Research Paper On On The Question Of A Philosophy Of Truth
When philosophers write about what is true, they tend to make a distinction between truth with a capital “T” and the truth with a lower case “t”. For example, when Plato in the Republic writes that the prisoner escapes the cave and via the virtue of the light of the sun can see objects how they truly are, we can assume Plato is talking about capital “T” truth rather than lower case truth (514-517). Plato, like many philosophers, is concerned with what is truly true. However, Plato posits that truth, the truth that matters, must exist outside of the cave.The truth for him is something that is covered over by imperfections of the finite world. In Plato’s worldview, “Truth” is something that is bigger than mere mortals, and it is through the proper use of reason that truth can be attained. For him, it is all that matters. However, the truth of less important, albeit trivial things, also matters too. It matters to me that it is true that the weatherman says it will rain, even though, this sort of truth does not carry with it the weight of whether it is true that God exists or if truth itself has an objective reality or not. Philosophers are also concerned with lowercase truth because it also cuts deep into an epistemological problem of what I can know. In this way, knowledge and truth are inextricably connected. In this paper, it will be shown that lowercase truth and uppercase truth are ways in which we can come to understand the world while at the same time an abuse of the truth can cloud our epistemological judgment.
The problem philosophers make when talking about capital “T” truth is the assumption that truth is absolute. By absolute truth, it is important to note, as does Karl Popper, that there is a difference between absolute truth and objective truth (42). Popper writes that it is presumptuous to claim that one has absolute truth in their pocket. Perhaps the reason the prisoner in Plato’s allegory of the cave is killed by his fellow cave dwellers is that the prisoner thought he knew everything and made his friends superior. While, most likely the prisoner was speaking of objective truth, the other cave dwellers killed him for his presumed pompousness. When truth is being discussed, as Popper rightly argues, it is usually against a framework of truth, and in this sense we can talk about truth having objectivity. When Plato talks about the truth as something that must be sought after and thought through by the use of one’s reason, he is referring to an epistemological framework. In other words, in order for truth to even be possible there must be certain conditions for truth to be made manifest.
It is common for people to say that there is no such thing as truth. Alternatively, that truth is merely relative. What people usually mean when they say these words is that they are the arbiters of their truth. However, to speak of truth as having some objectivity often undercuts the person who is hoping that their opinion is the correct one (merely because they are the ones who hold it). In other words, the person who argues that they alone know the truth because truth is solely in the mind of the one who is telling the truth is just a version of a bad philosophical argument. Whenever the truth is discussed, it is always set against the backdrop of something else, and in this way, truth is relative only as it concerns a set of assumptions that may be shared or disputed.
In this way, there must be a truth that is objective, in the sense that the flower I see on my table is the same color yellow that my roommate sees. By objective truth, in this way, I am moving away from the epiphany of the prisoner who discovers the truth of the order of things, and more closer to an idea of shared knowledge that makes it possible for others to understand and to know each other. For at the basis of this discussion is not so much the problem of Plato’s Cave, but since all of us live in the cave, is it possible for us to even know each other at all.
In this way, a philosophy of truth moves away from the question of truth as something that exists in a transcendent reality (truth with a capital “T”) to something more akin to truth as in knowing for certain what is true versus what is false. It is a common problem to confuse truth with a moral or religious layer of meaning. When truth is released from such presumptions, it is clear that philosophically speaking the problem of truth boils down to what are the contours of knowledge. So in this way, a discussion of truth that exists outside of what I can plausibly speak about I will echo the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein who wrote: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (183).
Wittgenstein means in this very last sentence of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that the confines of what is knowable are contained within what can be understood through the human form of communication and cannot exceed beyond the limits of the knowable. It is similar to what Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century philosopher, spoke of as the distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal (Cleve 40). In the realm of the noumenal there very well may be the glorious sun that Plato imagines as being the symbol of perfect reason, but this transcendent reality lies beyond the horizon of human knowing. So in order to speak of truth, it is important to reign truth in — so to speak — and think of what can be known within the confines of a certain kind of knowing. Whether or not there is a God, ultimately, is a question that cannot be fully answered, either by the theist or the atheist. Truth, then, in this way, becomes a question of what can be known within a certain horizon of truth. As Aristotle wrote in his book Metaphysics, “all men by nature desire to know” (980a).
Truth then, even truth and falsity of the most trivial matters, is part and parcel of a deep human desire to know. For truth then is not the static paradigm of Plato’s sun, nor is it the platitudes of a ne’er do well preacher who claims to have a hold on the truth, but truth is what is the potential for knowing. Truth becomes rather than a static conceptual icon, is rather the search for truth itself that becomes imbued with the passion of the truth seeker. For to do philosophy is certainly not to cling to some dusty modicum of truth that has been passed down from generation to generation “just because” but as René Descartes wondered in the Meditations that truth requires rejecting anything that can be called into doubt or suspicion and search indefatigably for the truth that is certain and indubitable (13).
The search for truth means sometimes discarding what was at one time thought to be truth. For example, when I was five years old I thought it was true that the tooth fairy delivered money to my bed when I lost a tooth. But now that I am an adult I have discarded such truths as true, although I still marvel at the power of the story that still has its sense of truth (that pain ought to be rewarded). Since human beings are social creatures, and our search for truth is also our search for understanding of each other, the stories that are told in society can tell us not only what we value, but what truths make up the belief system that binds society together.
In conclusion, what makes a philosophical problem a “problem” is that it is essentially inscrutably unsolvable. Plato taught us to strive for truth. In this, it is good to congratulate him. Popper taught us to understand the dimensions of truth’s framework, while Wittgenstein and Kant taught us to make parameters for our search for truth, while Aristotle and Descartes remind us that truth is a personal, albeit a very human, endeavor.
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