“Truth isn’t truth” is just too ripe and juicy not to write about this week. Especially because, surprisingly, I might agree with Rudy Giuliani.
Only those in the midst of a personal news blackout will not have heard that the perpetually smiling sycophant for the President spoke those words on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday. There was an immediate shattering of the airways and internet equivalent to a twenty-megaton explosion of pundit heads.
Truth is a multi-dimensional word like a crystal refracting colors and light in many directions. It means something different in philosophy than in law, in medicine than in theology, in politics than at home at the kitchen table.
In philosophy, for example, there is passionate disagreement about truth that begins with Aristotle and snowballs into the twenty-first century. Some argue the number of definitions for truth is two, others four or six. It is bewildering to read about alternative ideas of truth in realism verses anti-realism, or correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic notions of truth.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) claimed, “To say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true.” In short, does something correspond to the facts of the world around it or not?
But the 19th century Austrian, Ludwig Wittgenstein, pointed out that not everything “that is” in the world around us is the same kind of “is” – structures are spacial for example, while facts are not. “The Eiffel Towercan be moved from Paris to Rome, but the fact that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris cannot be moved anywhere.” The point being, all facts are bundled up and strung together by the beliefs of the people beholding them. So, the factsthat we use to construct truth, are jostled, carved, mutated, and changed by the beliefs of those arranging them. (“Truth” appearing in an article on “History”, Encyclopedia Britannica)
I just want truth to be truth, keep it simple, please.
In law there is an interesting distinction. Questions “of fact” are for the jury to decide while questions “of law” are for the courts to determine. A fact is defined, in the law, as: “A thing done; an action performed or an Incident transpiring; an event or circumstance; an actual occurrence.” (The Law Dictionary, Online). So, we are back to Aristotle, “what is” or “what was” determined by a jury. But that puts us back in the realm of Wittgenstein because the jury can and will decide what to do with those facts and if or how they add up to truth.
In theology, I have discovered, it is often easier to begin with what one does notbelieve in order to tiptoe up to what one holds to be true. Perhaps with Rudy’s outburst as well.
Here is something easy to grasp, the legal definition of “reckless disregard for the truth.” (Miriam-Webster): “Disregard of the truth or falsity of a defamatory statement by a person who is highly aware of its probable falsity…” Ah, there it is! Rudy is the “what is” that defines true disregard of the truth.
Kate Harrington says
“What is truth?” said jesting Pilate (or something like it.
Cam Miller says
I’m thinking it wasn’t a jest!
EC Spurlock says
Cam Miller says
Remember “Spoon River Anthology”? One of the chapters was of the young man who went off in search of the Truth and returned only with Pilate’s retort.