What Is Truth And Does It Exist?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
A paper I wrote in philosophy class.

Submitted: September 13, 2009

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Submitted: September 13, 2009

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Truth is a child of Time- Don Ford. Certain truths change as time goes on. It was once believed that the world was flat. We now know this idea to be false. Scientists claim Pluto can no longer be considered a planet because it does not meet the new definition of a planet. This is a more recent discovery hinging on our experience with space. New species are discovered everyday in the depths of the oceans; places humans were unable to reach before now. Time continues and we discover things previously believed to be non-existent or deemed to be untrue. So, what is truth? By definition truth is conformity to fact or actuality. Is that to say that truth conforms to facts? I think that might be a human misconception. It seems as though facts conform to truth since facts change with the passage of time. Truth is and always will be. Nothing will ever change it. What will change are our perceptions, understandings, and evidence brought forth by the ever inconclusive quest for the truth. Plato says truth relies on knowledge. According to Descartes anything that can be doubted cannot be true. James countered that truth is always personal. These men hold a few of the many beliefs that form the structure of the universe. Some believe objectivity equals untruth. Objectivity stifles the oneness of the individual. Others proclaim truth be subjective. It is manipulated by our ideas of relativity. What the real truth is, we shall never know. There are no forms of truth that can be agreed on by everyone. Hence, the truth remains on the tips of our tongues and fingers; well within reach. It will always rest in the palm of our hand, only to slip through our fingers as we close our iron clad fists, destroying a large part of that truth.


Plato’s position was that truth is relative to knowledge and that knowledge must be determined first. Meaning, one must first come up with a way to differentiate opinion from genuine knowledge. Knowledge is defined as true belief. Also, knowledge is categorized as being theoretical or practical. Practical knowledge consists of those things that we need the skills to do, such as, play an instrument, use appliances, or make a cake. Theoretical knowledge is that which has to be proven through evaluation of systematic correlations. This is likened to the transformation of a hypothesis into theory using the scientific method accepted by psychologists. Next, reality is divided into two forms: the sensible and the intelligible. In other words, the sensible world changes and has a sense of order to it; seasons, growth, etc. The intelligible world is unchanging. What is true will be true for eternity since it transcends space and time. Plato exemplified this notion in his theory of forms labeled Platonic Form. These forms are “independently existing, nonspatial, nontemporal “somethings” (“kinds,” “types,” or “sorts”) that cannot be known through the senses. Knowledge is always about Forms”. Plato’s forms are ideas in the mind, yet are free from the mind. These forms are real and pure in actuality. They do not rely on changing times and opinions. Meaning, they are real, but are not physical. Examples of these forms include: virtues like goodness; mathematical relations like triangularity: the concept of having three sides; and sensible properties, like, beauty. He claims there is only one form of a particular thing. There are many things, though, that can share the qualities of that form. Ex: One owns a red car. Due to sun exposure the color fades over time becoming less red. Meaning, it is still a form of red, yet due to fading its shared properties in the form red decreases. However, this does not change the original form of the color red. So, we are to believe that the truth does not exist solely due to our belief in it. Truth exists independently of perception and perspective.


Descartes on the other hand felt that truth, in general, is what we conceive of with clarity and distinction. In reality then, only mathematical deduction is reliable in discovering the truth. Descartes was a rationalist. He rejected knowing anything that was not clear and distinctive. Rationalists’ belief is that reason is the main source of knowledge. Therefore, anything that can be doubted is not true. Two kinds of knowledge are: a posteriori and a priori. A posteriori knowledge is verifiable through empirical means. This particular knowledge is changeable and not regarded as universal. A priori knowledge is reasoned and without reliance on the senses. Experience does not play a role in this knowledge. The coherence theory of truth evaluates new ideas on their basis of rational coherence and on previously tried and proven truths. There were rules to be followed in finding the truth. In his work, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Descartes laid out twenty-one rules. His method for finding truth is known as methodic doubt which holds one to doubt everything that can possibly be doubted. Even by the most miniscule doubt. Before then philosophy did not demand individual, rational comprehension. He elaborated on his beliefs through a series of meditations titled Meditations on First Philosophy. In his second meditation he queried a piece of wax for its truth. This piece of wax was found to have certain qualities about it, such as, taste, shape, color, etc. When heated this piece of wax took on completely different characteristics. The color and consistency changed. It was liquefied and did not taste of the sweetness of the honeycomb as it once had before. He found this to be the same piece of wax, yet different due to his perception of it. So, the truth found in that piece of wax is not based on sensory information. It must be left to the intuition of the mind.


