Pursuit of the Truth: Can we make this go viral?

July 2021

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Thanks to some clever work by National Today, we learned that this past July 7th was National Tell the Truth Day. This inspired some reflection on what Truth is all about and why it’s of such importance in our daily lives as well as in the continuing efforts to further equality, justice and dignity for all people. The intent of what follows is to provide seeds of thought that provoke further interest in this vital pursuit.

Mortimer Adler’s book Six Great Ideas, those being Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality and Justice, offers this insight as to why consideration of Truth is worthwhile:

We cannot understand the difference between knowledge and opinion without being aware of how each is related to truth. The truth to be found in poetry is not the same as the truth we look for in history, science, or philosophy. The criteria of what is true and false, and the devices we employ to test the truth of anything that is proposed for our affirmation or denial, vary as we pass from mathematics to the empirical sciences, from the empirical sciences to philosophy, and from philosophy to theology and religion. The very act of making judgements is an act that asserts something to be true or false.

“We cannot understand the difference between knowledge and opinion without being aware of how each is related to truth.”

We deal with truth in different dimensions of our lives:

  • How we relate to the truth on a personal level–our own sense of integrity;
  • How we can differentiate between truth based on current information that can change due to shifting circumstances and truths that are beyond a reasonable doubt;
  • How we can differentiate between statements of opinion presented as truth and, instead determine the actual facts around which opinions can vary.

Getting to a better understanding of truth can be extremely helpful as to:

  • How we seek and evaluate information in order to make decisions, whether it be what route to take on a driving trip or which candidate to vote for;
  • How we understand what is going on around us—our history, along with our political, social, economic, and ecological environments—and how these impact our own lives, the lives of others and our interconnectedness.

It is relatively straightforward to grasp the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. An example provided by Mr. Adler is a dishonest jeweler who persuades a customer to buy a ring claiming that it is set with diamonds of top quality, knowing that what he/she is selling is a relatively worthless imitation. Essentially, Mr. Adler states, “Lying is putting into words the opposite of one’s own state of mind… intentionally and with a deliberate purpose to deceive for the sake of gaining some advantage, regardless of the injury that may result to the person who is deceived.” We have all likely expressed and condoned what we call “little white lies” put forward to possibly protect someone else’s feelings. The point here, though, is to grasp the act of telling the truth versus telling a lie.

 “The point here, though, is to grasp the act of telling the truth versus telling a lie.”

Grappling with distinguishing truth from opinion, and how opinions or judgements need to be open to change will require way more analysis than this space allows. However, here is one example, as provided by Mr. Adler that can help us in this effort:

Quote from "Six Great Ideas" on truthA portion of the human race some centuries ago held it to be true that the earth is flat. That false opinion has now been generally repudiated. This should not be interpreted to mean that the objective truth has changed – that what once was true is no longer true. If it is now objectively true that this planet is spherical, it never was true that it is flat. What has changed is not the truth of the matter but the prevalence of an opinion that ceased to be popular.

What does seem essential is to recognize that there are objective truths, such as that the earth is spherical. Yet, we may carry judgments or opinions of what is true, and that we must be open to examining with effort and critical thinking so as to pursue and get at the truth.

While the commentary above seems to point to ongoing uncertainty, there is also the concept of self-evident truths, where, as described by Adler, “Our affirmation of them does not depend on evidence marshaled in support of them nor upon reasoning designed to show that they are conclusions validly reached by inference. We recognize their truth immediately or directly from our understanding of what they assert. We are convinced–convinced, not persuaded—of their truth because we find it impossible to think the opposite of what they assert.”

"The very concept of a fundamental right presupposes the concept of truth. Take-home lesson: If you care about your rights, you had better care about truth.” True to Life: Why Truth Matters By MICHAEL P. LYNCHOn July 4th we celebrated America’s Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph of the Declaration begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With our Constitution and its Amendments, we can say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal…” and know that no human being is more or less than any other human being. Having this truth at hand is invaluable in pursuing achievement of all that is called for in our own Constitution and our role in furthering the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal

We are facing many challenges locally and globally, including upholding our right to vote and support of our democratic governance structure, as well as our very existence as the earth gets increasingly hotter. And, there are movements afoot to control what we learn about the objective truths of our history, impacting our work to repair what is broken and move toward equality, liberty, justice and dignity for all. I am hopeful that we can address these challenges, and strongly believe that as part of this endeavor we must grasp and continually pursue the truth.

See the references and resources below for more perspectives on Truth and how to evaluate the information that impacts what we know. Also, consider these questions:

  • How would you use what you’ve read here to differentiate between statements of opinion and truths?
  • How would you use what you’ve read here to communicate with others who claim their truth is different than yours?

To close, here is Billy Joel’s plaintive Honesty.

With appreciation and best regards,
Sandy Sohcot, Director

🎶 Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you 🎶

“Honesty” by Billy Joel

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Featured Resources

Connecting to the themes presented in this newsletter, here are some additional resources.

 Why truth matters: https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/intro_text/Chapter%205%20Epistemology/Why-Truth-Matters.htm
“Chapter 5 :Epistemology | Why Truth Matters” from “Introduction to Philosophy: An Online Textbook”

Read more…

https://www.theworldasitcouldbe.org/reality-checking-resources/
Bringing the Meaning of the UDHR Home: Resources to Be Well Informed

Read more…

Michael P. Lynch in “True to Life: Why Truth Matters”
“It follows that a necessary condition for fundamental rights is a distinction between what the government—in the wide sense of the term—says is so and what is true. That is, in order for me to understand that I have fundamental rights, it must be possible for me to have the following thought: that even though everyone else in my community thinks that, for example, same-sex marriages should be outlawed, people of the same sex still have a right to be married. But I couldn’t have that thought unless I was able to entertain the idea that believing doesn’t make things so, that there is something that my thoughts can respond to other than the views of my fellow citizens, powerful or not. The very concept of a fundamental right presupposes the concept of truth. Take-home lesson: If you care about your rights, you had better care about truth.”
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