“It is tempting to explain the plurality of good answers to knowledge questions in terms of a type of truth relativism: “it is just a matter of perspective”. A more likely explanation is that different interpretations of key ideas account for the different conclusions or that the weighting of different factors in the argument differ.”–TOK Guide, 2015
Real Life Situation
In the politics of the USA under the governance of the Trump regime (and its latest machinations since its arrival in 2016) one sees what appears to be and may be called an “assault on truth”; it is the politics of the gutter. Many of those who wish to retain power demonstrate an “intentional ignorance” with regard to the shenanigans that America is engaged in domestically and in its foreign policy abroad. This assault on truth is not a modern phenomenon nor simply a Western one, nor is it simply an American phenomenon. It is not merely the comportments and posings of human beings who are seen to be on the ‘left’ or on the ‘right’. And again, this assault is not merely shown in the promotion of falsehoods which may defy common sense. Rather it is an indication of what happens, and what is happening to, human being-in-the-world as the technological society totters towards its apogee.
In the West, the assault on truth has been present in our “shared knowledge” (History) since the time of Socrates’ life and death struggle with the Sophists and the poets. In that struggle Socrates lost and was put to death. The current assault on truth is grounded in, and finds its origins in, what has come to be interpreted as truth and its understanding as well as its relation to knowledge and common sense or “practical reason” (applied reason). The separation of theory and practice began with Aristotle when he asserted that the highest life was the bios theoretikos, the life of the philosopher as he understood it, and the theoretical life proposed by Aristotle made the philosopher the “umpire” who decided the many political interests that different groups within the community propounded. The philosopher was the superior statesman and this led to the many denigrations of the philosophical life as that of “living in an ivory tower”.
This current assault illustrates how the theoretical and the practical, the theory and practice, pure reason and practical reason, the ethics (freedom) as actions are interwoven and interconnected. When one reads many of the “perspectivists” views of truth (and our quote from the TOK Guide illustrates the confusion that currently prevails with regard to “truth”), one sees in them a misunderstanding of the writings of the German philosopher Nietzsche (among the best of them) or some of the flimsy interpretations of truth, knowledge and “reality” among the pragmatists that currently dominate the academia and the powerful of our societies. As Nietzsche demonstrated and predicted, positivism will inevitably devolve into nihilism.
This writing will attempt to explore what can be called the phenomenon of this assault on truth, its possible causes and its implications. It will begin with brief summaries of the historical background of the predominant theories of truth (correspondence, coherence, pragmatic) and attempt an analysis of why truth is now under assault both in the world of academia and in the societies of which we are members; that is, it will glance at our theory and practice, our ethics and our politics, and illustrate the inadequacies of the common views of truth which are most prevalent today. To do so, it will make statements regarding what the essence of truth is and in doing so must necessarily make statements of what we conceive the essence of knowledge to be.
Historical Background and Key Concepts
Key Concepts: Truth as aletheia (unhiddenness, unconcealment), correspondence theory of truth, coherence theory of truth, pragmatic theory of truth, freedom
Truth as Aletheia (Uncoveredness, unhiddenness):
For the ancient Greeks such as Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato truth was aletheia, an “unveiling”, or an “uncoveredness”, and “unhiddenness” that reveals some thing and gives us our knowledge of what that some thing is by showing us what that some thing is in its presence before us. It rested primarily on sense perception as a way of knowing. “Throwing light” on something prevails in all theories of truth from the time of the ancient Greeks to the quotation above from the TOK guide: the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth all retain a grounding in truth as an unveiling, a revealing and a lighting up of some kind which provides “enlightenment” for human beings. It is the varying degrees of this “lighting up” that has led to the “perspectival” views expressed by many today. This “lighting up” comes about through what we have called our ways of knowing. It is through our ways of knowing that we experience what we call “truth”, our “freedom”, and the essence of what it means to be a human being or what it is about us as human beings that distinguishes us from all other living beings. Truth, knowledge and freedom are inextricably linked.
