One of my favorite bloggers, and one who makes frequent insightful and thought-provoking comments on my blogs as well, recently included this statement in a response she made to a blog post:
“That’s my truth, and the beauty of it is, it remains my truth though no one else may accept it.”
This claim is worth pondering. In fact, acceptance by others is the heart and soul of truth. “Truth” is a word that applies to claims. Some of these claims are private as in “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” This claim cannot be corroborated by anyone else: it is private. It is “my truth.” But it is also somewhat uninteresting, except to close friends and, perhaps, one’s psychiatrist — or bartender. And, strictly speaking, it is not a “truth” at all. Truth claims are public and require corroboration in order to be called “true.” And some of those claims, such as the claim that 2+3=5 and “the earth travels around the sun in an elliptical orbit” are absolutely true. They are true for me and they are true for you. They have always been true (even though not always accepted as such) and they always will be. Denial of those truths would engender a contradiction, which is one of the three laws of thought that govern all human thinking.
Acceptance, or what I have called “corroboration” is the heart of the matter. Truth claims must be tested and verified by others in order to be true. To make the claim that “my truth” is mine and mine alone is, on its face, pointless. That is, a claim that no one else can accept is not a truth claim at all. It is an intuition or private conviction that we may hold dear but which we do not expect anyone else to share with us. Indeed, we may not even care whether anyone else agrees with us! None the less, such things can be convictions that we hold dear and which help us survive in this insane world of ours. But, strictly speaking, those are not “truths.” They are very personal and they sustain us in times of struggle. They sit comfortably alongside matters of faith.
So what? You might well ask. The reason these sorts of distinctions are important, pedantic though they may seem at first blush, is because there are those “out there” in our shared world who deny truth in order to redefine it as consisting of claims they want us to accept as true, whether they are or not. We confront such claims on a daily basis these days. We quite correctly call them “lies.” The denial that there is objective truth leads invariably to a type of subjectivism which when institutionalized by those in power can lead directly to indoctrination. That way lies totalitarianism.
One of the first things both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin did when they came into power — and, indeed, on their way to power — was to redefine truth as consisting of those claims they insisted were true even though they could not be corroborated by others. They were true by fiat and repetition. Such claims as “The Jews are an inferior race,” for example. This cannot be corroborated because it is blatantly false. We are all members of the same race, uncomfortable though that thought might have been for Adolph Hitler. It is only by de-humanizing certain types that they could be eradicated, and that was the “final solution.” And while Hitler was making the Jews scapegoats for all of Germany’s ills, Stalin was rewriting history. Truth was cast aside in order to realize twisted dreams.
Thus, in the end, how we define “truth” is important. And it is Important to insist that truth is something we must all agree upon, something shared, something we all accept because it can be corroborated by anyone else at any time. It is not “my truth.” It is “our truth.”
Hugh – nice take on the difference between truth and beliefs. It’s an important difference in today’s political world. – Susan
Indeed it is!
My dear Hugh, a noble effort in the defense of truth, but unless I greatly miss the point you are making, aren’t you confusing “truth” with “consensus”? I believe I could defeat your argument with one word: Galileo. Galileo discovered ‘a truth’ about the sun and earth. It was his truth, whether the consensus accepted it or not and he nearly lost his life over it. From what I read here, Galileo should have realized his truth was ‘faith’ and not truth at all since it was not part of the consensus. Hitler, Stalin and Donald Trump needed their ideas (lies!) validated to instill them as truth, so they pushed them by force of lies and propaganda into the general mindset and made them national truth. According to your reasoning, by consensus corroboration, their madness became truth. I don’t get it.
I don’t know why an individual cannot, could not, have her own truth, sacred and inviolable, regardless of whether anyone else corroborates it. When a person says, that is my truth and I ask no one to believe it, she is expressing the ultimate idea of freedom: freedom of expression by a self empowered individual. We on earth exist in a maelstrom of consensual beliefs, none of them clearly defined by reliable action. Because we live by consensus and not by personal truth, we can believe in anything, however insane, and justify it as truth and such truth can change faster than a weather vane spins on its axle in a wind storm. The result is the chaos of racism,hegemony, misogyny, gross exploitation, war and genocide. The consensus possesses no conscience, it’s a mindless behemoth.
I have a truth that no amount of consensus could ever make me deny. I believe that compassion is the only – the only – force extant among us that can change us, as a species, and save our world. I believe there is nothing else available, no idea, thought, tool or power of consensus that can accomplish what compassion, properly understood and applied, can. That’s my inviolable truth upon which all my other thoughts are based and when they are not, I most certainly feel my hypocrisy. While I would dearly love to experience a world that took this on I can but suggest and demonstrate. The rest is up to every other individual, never consensus or collective. But regardless of corroboration, results or consequences, that will remain my truth.
