my parents repeat the words and associate them to the colors. At some point I stop relying on them and have faith in myself to be fully aware of the difference. Then if my parents try to play a trick on me, I know better.

Better ... Again, the paradox of language is that I can only assert myself by imitating another. When is it that I become so assured of my own opinion that I am willing to relativize a change in my parents' opinion?

It is entirely possible that I become self-assured far too early. After all, I thought many things as a child which were simply not true. If parents overly affirm their child's ability to reason for himself, he may become overly self-assured and therefore run into trouble. On the other hand, a sufficient amount of affirmation is necessary for the child to be capable of thinking or knowing at all. If a child merely remains attached all of his life to his parents' beliefs and ideas, then he has not truly learned anything. Knowledge is healthy self-confidence matched with healthy self-doubt and reliance on others.

So what is this truth thing, anyway? How do I judge a statement true or false?

Words are there to help us know something. In English there is only one word where the Latin languages have two. What I mean here by know is connaƮtre. If facts about something are relevant, it is only because I have already imagined the something in my mind's eye. I know it, I can name it. The world around me consists of all such things, not merely concrete, touchable, seeable things, but anything that I can know through some combination of mental, physical, and spiritual interaction.

Words do not merely assign labels to things we know, but also helps us know them. I call my beloved by her name. It is not for mere ability to identify or locate my beloved that I use her name; it is also because her name draws me closer to her--physically, mentally, and spiritually. And if physically I cannot be near something, I can always use the name to remind myself of it, so that even if my memory of its physical qualities is lacking, I still have access to it. Thus even if the thing is abstract and has no physical properties, I still have access to it via language.

But words are so arbitrary. I have already mentioned how English has but one word where others have two. Is our world populated by different things, depending on our language? No, but the level and manner of access may be different.

What is truth, anyway? It's really mostly that stubborn refusal to give up on a world we all share. Anyone can interpret that world as she wishes, but she cannot claim it as her own. Other people and things inhabit that world, whether she is aware of them or not. This is why her claims are either true or false, or have some degree of truth or falseness: she is not in charge of her own world.

But if truth is nothing but a stubborn refusal, is it justified? In other words, is truth true? How can we ever begin to answer such a question?

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