“Truth” has always been associated with “light”, not in a metaphorical or abstract sense but in a literal sense. It might be compared to those times when you switch on the light the moment you enter your hotel room when you are travelling and what was in darkness is then revealed to you. You will notice that there is no abstraction in this example: it is simply one of our experiences of the world we live in. We know what a hotel room is and should be in advance and we have expectations about it prior to the revealing of it.
This hotel room example illustrates “truth” as an ontological state, how the world about us is revealed to us in our living in it through our ways of knowing and, in the revealing, becomes what we have called our knowledge of our world. This ontology, this being-in-the-world, is coupled with our “metaphysics”, what we think the things are or should be that are ready-to-hand for us in our experiences of our world. The “revealing” creates our mood: we will either be pleased with our hotel room or we will not. We are pleased with the world in which we dwell or we are not. It need not be the best of all possible hotel rooms, an ideal hotel room, but whether or not it meets our needs will determine how we will evaluate it when we logon to Trip Adviser.
How we “feel” about the world around us is given to us in our experiences of that world, but our experience of the world is prior to our feeling response to it. That is, emotion as a way of knowing the world is posterior to our experience of the world as it is illuminated for us. After the initial revealing, what we believe is revealed will determine our mood towards it. To use a musical analogy, we may view our world in A Major or C Minor and this determines our “attunement” towards it; our experiences of the world will be determined by the need for harmony within the “key” that we have come to view the world. The point of the hotel room example is to show that truth as aletheia is not confined to our explicit assertions or propositions regarding things nor to our discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgements, beliefs and representations that we arrive at through our ways of knowing. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by our moods as by our ways of knowing and understanding. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of our thoughts and utterances. Truth is not a human creation or construct; it is given to us and our partaking in it is part of our human nature. Truth itself is not related to “perspectivism” as it is commonly understood for “perspectivism” sees us as the center of this world which is contrary to our knowledge from our sciences and our.religions.
Truth as understood by the Greeks also relates to a human being as one “who does not hide or forget”. It is a person of candor and frankness, someone who does not dissemble or lie when being with others. It is the person who is “free” to be the person that they are. Truth is a product of our world; and falsehood is the product of human being in the world. The world does not lie; it hides.
The best example that we have in English of “truth as light” and how it affects human behaviour when truth is not so is Shakespeare’s Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth says of her husband that “he is too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way”, she is saying something about truth and its relation to what human beings are. She recognizes that to achieve the kingship, Macbeth will have to cease to be human in some essential manner; he must cease to be himself. He must become “unnatural” in order to carry out the act of murder i.e. he must become something less than human; and so she prays to the spirits of darkness to make her unnatural so that she may “pour her spirits” into Macbeth’s ear so that he will be capable of hearing what she believes must be done i.e. she must “poison” his mind and soul. Lady Macbeth recognizes that her husband is “not without ambition/ But without the illness should attend it”. She needs to make him “ill” if he is going to carry out the murder. We have a saying in English that when we are ill we “are not ourselves today” meaning that we are less than what we usually are as a human being.
The deterioration in Macbeth’s humanity is shown in his initial soliloquy entitled “If it t’were done when ’tis done…”. Macbeth is unable to bring the word “murder” to speech, to consciousness, to light and so he uses the pronoun “it” to refer to the killing of King Duncan. Shakespeare, through Macbeth, introduces a new word into the English language, “assassination”, because Macbeth himself is unable to say what the thing is that he is about to do: “murder”. The word is embedded in the lines: “If the assassination/ Could trammel up the consequence/ And catch with his surcease success…” The lines contain sibilance, that “hissing” sound, to indicate that what is being said is evil; that is the truth and reality of what Macbeth does not want to see. Macbeth will not allow the thing which he is about to do to come to light for what it is. He will, if you like, remain “intentionally ignorant” of what the thing is or deny the light as light. For Shakespeare, good and evil are not constructs of the human mind–they are not “values” that human beings will and create in their actions. They are truth and they are essential to our being as human beings. The root of all sin is the sin against the light or not recognizing the light as light. The denial of truth destroys something essential to our humanity.