I still hope I misread your expressed thoughts here and misunderstood your intent. Correct me.
We simply use words differently, I think. Galileo hardly discovered a private truth. He was right and the consensus at the time was wrong. The truth about the solar system that Galileo discovered (note he discovered it, he did not invent it) was later corroborated by Kepler and then Newton.
We do have private truths — and I happen to agree with yours by the way. Compassion is the only way we can be saved from ourselves (and I don’t see that happening). But consensus and truth are two entirely different things: truth may or may not be agreed upon by the majority. But eventually, the hope is, we will all agree that certain things are true and others are false. We have no problem whatever recognizing that much of what our president says is false — and that implies that we know a great deal about the world we share with him.
Being a retired professor, you understand about discussion. I’m in a discussion here, and I need to make another observation about Galileo. Again, you are incorrect in assessing the truth he discovered. When he did, he was alone, hence it was strictly speaking his truth. He risked his life, not that of others, to bring forth that truth and make it available to others. It was truth before he discovered it but since no one was aware, it was, as you said in your article/argument, ‘uninteresting’ or rather, irrelevant within the context of current human awareness. There is much “truth” extant today that makes things work as we experience them but we know nothing about their reality so we blithely ignore their significance to our well-being, or our endless social problems. I call such truth, source. We do not see the source, therefore we try to make conclusions based on what we know so far and, of course we always miss the mark. We have theories but few actual truth.
The importance of making one’s truth inviolable is so that it does sustain even when no one else will share in it. But the “truther” must be able to tell whether her truth is indeed true, or it is a mechanism she wants to use to manipulate others to her own advantage. When an intelligent, sentient, self-aware being manipulates truth it is always subjective. Personally I know of no objective truth. Even if 2+3 equals 5 for those who deal in simplistic arithmetic, the worlds of mathematics and science have ways of turning that on it’s head.
So, again, my truth is always my truth, whatever my reasoning to hold on to it, but once it breaks out it can fork out into unpredictable ways. Others who have not reasoned it may accept it without judgment and destroy the world, or turn it into a landscape of terror. Witness those physicists, particularly Einstein, who opened the floodgates to the age of atomic terror we have lived under since 1945. Before one launches a “truth” upon a susceptible (immature) system, one should know whether to “publish or not publish.” Einstein knew he made a huge mistake in publishing his truth and in the end he had to rely upon God to try to make amends. Oh, yes, he knew! The argument that, ‘If I had not done it someone else would’ is passing the buck.
Some personal truths must, of necessity, remain personal, and hidden. I have a few, received over the years from the Teachers (alien minds) and I cannot share those with this world. The concept of universal compassion was “safe” to publish, I could not see how anyone could misuse it, so I did that, and will continue to do so, but the others will have to wait another time, another era, a much higher level of species maturity if there comes such a time.
In re-reading, I saw where you misunderstood what I meant when I said my truth can only be my truth. I would have misspoke if I wrote it like that because I meant, my truth will remain my truth no matter that the consensus rejects it outright. The consensus has no hold on my mind.
You do indeed have your own truth. I concede the point!
I will give it one more try.
For centuries the Western world accepted the Ptolemaic hypothesis that the earth was the center of the solar system. The Church adopted the view since it accorded with scripture. But it was shown to be false by Galileo and later Galileo’s hypothesis was confirmed by Kepler who realized that not only was the sun at the center, but the planets circumnavigated the sun in elliptical orbits. Then newton put the final piece of the puzzle in when he “discovered” gravity with made it possible to state that the earth does indeed move and that we would not all fly off into space. Thus when Galileo first stated that the sun is at the center of the solar system and the earth and the other planets travelled around it in orbits that was true. Not for Galileo, but for everyone, even though the Church denied it. But when he stated that the planets travelled in circular orbits — as Ptolemy had said — he was wrong. He spoke an untruth. Kepler was right even before his view was confirmed by Newton. These are not private truths, they are shared truths about our common world. That is the only kind of truth we can honestly call “truth.” The rest is conjecture, intuition, faith, or personal belief. This seems to me to be the case.
We must be careful to distinguish between objective scientific trusty truth and subjective moral truth. Many religious people believe that moral truths are objective just like scientific truths and that is where the great problems in the world arise. Russia , America , China , Isis are not disputing scientific truths they know only too well how much they owe to those truths.
Some intelligent atheists have been worried about the subjectiveness of morality and have attempted to make morals objective but without much success. Politics is about moral behaviour , how we should be governed , what is right , what is wrong.
I do think morality is a blend of objective nd subjective claims. The claim that the Nazis were wrong to execute the Jews is a moral claim that can be substantiated with biological truths that are objective (the Jews are not an “inferior race”) and principles that are widely shared by most people on the planet — e.g., it is wrong to cause other humans (and animals generally) to suffer. Fairness, respect for rights and that avoidance of inflicting unnecessary suffering on others are moral precepts that are certainly not entirely subjective. I have written about this endlessly and it comprises a chapter in my book “Alone In The Labyrinth.”
