I want to promote some debate on the vast subject of truth. I start with a few propositions to which I would welcome refutation:
- there are commonly held truths that are not up for debate (self-evident) – i.e. the earth is round, not flat (though some still disagree);
- all the now self-evident truths came from scientific enquire and application of its method;
- ‘personal truths’ are biased and mainly based on faith (religious and otherwise), upbringing and personal experience.
Strictly speaking, truth is that which is provable, objective. Truth is not ‘opinion’, it is a knowledge of things as they are, not what we’d prefer them to be.
In a scientific sense, truths can be defined as propositions/ideas spawned from logic, reason and empirical evidence that withstand deliberate and various efforts to disprove them (one of my favourite features of the scientific method).
Being unable to contradict a proposition however, is not enough to claim it to be true. Rearticulating Bertrand Russell’s example “No one can prove that there isn’t a teapot orbiting the Sun, therefore there must be one”. Based on what we know, the proposition is as ridiculous as the conclusion – though this is not so evident when it comes to religious claims and arguments for the existence of any given God.
There is a reason for the legal term ‘burden of proof’ not being ‘burden of disproof’, which together with the axiom ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is tied with the conundrum of proving a negative. In a nutshell, inability to disprove does not prove.
One of the subjective sides of ‘truth’ is the personal type – I guess one can call them values. These are created by the strength of individual convictions and inevitably, there’ll be as many as the number of people.
I’m sure they intersect in myriad aspects (how could we live together otherwise?) and I find no reason to doubt that there is “personal truth intersection” between any two individuals. No matter how far apart in the political/religious/social or other metric spectrum they happen to belong to, any two people will have some truth in common.
On the other hand, I doubt there are any two individuals whose truths overlap entirely. This is the reason for civil wars ranging in scale from nations to the confines of a household, including religions and political parties. I mean, there are more Christian denominations than verses in the bible.
Personally, I make a concerted effort that my truths are based on data, logic and debated reasoning. They have evolved (regressed, some might argue) that way.
By no means discarding them, I tend to take a sceptical view on any personal experiences that I can’t explain. It’s simultaneously challenging and comforting to think about them, trying to shed some rationality over said experiences.
Having said that, my individual truth is no truer than yours and the true truth is nowhere to be found when it falls outside the objective purview.
Inductive truths/arguments do not provide any certainty, but based on the truth of its premises, do offer a high probability of eventuating.
“The sun will rise tomorrow”: I assume this claim to be true not because I observed it (it hasn’t happened yet) but because it has always done so in the past.
The process of inducing anything is based on premises and accepting them to be true. However, if proving things requires that an infinite number of premises get proved first, the exercise becomes too cumbersome and we won’t be able to prove much of anything at all, positive or negative.
Telling it is good for you and the world around you
In Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life”, rule no. 8 is Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie. Each chapter of this book deserves its own discussion but I’ll touch briefly on this one.
Peterson articulates his belief that when you create the habit of telling the truth (or at the very least, by not saying something you know to be false), you are promoting your better self and “everything begins to come together and that’s the potential destiny of the world”.
Telling the truth helps easing the suffering which he claims is the default condition of life (in this he’s kind of a Buddhist). Telling the truth is the way to make the world not worse than what it is and eventually make it better.
According to both Peterson and Dostoevsky, telling the truth isn’t just a virtue, but a crucial way to live one’s life. In fact, they claim your own sense of reality is at stake. Lying can be seen as a (wretched) attempt to escape reality – I agree, no good can come from willful blindness.
On a broader context, the bottom line of being truthful as I see it, can only be the improvement of the human condition. Truth, the true one, is the foundation for all the steps that maximise human wellbeing. That’s where I’ve been finding meaning and my main motivation in my sphere of influence.