Macbeth’s tragedy is not due to his ambition and the “illness” that he must receive in order to act in a way that will achieve that ambition, but to his lack of self-knowledge: he does not know who he is; and this lack of self-knowledge is a feature of all tragic heroes. He lacks that most essential light for knowing who he really, truly is. He is a great soldier, courageous and brave, the saviour of his country; but he is not a king for he does not have the qualities that make for a king; he has the qualities that make for a great soldier. Under Macbeth’s rule, Scotland becomes a tyranny and Macbeth himself becomes a monster and both the man and the country are destroyed and must be renewed at the end of the play. It would appear that lack of self-knowledge for human beings causes them to create wastelands, the nihil. Macbeth’s soliloquy :” Out, out, brief candle./ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth’s judgement of life is that of a man who has violated the principles of life; it is not Shakespeare’s judgement of life. It is the judgement of a man who has lost his humanity because he has chosen darkness and obfuscation rather than the light. The root of all sin is the sin against the light or not recognizing the light as light.
Motifs of light and dark, fair and foul, appearance and semblance, illness and health run throughout the play and reinforce its central theme regarding truth and its relation to human beings and their actions. Lady Macbeth’s prayer to be made “unnatural” may be said to be the opposite of Socrates’ prayer at the end of the dialogue Phaedrus which runs: “Dear Pan, and all you other gods who live here, grant that I may become beautiful within, and that whatever outward things I have may be in harmony with the spirit inside me. May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich, and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs. — Is there anything else that we can ask for, Phaedrus? For me, that prayer is enough.” Socrates’ prayer for the unity and harmony of the inner and outer being of human being and world indicates that what is “natural” is something that human beings must strive for, and that “striving for” is not an easy journey.
The adherence to truth as a “lighting up” can still be seen in the quote from the TOK Guide above where the “unveiling” is to be found in the conclusions and the “factors” and their “weighting” that have been brought forward from the propositions asserted regarding our knowledge of some thing. What we call “knowledge” is inextricably linked to what we call truth and what we believe the truth to be. The “factors” and their “weighting” (the evidence and its “value”) are arrived at through how much they illuminate the thing that is under examination and discussion. When we “evaluate” performances, whether they be essays or oral presentations, we do so in the understanding of how much they illuminate the object or thing that is under discussion. A norm or standard has been pre-established and we illustrate this norm through exemplars and reward our A’s and E’s accordingly.
The Correspondence and Coherence Theories of Truth
“Truth as correspondence” and “truth as coherence” find their origins in the thinking of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. They are what is understood as the logos. Following Aristotle, these concepts of truth have had three historical phases: 1. their origins in Aristotle; 2. their interpretation by the Latins and the early, medieval Christians; 3. their interpretations by the moderns beginning with Descartes and followed through in the writings of Leibniz and Kant which culminated in the distinction and separation of “subject” and “object”, what could be said to be the opposite direction from that indicated in Socrates’ prayer. Some brief words on these three stages will be mentioned shortly. In examining the historical backgrounds of our accounts of truth, we need to look at how the three phases of what is called truth came about.
First, truth has been considered historically as the “actual” or “the real”, “reality” or what we now call the world of “facts”. We distinguish “true gold” from “false gold”, for instance: “false gold” is not actual; it is a “semblance” of “real” gold. But “false gold”, too, is something actual, something real. Genuine gold is, then, that actual gold the actuality of which accords with what, always and in advance, we “properly” mean by “gold.” Hence, what is in “accord” is what is “as it should be”; in the play Macbeth illness is what is not in accord. Notice that there is no distinction between “fact” and “value” here. We call “true” our statements about the things when the statement is in accord with the matter about which the statement is made. We call this a “true proposition”. Accordingly, the correspondence of a matter with what is supposed in advance regarding it (such as “genuine gold”) and, on the other hand, the accordance of what is meant in the statement with the matter is what has been considered the true historically . (See the connection with the hotel example above.)