You are right the subject is endless and it comes up time and again on blogs. The was a time when men were cannibals , having destroyed the opposition they ate the bodies , these days we only kill and eat animal bodies unless driven by desperation. The idea of not eating members of your own species is subjective as is the idea that mammals are more worthy of life than insects.
Fairness is subjective ; in the western democracies we view it differently from other types of government , ISIS believes it is quite fair and indeed just to kill unbelievers. Parts of the Old Testament still support this view — subjective morality.
The very concept of rights is subjective who decides on these rights ? do some have more rights than others?
Sam Harris believed he had dreamed up objective morality in his use of the term well-being ; we judge outcasts by the well -being they bring about , unfortunately the- well-being of some results in the detriment of others — again subjective.
Thanks for keeping the ball rolling. This is well done, but I reflect on the fact that a three-year-old child will know that it is not fair if his sister gets a larger piece of birthday cake. The notion seems imbedded within us. Those who disagree may use their words differently. And we see now how wrong we were to refuse to recognize the right of women, for example. The notion also seems clear once it has been pointed out to us. How can we refuse to acknowledge the rights of others we demand for ourselves? It doesn’t ALL seem to be subjective.
I always find it frustrating to hear the phrase “my truth”or any variant thereof. To me this reeks of solipsism — the idea that the only thing that matters is your own mind and what is “in” it.
The notion of “my truth: conflates the following into an indecipherable mish mash:
–Truth as metaphysical postulate
–Truth as provisional statement of correspondence between concept and non-conceptual reality
— Hypotheses about the world based upon credible warrant
— Conclusions based upon credible resoning, sound methods and reliable evidence
— Findings based upon credible and critically-reviewed research
— Wild-ass guesses about anything
— Personal opinions about anything
— Personal feelings about anything
— Suspicions about anything
Ever since I took my first philosophy class from Professor Curtler, I have been increasingly careful about the way in which I regard and apply the term “truth” in any context.
I would recommend others do the same.
Thanks, Jerry. I confess I don’t know what Sha’Tara means when she uses the term! Wittgenstein was so right: it is imperative that we show the fly the way-out of the milk bottle. Words do have meanings and that is what makes communication possible. If we go around making words mean whatever we want them to mean, like Humpty Dumpty, ours would indeed be a wonderland!!
This is a good, strong discussion. You touch on language here, words: aren’t all our languages made up as we go along? Someone coins a word and it becomes part of that particular language. It begins as one person’s “truth”, does it not? Again, is it truth or is it consensus? If the approval of others makes it true, then it isn’t necessarily true, it’s just consensus. In science and math we get the closest I think, to objective truth, but where else? Conjecture, guesswork, theories, some of which work for a time, so for a time they are truth. When you have nothing else (yet) to measure or compare it to, you can call it truth, and so it is entered. When something shows up that illuminates it and it is proved a false claim, it is no longer truth… but while it was all there was, it was, indeed, truth. The “great” Lord Kelvin stated, round about 1900, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics. All we have left is to refine our measurements.” Oh, great truth, at the time… who in his right mind would say something so idiotic today? With our infantile physics we have opened a tiny little door into the universe while having been nowhere to actually experience our guesses and we still know nothing of the cosmos itself. How dare we say we have objective truth here? Hubris, pure and simple.
So, truth comes and goes and is constantly replaced with new truth. I prefer to approach the subject from subjectivity. So that’s what I mean when I speak of truth. I speak of the genesis of a truth, not its official implementation as absolute truth. Truth evolves and changes with changing mores, times, knowledge, discoveries. I think we all know this. At its genesis or conception, truth also belongs but to the one mind that has conceived it. If it is rejected by the consensus, that does not invalidate it, not until it is proven to be false. That’s the second point I wished to make. Cheers!
Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, maintained that truth is the result of “proposal and disposal.” It’s the latest version of the Socratic method. One proposes an hypothesis and others critique it. If it cannot be “disposed,” if it can withstand criticism, better yet if it can be corroborated, it is true — so far as we know. It is objective in the sense that it is about our shared world and it can be tested by others. Truth is not private. It is public. Trump tells us otherwise, but we know better!
Well said, dear Hugh. I applaud and agree with your premise about truth and the warning it contains for us today. I will have to stay out of the discussions with Sha’Tara and Kersten, for I simply don’t have time nor energy to try to understand … I think I am out of my element in these discussions! 😉
I know you are harried — and otherwise preoccupied. But you are seldom, if ever, out of your element!
Thank you! But the conversation was just a bit more than I was up for at the time. Christmas, I believe, has thoroughly exhausted me and perhaps cost me a few brain cells. 😉