The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

I am often amused by struggles over questions of truth, and it is a subject that frequently fills my own mind [1].  Part of the reason for the frequency of pondering about questions of truth is the fact that I hold to two beliefs that provide a rich tension when it comes to such issues.  On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the existence of absolute and objective truth, but on the other hand I am a firm believer in the biased nature of human beings, not least myself.  If I was only a believer in the first truth, I would be the sort of person who would likely think myself to be unbiased and objective in the way I hold on to truth, and thus an unsympathetic judge of others.  If I was only a believer in the second truth, I would follow along with the contemporary postmodern fashions of denying objective truth except the supposed truth that there is no objective truth, and I would seek to use the manifest evidence of my own bias and that of everyone else to attack the existence of truth merely because it was not inherent within me.

It is fairly easy to understand that there is solipsism inherent in holding on to each of those truths about truth in isolation but not holding on to both of them.  If we believe in absolute and objective truth but not our own subjectiveness, we will tend to conflate our belief in objective truth with our own self-judgment, and we will view our partial and biased understanding of others as objective.  On the other hand, if we deny the existence of objective truth because we do not see ourselves (or others) as objective, we conflate the denial of our objectivity with a statement about the universe as a whole, as if we were objective judges of that reality even as we admitted our own partiality.  To believe in our own objectivity while denying the the existence of objective reality is itself nonsense, which is what postmodernism ends up in, as it seeks the cultural power of objectivity without conceding its existence.  Where we are left with is believing in objective reality but conceding that we ourselves are subjective and biased.  We do so not in order to deny objective reality, but to admit our biases so that we may counteract them and at least attempt to approach (however imperfectly) the objective truth that we see darkly and partially in reality as we experience it.

Believing both in an objective reality as well as our own subjectivity encourages in us a sense of humility about ourselves that is worthwhile in the pursuit of truth.  It is a great burden to try to defend our own objectivity in the face of continual assault from other people whose own bias leads them to see our own while often denying their own.  It is also a great burden to attack the existence of an objective truth outside of us, because if there are no resources outside of ourselves that we can use as mirrors on ourselves, all we are left with is our own perception as a guide to life, which is woefully inadequate.  However, when we recognize the existence of an objective reality but also the fact that we are not in full possession of it, we are encouraged to learn and to grow, which allows us to far better achieve some measure of understanding of truth than we would if we considered ourselves in possession of that truth.  If we are in search of a distant city, one that will take all of our lives to reach, we will get far closer to that city if we are aware of its distance and keep going than if we think that we have already arrived and cease to progress towards that distant city any longer, merely because we have seen a road sign that indicates we are on the right way to the city.

Even so, this approach does lead us into some difficulties.  For one, those who must swear or affirm that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth must add some words to their own statement silently in order to be able to answer the affirmative.  If we are honest and conscientious people, we will be aware of the extent that we do not know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but rather we know partial truth, or truth to a certain extent, or the truth mixed in with hearsay and supposition and opinion of various kinds.  Our awareness of our own partiality serves to counter our native stridency, which for some of us (myself included) is fairly severe by nature.  Likewise, when we are bold in correcting error, which is all around us (where it is not within us), we are encouraged to be merciful to others by a recognition of our own partiality and bias and the need for others to be merciful to us.  Some people are not prepared to be merciful to others and do not believe that they need mercy at all.  It is those who believe that they are the most just, after all, that are the least merciful in general to others, not least because their belief in their own justice makes them pitilessl unjust to others who need mercy like ourselves.  Yet we need both justice and mercy in this world, even if we find either sufficiently difficult enough of a challenge unaided by divine assistance to despair at ever reaching where we would most like to be.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

  1. Pingback: Apologies Are Not Enough | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Why We Make Mistakes | Edge Induced Cohesion

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