The greatest difference between Aristotle’s accounts of truth as correspondence and coherence and the Latin/Medieval accounts is that Aristotle viewed Nature as a permanent thing: for Aristotle, Nature always was and always will be; it is sempiternal. Nature is One and is whole. With the arrival of Christianity, the Latin/Medieval account of Nature sees it as a created thing; rocks and living organisms are things that have been created by God at some point in time. For both Aristotle and the Latins, the effort of thought was to have the mind give an account of the thing where the thing “corresponded” or was in accord with the image or representation, the idea, that was conceived in the mind. An idea or proposition would be true when it correctly refers to what is or what is conceived as reality. The emphasis is on the correctness of the account.
The Christian theological belief of the Medieval period, regarding what is actual and whether it is actual, considered a matter/thing as created, and that the matter or thing is only insofar as it corresponds to the idea preconceived in the mind of God and thus measured up to this ideal (is “correct”) and in this sense is “true”. The human intellect too as a created thing, as a capacity bestowed upon man by God, must satisfy its ideal, that is that human being is the animal rationale and that there is correctness in human beings’ thinking. Human being measures up to the ideal only by accomplishing in its propositions the correspondence of what is thought to the matter/thing which in its turn must be in conformity with the ideal which is reason conceived as “logic”. If all beings are “created”, the possibility of the truth of human knowledge is grounded in the fact that the matter and the proposition measure up to the ideal in the same way and are fitted to each other on the basis of the unity of the divine plan of creation or the world order of creation which is “reasonable”.
The theologically conceived order of creation is later replaced by the idea that the capacity of all objects to be planned by means of a worldly reason (the principle of reason), the reasoning/logic of human beings, which supplies the law for itself was the “ideal” for human being. The principle of reason is something which is self-evident and thus also claims that its procedures are immediately intelligible (what is considered “logical”). It is here where human beings become the center of created things and where “humanism” has its beginnings. This occurs during the period that we call the Renaissance. The disappearance of God is a next logical step as He is no longer needed in this “human centered” world of human reason and calculation.
The correspondence theory of truth uses deductive reasoning proceeding from the general principles to the things to arrive at its “truths” regarding the “facts” as they are contained in its propositions. The coherence theory of truth moves from the empirical observations of perceived “facts” and, through inductive reasoning, attempts to arrive at the general principles of reason to attempt to provide a perceived explanation or account for the “facts”. Each of these is captured in your two assessments for TOK: your essay is to use deductive reasoning to arrive at specific examples (or “facts”) and your exhibition is to use inductive reasoning to move from a specific “fact” to a general principle regarding that fact. Each approach (methodology) to “truth” relies on logic which in turn relies on the principle of reason. The principle of reason (a 17th century definition first coined by the philosopher Leibniz) states that “Nothing is without reason” or “Nothing is for which a sufficient reason cannot be given”.
Leibniz (1646-1716) created both his finite mathematics (calculus) and also what we today call the “insurance industry”. These two creations are not so far apart as they may seem at first glance. Human beings require “certainty” and “security” as well as permanence with regard to their knowledge of the things and their being. Leibniz was competing with Isaac Newton and his infinitesimal calculus regarding the language that would best be used to ground and give an account of Newton’s discoveries regarding Nature. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which succeeded and which are still being studied today because they are most useful in calculating and commandeering the things of the world.
Leibniz’ effort was to mechanize deductive reasoning and its logic in his mathematics through which he hoped to build a “machine” that would generate all and only truths (notice the connection with the Medieval idea of truth): “How much better will it be to bring under mathematical laws human reasoning which is the most excellent and useful thing we have.” Doing this would enable the mind to “be freed from having to think directly of things themselves, and yet everything will turn out correct.” Leibniz was a contemporary of Newton and their efforts resulted in how human beings currently view the nature of the world we live in. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which determined the algorithms of today’s computer programmers and the language of many practitioners of the natural and human sciences.
