Analysis of Truth – Communications Essay
“Truth is that to which the community ultimately settles down” (Charles Pierce). The concept of truth has been a subject of human fascination and philosophical investigation since the days of the early philosophers.
The quotation above claims that truth is something that requires a consensus gentium – an agreement of all the people. But does the fact that all agree on something makes it necessarily true? This mere question is in itself somewhat of a philosophical riddle, as not everyone can have the same opinion on such a complex matter. Human society is so diverse and so divided that it is virtually impossible to have all members of the community to agree on the same issue. The question of what is a community can also lead to a broad philosophical discussion, however for the purpose of the analysis the community spoken about will be the human society.
The quotation above states that truth is what the community ultimately settles for, hence the statement can be subjected to several interpretations. The statement implies that it is only the conclusion that is accepted by the community as the truth, and therefore implies that truth is only a result of a process. Dialectics and Hegelian philosophy describe development as a struggle of the thesis against the antithesis, which come to a resulting conclusion of the synthesis. This reflects perfectly the idea of Charles Pierce that the truth is only an ultimate achievement. An example for this would be Galileo’s findings that earth is part of a heliocentric system. Galileo was in fact only one amongst many whom believed that the universe is geocentric, i.e. with planet Earth at its centre. The situation in the world depicts Galileo as the thesis, and common belief as the antithesis. Both situations existed and eventually the community settled down Galileo’s findings. Hence the synthesis.
A strong implication the Hegelian philosophy is that truth can not exist without the false, for one would not know how to distinguish the truth if one does not have anything to compare it with.
Søren Kierkegaard said “Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion – and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion…while truth again reverts to a new minority”. Kierkegaard supports the claim that finding truth is a continuing process, however he also claims that the resolution is not to be found, as truth can only be found with the minority. This is the minority for it does not represent the most common beliefs, and the most common beliefs are the ones attained by the community. Therefore Kierkegaard argues the opposite of Pierce, because he is stating that truth lies not with the community but with those who rebel against it!
But Kierkegaard’s statement is a contradiction, for once the minority’s truth replaces the majority’s “false truth”, the new truth (now held by the majority) becomes false as well, and the only real truth is now held by a new minority.
Friedrich Nietzche said once that the ability to enforce truths is a powerful privilege held only by policy makers. And therefore, what the majority accepts as truth is not necessarily because of righteousness, but because of the power held by those who create it! Nietzche here implies that having the truth is related to having control. How is control achieved then? Well, very simply: Truth is related to validity, validity is related to certainty, certainty can be made into knowledge, and knowledge – is power! However in today’s post-modernist society, with means such as the television and the Internet, knowledge is accessible to everyone. What is not accessible to everyone is certainty – the certainty that in fact by acquiring knowledge one acquires truth. Hence truth can only be truth if it is a valid claim, and it can only be held by those who are certain of this claim. Therefore Nietzche’s statement is still valid, as the power of constituting truths rests in the hands of only a few privileged individuals – and those are the ones who constitute the truths for the majority.
Realising both claims by Nietzche and by Kierkegaard, one, in his mind, can picture society as it is. The picture one will get in his mind is of a rhombus. The people who constitute the truths for the majority are on top. Their “truths” are truths only if they are certain of their absolute opinion. Even if they are lying, as long as they know for certain that it is lying – it is still the truth. On the bottom of the rhombus there are those who, according to Kierkegaard, have the truth – for they are the ones with the integrity and passion. Between the two poles of the rhombus there is the majority, who do not have truth for they are merely fed by those who claim to have the truth, i.e. do not know if their truths are either certain or valid. With time, the rhombus will flip and those who are now at the bottom will become those at the top. This is the permanent struggle and evolution of the human race. This continuing struggle to find the truth is the motor force of our society – For holding the truth means holding the power. The desire for power enflames the desire for knowledge, for knowledge is to be absolutely certain, to prove that a claim is valid – and to ultimately find the truth! Therefore the discussion of truth being what the community ultimately decides to be true is futile, for the rhombus is constantly turning, and the ultimate had not been attained yet.
“There exists an obvious fact that seems utterly moral; namely, that a man is always a prey to his truths. Once he had admitted them, he cannot free himself from them”. This statement by Albert Camus affirms the fact that the majority of human beings are in fact trapped in the middle between the two poles of the rhombus, hence the right to try and flip it is even more justified. For example: The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species caused a chaos in the modern world, and in fact caused the flipping of the rhombus. The one at the top of the rhombus at the time was The Catholic Church, which constituted the truth for the majority – those in the middle of the rhombus. Darwin and his disciples were at the bottom, and with time, the rhombus flipped and Darwin’s theories were now on top, making room for a new minority at the bottom. Hegel said that truth can only be obtained in rhetorical view, and therefore, perhaps in the future some new theory will evolve that will once again flip the rhombus upside down.
John Locke probably would have objected to the entire argument that truth can be settled by the means of having an entire community agreeing, for he advocated that there is no world that exists outside the mind. George Berkeley extended Locke’s ideas about doubting the world outside the mind by arguing that there is no evidence for such a world because the only things that one can observe are sensations, and these are all in the mind of the individual and not the community.
Truth, is therefore not what the community ultimately settles down, because the community will never settle down! Each resolution obtained is only temporary, and truth is only a term relative to whoever constitutes it. However the community will always try and attain the truth, however futile this attempt is. As Pierre-Joseph Proudohn said, “Centuries will pass before that ideal is attained, but our law is to go in that direction, to grow unceasingly nearer to that end…”
If you were a university student, year 1, you would have probably got a 70% mark for it! You have a clear argument, a reasonably coherent structure and supported by a good level of references.
Most of my comments are technical and can easily be corrected or altered. They would not change your essay but will make it simpler to follow the argument.
Just to make the argument work in your head a little more, think of the following opposites:
Subjective – Objective
Conviction – Knowledge
Believing – Understanding
Since you are now also comfortable in French, think of the language mode you would use for each of those terms (i.e. subjonctif; conditionnelle; etc.). much of the essay actually evolves around these issues.