William James felt that truth was always personal, being contingent on the eye of the beholder. He was a philosopher and a psychologist who believed in pragmatism. “Pragmatism is the belief that ideas have meaning or truth value to the extent that they produce practical results and effectively further our aims”. We live in accordance with beliefs that match our own feelings and experiences. The will to believe rests on the foundation that life demands two things: response and action. We must believe in something. Forced options are decisions that have to be made one way or another. Not deciding on something is a decision, also and life does not allow us to live unattached, without interest. The pragmatic theory of meaning states that truth happens to an idea. In essence, we test ideas to see if they are true. Only when we have tested an idea against our own experience and deemed it to be so can we accept that truth. Beliefs are viewed as adaptations. They are only valid if they help us through life. Truth is not important. What is important is the usefulness of an idea as applied in our personal lives. James’ belief in self-fulfilling prophecy justifies how we manifest truth in our own lives by believing so strongly in something that it comes true. Ex: A friend believes they are unintelligent and cannot pass a class they are enrolled in. Meanwhile, they continue to do all their assignments constantly reminding themselves of that belief. This leads to self-sabotage and they end up fulfilling that prophecy that they are unintelligent and will fail the class. Therefore, their belief was so strong in this that they caused themselves to fail the course. Henry Ford was credited with reasoning, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right”. If one believes something is true about them whether negative or positive, either way it is true due to their belief in that truth.


Many different beliefs are prevalent in the study of philosophy and the ideas contained therein. Kant’s belief in truth encompassed both empirical and rationalist views. Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge is derived from the senses only. Rationalism believes all knowledge comes from reason. He united these two views with his findings that knowledge is subject to both sensory experience and reason. This is referred to as Kantian Formalism. Bertrand Russell introduced what we know as the correspondence theory of truth. This asserts that an idea, belief, or thought is true if what it refers to actually exists. This theory is the foundation of empiricism. Nietzsche chalked truth up to a matter of mere perspective. Truth transcends what we believe religiously or morally. He deemed knowledge to be merely an invention. Kierkegaard reasoned to discover truth is to find the truth that works for me, individually. If one does not recognize the truth when one sees it, it becomes inconsequential to them. Accepting objectivity is a bias in itself. David Hume’s position opposed that there is no logical way to trust in the existence of an external reality. We create our own world of truth and lies through the imagination. Also, our experiences have a pattern to them. We are able to accumulate different perceptions of ourselves looking in a mirror while changing our stance, but we can never see the whole perspective at once due to the shift of our perceptions. These views can be seen and expressed through the many different cultures and individual belief systems that we encounter through contact with others.


From my point of view, truth is a first cousin to knowledge. It seems as though truth relies on the fundamentals of knowledge. Truth for the most part is relative. So, truth is a fundament of perception. Some examples are: Time is restricted to a twenty-four hour period, yet it is said that time waits for no man. God is the ultimate creator, although, He gave us the ability to think, reason, and believe in ideas that spawn new creations. Nietzsche said that God is dead. He has been killed off by our ideas, restriction, and advancements. Our true faith rests in ourselves. We have killed God and named ourselves to be his worthy successors. Humans have the ability to explore space through the invention of spaceships. What we are raised to believe keeps us in these beliefs. Where we are from, what religion we believe in, and what is common in our culture backs these beliefs. Truth exists, but is relative and dependent upon individual factors: culture, experience, and knowledge. For instance, I speak to Africans on a daily basis. Some of them are still in Africa and some have made it to the United States. Most Africans still residing in Africa believe that the streets of America are paved with gold and it is one of the greatest places to live. The Africans I know who live in America all say, “If I had known it was this hard to survive in America, I would have stayed in Africa.” This leads me to believe that truth is relative. It is a game of perspective and perception.


Some possible responses to my position are as follows: Plato could say when we disagree about knowledge a belief is only an opinion, even if it is true, unless it is anchored. One might believe that 2+2=4, but unless we have the evidence to back that up this knowledge it is incomplete. We must understand why or how it is true. Descartes might suggest we might use the Cartesian “I” and methodic doubt to arrive at the conclusion of truth. Throw out everything one believes to be true and keep those things that one knows to be undeniably true; those beliefs that cannot be doubted in the smallest way. James could counter that anything tested and proven, is the truth. He seems to rely only on his background in psychology to empirically test all unknown things. Those things not proven by the scientific method are labeled falsities.


Truth is relative. Opinion or “truth” is subject to many things that can alter it. Real truth is unchanging. Many times we lack the ability to see the truth clearly. The truth may present itself to us in a variety of ways. We see it when it becomes relevant to us. An old adage says love is blind. The same could be said about truth representative of the fact that Lady Justice stands with her double-edged sword unsheathed and the scales of truth tipped in time’s favor. At the same time her eyes are blindfolded against the injustice of belief, knowledge, and relativity. Will we ever unite in our search for the truth? Or will we forever leave this boxed belief of relevance, time, and truth to stagnate within its own walls. Are we doomed to endlessly sit and look pretty while clinging to the vilest deceptions of our lives? Time is the beholder of this truth and all humanity can do is patiently wait for the day of reckoning. Three main things came up time after time in my research on truth: belief, knowledge, and relativity. One must be able to differentiate belief from knowledge and relativity from actuality. Therefore, time is the bearer of all relevant truth and only the universe knows what that truth may be.

 


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