This endeavour to mechanize thought by Leibniz captures what essentially happens in modern physical science which must report its findings in mathematical language. It is what allows the man in Moscow, Idaho and the woman in Moscow, Russia to arrive at conclusions regarding the nature of things without any specific object being directly under observation. The “machines” that Leibniz hoped to create are the beings that human beings themselves have now become. The AI machines that are currently being sought after will use the same reason and logic that created them. The “open region” which will give the “space” and allow for the existence of AI machines must first be preceded by the “viewing”, the ways of knowing, of the human beings who will create the open region that will allow the realization, or the space, for these AI machines. This viewing and the machines that will result from it will be a commandeering and commanding viewing, and this viewing has long been accomplished in the history of human being.
Returning to the origins of this viewing, according to Aristotle truth is the accordance (homoiosis) of a statement (logos) with a matter (pragma). A mathematical theory is also a statement regarding things or a matter. With regard to the correctness of the truths of propositions, some account must also be taken of error or falsity. Both the true and the false go hand in hand. Errors and false statements about things occur in the synthetic judgements we make about things, or in the predicates that we assign and relate to the things that are being discussed. Error is the product of human beings, not nature. These errors rest, as such, in the statements that we make about things. But how can statements about things be related to the things in the first place? Certainly, an account of something is not composed of the same elements as the thing of which it is an account. This question led the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to his great endeavour to answer the question “are synthetic judgements apriori possible”; that is, are the synthetic judgements of reason possible without the experience of the thing or matter with which they are concerned or connected? Notice how Kant’s effort followed Leibniz’s effort regarding the mind and its relation to things/matter. Both found their solutions in the language of mathematics and its symbolic logic which does not require the experience of the things themselves in order to be “correct”.
In order for a statement to relate to a thing or matter (pragma), the thing must be “present” in some way prior to any statement being made about it. But notice that in the example above regarding the two researchers in different Moscows, the thing is not “present” in any way that we conceive of “presence”. But the thing becomes present as an idea in the mind. The thing is not an “object” that we would think of in any normal sense of reference to that word. The things are “present” in the open region that human beings themselves have opened up. These things as they are presented to us are given to us. Our ways of knowing are based on our relatedness to the thing/material and these ways of knowing pre-determine what our relatedness to the thing or our approaches to the thing are going to be. This relatedness in turn pre-determines the nature of the propositional statements which are made about the matter or thing in question.
For example, we do not enter a Group One class with the same view of a tree that we would have in a Group Four class: the tree is present to us in a different way but it, nevertheless, remains a tree. In our AOKs, some thing, the tree for example, must first be opened up as such and such and in such and such a way. The manner of the openness will determine the kinds of statements that can be made about the thing. All performances and their achievements, all actions and calculations, keep within an open region within which things and matters, with regard to what they are and how they are, can properly be present and take their stand and become capable of being talked about. The thing must first be defined and classified. A statement is correct (or true) only within the boundaries and standards (norms) established within the openness of the viewing and a thing or matter can only correspond when this openness has been established. But if the correctness of statements is only possible through the openness of the viewing, what makes correctness possible must be prior to the correspondence as the essence of what truth is.
Pragmatic Theory of Truth
The third theory of truth, the pragmatic theory of truth, came to prominence in the writings and conclusions of three Americans: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Their writings were influenced by the British empiricists J. S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham as well as Charles Darwin, for the most part. In the writings of the Americans, the emphasis was on the pragma or the material substance (Nature) that was arrived at through “sense perception as a way of knowing” or what has been called empiricism. The pragmatic theory of truth primarily focuses on the “useful” as what was “true” and it was an attempt to overcome what they believed were the conclusions of the previous metaphysics and philosophy in order to replace those accounts for the why, the how and the what of things that were experienced with a “scientific account” or an account that was explainable in terms of science and the scientific method of inquiry. This misunderstanding of what metaphysics is/was in the history of the West has led to many of the contradictions present in this theory of truth.
