Last time out, we discussed what appear to be two differing varieties of truth – the truth grounded in evidence, and the truth emanating from belief. There is no apparent common ground between these two approaches. Their conclusions differ wildly, allowing the consequential strategies little room for compromise.
This split-down-the-middle is a little sad. But at least the above paragraph assumes one universally held understanding – that the “truth” actually exists (there are just differing ways of discovering it.)
The question for today is,
“What if the truth doesn’t exist?
(And we are wasting our time looking for it.)
Hey, Earlo, what do you specifically mean by “the truth”?
“Do you want an answer?”
“I want the truth!”
“You can’t handle the truth!”
Or, as my dictionary defines “truth”,
“…the true or actual state of a matter.”
But you already said that people have differing ways of determining what’s true, leading to differing conclusions.
There is some agreement. Like in court. The witness raises their right hand and they’re asked,
“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
They never say,
“What do you mean by that?”
They know. They have to.
Otherwise, you can’t have a trial.
ATTORNEY: “Was what you just testified to the truth?”
WITNESS: “From a belief perspective, though not an evidentiary one.”
ATTORNEY: “Your Honor, I object!’
JUDGE: “I don’t like it either!”
For a society to function at least minimally, there has to be some overall agreement on what’s the truth. My question today, however, is not is that agreement concerning the truth correct. My question today is, is the whole idea of the truth entirely made up?
And as a consequence,
Does the truth actually make any difference?
We could at this point go straight to placebos, sugar pills that have no medicinal properties but which, if the patient believes they’re effective, can, surprisingly often, improve their condition. The truth is: It’s nothing. The consequence is: It works.
Pragmatist psychologist William James, in fact, proclaimed,
“The truth is what works.”
Which confuses me. What if a lie works? Does that make a lie the truth?
But let’s leave all that aside and plunge into the roiling waters of religion.
A person has these deeply held beliefs. And those beliefs bring them spiritual comfort, moral direction, and the community and support of a likeminded group of people, allowing them to bear life’s uncertain travails and sleep peacefully at night.
I am speaking, of course, of the atheist.
You see what I did there? I made it sound like I was talking about a religious person when I was really referring to the opposite.
Oy, what a character!
I did what I did there on purpose – to show that it cuts either way.
For quite some time for most people, a verifiable proof for the existence of God – they don’t bother with it anymore. Nobody outside of a Philosophy class talks about the ticking watch discovered on the beach. (Which is so complicated in its construction, you must reasonably posit a “watchmaker.” Apparently, now, you don’t.) The truth about God’s existence… it’s pretty much up in the air. The believer accepts it; the non-believers does not.
The consequences of one’s belief in God’s existence or non-existence, however, are tangible, energizing, meaningful and real. Posing the question,
If the consequences make you feel better – and do no demonstrable harm – does it make any difference if whatever it was that produced those consequences – for example, your belief in the existence of God – is actually true?
(Maybe that’s why they gave up on the proofs. They didn’t really matter.)
What do you think about this? Does the sentence
“There are different ways of looking at the truth”
Make any sense whatsoever?
And if it does,
Is the truth as we have come to define it not an overrated and irrelevant idea?
The thing is, if the truth as we have come to define it is not the determinative word on matters,
Why do they keep looking for it in court?
And other places.
Like on this blog.