5/07/2005

On Absolute Truth

There are 3 possible attitudes that one can take toward absolute truth:
  1. There's no such thing as absolute truth
  2. There is an absolute truth, and I (or someone else) knows what it is.
  3. There's such a thing as absolute truth, but it's inaccessible to human beings.
I believe #3 to be the most accurate. More or less, here's how I think we relate to truth:
Kant made a very useful distinction between noumena - things as the are, and phenomena - things as perceived.
We have no recourse to noumena, only phenomena, but the phenomena do, somehow, reflect the reality of the noumena. Perception, in this view, is a constructive process; it doesn't just represent the reality that I see in my mind, it generates that reality and integrated new data into existing cognitive patterns (schema, narratives, scripts, etc.).
Thus, although the data itself, the raw material from which each individual's world is constructed, exists absolutely, it's been 'perceived', and thus tampered with, by the time it's represented in our little noggins.
That's not to say that there's no way to 'judge' between levels of representation. The mind of an infant has a represents the world in a way that's less advanced and less mature than an adult mind (hopefully). So, too, within the adult world itself, there are different levels of representation of absolute reality, and it's possible to judge between them. The general rule is that if one must pass through level A to get to level B, then level B is more advanced. Similarly, people can shift between levels, experiencing different worlds of perceptions at different times.

People construct their worlds with the tools that are nurtured in them by their surroundings. Things may look very different from different cultural vantage points.

The upshot is, that our attempt to arrive at truth is an honorable quest, regardless of the fact that we know that we can't 'get there'. My own search for truth may not lead me to the same place that yours will lead you; there's room for critique and disagreement, even value judgement and war, without the certitude that I have the truth and you don't.
It affirms a pluralism in which it can be acknowledge that there's no monopoly on truth in the sense that there can be more than one method of creating truth out of the 'raw material', or if you like, different perprective on the same 'object'.

In this model, God is understood as both the 'raw material' - the Abolute Truth - and the ultimate but unacheivable prespective, i.e., at the beginning and end of this process of understanding, paradoxically.

One last point, the Hebrew world 'EMET' should be translated as 'truth'. It should be translated as 'real'. There are greater and lesser degrees of 'reality' as well. God is more Real than us. We are more real than out imagination. "Truth" is a Greek logical term which has been appropriated into our conceptual world. Our classical sources are more concerned with Real vs. fake than they were with true vs. false. At least that's my impression.
Post a Comment