The Pragmatic Theory of Truth holds that the “usefulness” of a proposition determines its truth. “Usefulness” is measured by whether or not the truth “works” and provides some “value” to the viewer and to the community of which he or she is a member. The Americans, Peirce and James, were the pragmatic theory of truth’s principal advocates but its origins can be found in the writings of the Englishmen Jeremy Bentham and his “utilitarianism” and in J. S. Mill’s material philosophy by way of the logic of Aristotle and its historical interpretation (or misinterpretation).
For the pragmatists, utility is the essential mark of truth and utility relates to “pragma” or the “matter at hand”. A pragmatic theory of truth is present in such TOK phrases as “the production of knowledge” or “the measurement” of some result to determine its success in relation to an “ideal” desired. The pragmatic theory of truth strongly relies on belief as a way of knowing, beliefs that lead to the best, most efficient results, or the best justifications of our actions (“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”), or that promote “success” or what is considered to be “valued” as the best outcome.
William James’s version of the pragmatic theory is that “the ‘true’ is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only the expedient in our way of behaving.” For James, “truth” is a matter of convenience whether in theory or in practice; it is the end that determines all. This becomes the principle of ethical action: truth is a “value” which is justified by its effectiveness when the applied concepts to actual practice “work”, and these ends are determined by our “convenience”. James said that “all true processes must lead to the face of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere”. For James, “if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, then it is ‘true.’ ” Such a statement is the modern equivalent of the Medieval theologians’ questioning of how many angels could fit upon the head of a pin, and one need not wonder at the current mess that is present in American politics when one looks at what passes for philosophy there. The good end, the good result, will justify any means, and this principle of action has led to many of the great disasters that have marked the 20th and 21st centuries. It can, perhaps, best be captured in a quote from the scientist Robert Oppenheimer who said: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” “Just do it” is an apt slogan for our age and one of the “principles” which has created its “moral compass” or lack thereof. It is what is today called “ideology” which may be said to be “the imagined existence (or idea/ideal) of things as it relates to the real conditions of existence”.
The pragmatic theory of truth operates where technology as a way of knowing and the principle of reason prevail. Charles Peirce wrote: “This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality.” “Faith”, for Peirce, is “opinion” and it is the opinion of whichever class rules in a society at any particular time. This is quite distinct from the Platonic definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”. The pragmatists argue against the allegory of the Cave of Plato because they believe that there is nothing beyond the Cave that can be known or loved.
There appears to be very little room for freedom in Peirce’s conception of thought and reality, and one can see how the world of “alternative facts” could easily emerge given whatever opinion of the community predominates at the time (through political choices, for example), whatever has been decided upon or deified regardless of whether that community believes that it has arrived at its ends through democratic or fascistic means, whether the community’s choices are rational or irrational. What is decisive is the determinative ethos of the day. Decision is what is most important. It is the opinions of the Cave (to remember Plato’s allegory) which prevail, and the light shone on the things of the cave by the keepers of the fire is that which has been agreed to by the cave-dwellers as the light. For the pragmatists, this light has been shone by scientific research. But as we have seen, science is at a crisis at this point in its history.
John Dewey agrees with Peirce on what can be considered truth: “The best definition of truth from the logical standpoint which is known to me is that by Peirce: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real.” For Dewey, truth is the belief best exhibited by the scientists in their inquiries into the nature of what is.
“Truth” comes to be replaced by “ideology”. It is the view that prevails when one accepts Darwin’s account of the being of beings and what “fittedness” has come to mean in modern societies. As the American philosopher Sally Haslanger has said: “The function of ideology is to stabilize and perpetuate dominance through masking or illusion.” It is these masks and illusions that have come to dominate our ethics and our politics in the form of mass movements and ideologies. It is this lack of self-knowledge which illustrates our age as a tragic age.
The “belief” element in the pragmatic theory of truth has led to the position of “alternative facts” where, for the sake of convenience or “usefulness”, the “matter” or the “pragma” being discussed is disputed in its nature. “Usefulness” rests on the proposition’s ability to “empower” someone and this “empowerment” is a matter of convenience for the individual and the community; if it is not convenient, it can easily be cast aside. For example, it may be “useful” to someone to have a belief in a god for psychological reasons while it may not be useful to another to have such a belief. The utility to the individual and the community is the prime determiner of the truth of the thing. This is a common critique of the pragmatic theory of truth for this standpoint is a violation of the principle of contradiction and, therefore, a violation of the principle of reason: a thing cannot be both itself and its opposite at the same time. But this is not to deny the fact that in the pragmatic theory of truth the principle of reason, whether realized through algebraic calculation or through the definitions of algorithms, still prevails. The critique of the pragmatic theory of truth states that, ultimately, the pragmatic theory of truth is irrational. The madness can only be deep in a society which holds forth its opposite, when rationality is coupled with idolatry and the blasphemy of thinking that the god’s will is scrutable. The rational and the irrational belong together.
One can see an example of where ideology overrules science in the recent rejections of the notion of “climate change” by certain individuals and groups. Because the scientific findings or “facts” are not “convenient” to certain individuals or groups within the community (fossil fuel promoters for example), the scientific facts are rejected for the sake of the benefits of their short term gains or “empowerment”. Al Gore’s film entitled An Inconvenient Truth is aptly named. But at the bottom of the climate change deniers’ view is a much more worrisome and deadly viewing of the world, and that viewing is nihilism.
Freedom in the Age of the Dimming Truth
Truth, knowledge and freedom are interconnected, and how we conceive them determines how we conceive of ourselves as human beings.
How do the things that we know come to presence for us? To presence here means to let the thing stand opposed to us as object. When the thing is placed in this way, the thing that stands opposed must traverse that open region of opposedness and yet must maintain its stand as a thing and show itself as something standing opposed. This appearing of the thing in the open region of opposedness takes place within the open region, the openness of which is not first created by the presencing of the thing but rather is entered into and taken over as a domain of relatedness or what we have come to call an area of knowledge, how we have come to define the things. The relation of the presentative statement (the proposition) to the thing, what we say about the thing, is accomplished through that way of knowing which originally and always comes to prevail as our comportment toward the thing. We have already indicated that, today, this comportment is Reason or a type of reason that is distinguished by “logic” and the concepts that are derived from logic. But all of our ways of knowing and our comportments towards the things are distinguished by the fact that, standing in the open region, they adhere to something already opened up as such. What is opened up in this way was experienced early in Western thinking by the Greeks as “what is present” and for a long time has been named “being.” What, then, is the relation of freedom to knowledge and to truth?
Freedom is not to be understood as human caprice, nor does it rest on or in what is considered to be “convenient” within the social contexts predominating at any time. The essence of freedom is truth; and truth’s essence is freedom. Paradoxically, both involve an “owingness” and an “indebtedness“; and at times what is owed and what we are indebted to is not “convenient” for us in any way. This is what the Greeks referred to as “justice”; it is what we are “fitted for” as full human beings. To make a simple statement about it: we “owe” it to our children to leave the earth as a habitable planet for them and so we must take action against climate change and the threat of nuclear war. This “owingness” is an example of our indebtedness to the “otherness” that is other human beings (and potential human beings) as individuals and as a species, and to the earth and what is upon it, since the earth is “good” for us and to us in some way even if we believe only for our survival as a species.
To understand our human freedom it is necessary to rethink the ordinary concept of truth that is given in the correctness of statements arrived at through logic and reason and to think it back to what was originally meant by truth for the Greeks. Today, to engage oneself with the unconcealment of beings in the open region is not to lose oneself in them, not to search and create more “novelty” in our experiences of beings and in our discourses about them; rather, our engagement should be a withdrawal in the face of beings in order that they might reveal themselves with respect to what and how they are in order for the presentative correspondence (that which brings the things to “presence”) can take its standard from them, not from ourselves. This letting-be of beings, the things that are, our comportment toward them, exposes itself to beings as such and transposes or changes all comportments or ways of knowing that we stand in within the open region. Letting-be, i. e., freedom, is intrinsically exposing, an opening and opening up of our world and speaking about beings and our comportment towards them. Considered in regard to the essence of truth, the essence of freedom manifests itself as our exposure to the unconcealment of the beings themselves as we find them in our areas of knowledge.
Freedom is not merely what our common sense is content to allow, our freedom of choices based on whims in whatever direction whatsoever. It is not the mere absence of constraints or restraints on our choosing with respect to what we can and cannot do, our supposed ethical actions. It is not what is conceived when “the open society and its enemies” is spoken about.
If we look at what is written here and relate it back to the thinking of Aristotle as the origin of the understanding of the notions of truth as correspondence and coherence, we can say that “logic” is not the origin of the notion of “truth” but a precursor or prelude to what was understood, by the Greeks, as “truth”. “Logic” is a comportment or mode of being in the world, one possible among many.
This is what primarily distinguishes Aristotle from Plato. “Science” for Aristotle was both “theoretical” and “practical”: theoretical science was composed of physics (natural science), mathematics and metaphysics; practical science was composed of ethics, economics and political science in the narrower sense of how we understand that term. Science’s foundation was based on the science of science: logic. The victory of science over metaphysics that occurs in the 17th century with Newton’s overturning of Aristotle’s physics through the logic of modern mathematics led to a “metaphysically neutral” physics. This “metaphysically neutral” physics is what allows the woman in Moscow, Russia and the man in Moscow, Idaho to conceive of their ideas regarding the what and the how of things interdependently. This interdependence became the opinion regarding the nature of things that is the foundation of the “pragmatic” theory of truth and the overcoming of the interconnection between “truth” and ethical or political action. Ethics and prudence as the height of political action are “values”, not facts. This belief in the “neutrality” of truth will predominate as we move towards the global society that is the end goal of the technological world-view.
This separation of science from metaphysics, occurring in the 17th century, led to what we call the “fact-value” distinction which in turn led to the creation and separation of an economics which was distinct from ethical actions, and for a sociology that did not distinguish between which hierarchies of associations are worthy to be studied i.e. whether political associations are higher than non-political associations and therefore more worthy of study.
What distinguishes Aristotle from the moderns is that for Aristotle human actions have principles of their own which are not derived from the theoretical or physical sciences. Today, of course, the principles of human actions that are in any way to be conceived of as “knowledge” of those actions are based on the discoveries of the bio-sciences. The “lower” determines what truth is considered to be and not the “higher”, and this viewing has brought about a “vulgarity” in our politics in the 20th and 21st centuries not seen in centuries prior. Fascism as a political phenomenon is a modern political phenomenon. The theories of the bio-sciences are the manner of viewing which rests on a dogmatic atheism which presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical or as “objective” rather than “subjective”.
Human actions were seen by Aristotle to be guided by prudence which must constantly be defended from theoretical attacks (which is the goal of this particular blog) and these defenses must be based on theory of some kind; the theory in itself is not the ground of prudence. Prudence presupposes an awareness of political things (ethical things) based on pre-scientific observations and thoughts. Prudence is based on the idea that there is a common good for societies that can be perceived and understood. The common good in its fullness is the good society and what is required for the good society. By teaching and promoting the equality of literally all desires through our views of “freedom” with the rationale of the “fact/value” distinction, we teach that there is nothing of which a human being ought to be ashamed; by destroying the possibility of self-contempt, we destroy with the best of intentions the possibility of self-respect. By teaching the equality of all values, by denying that there are things which are intrinsically high and others which are intrinsically low, as well as by denying that there is an essential difference between human beings and brutes, we have unwittingly contributed to the victory of the gutter.