BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (056) - Does the truth still matter?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

Does truth still matter? Is it still important? One author laments that we have entered the “post-truth era.”

“At one time we had [1] truth and [2] lies. Now we have [1] truth, [2] lies, and [3] statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false. Euphemisms abound,” writes Ralph Keyes, author of The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. Keyes says, “In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit. Research suggests that the average American tells lies on a daily basis.”

How does a post-truth environment affect us? “The result is a widespread sense that much of what we’re told can’t be trusted,” Keyes says.

“Post-truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness,” he adds. “It erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization. When enough of us peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality. Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth.”

We human beings have a natural longing to know the truth. Our intellect seeks the truth. Saint Augustine used a very simple observation to prove that everyone seeks the truth. He said that while he knows some people who fool others (with lies), he doesn’t know a single person who wants to be fooled by others.

But what is truth?

Saint Thomas defines it as adaequatio rei et intellectus: the conformity between the thing and the intellect. Indeed, we can distinguish three kinds of truth based on this definition.

The first kind is one which we could call ‘ontological’ (‘ontos’ in Greek means ‘being.’) When we refer to something as a fact, as something that really happened or really exists, something actual, we are talking about ontological truth. It is the truth found in every real or actual being which conforms to the intellect of its Maker. This is one angle of ontological truth: the relation of the thing to its Maker who knows the thing before he makes it.

We have offered earlier (see “Bite-Size Philosophy” no 30) another definition of ontological truth: we said that something is true to the extent that it can be known (by man). But we can only know something if it exists in some way. This definition of ontological truth looks at it from the angle of the one knowing (man).

Some people deny the existence of truth. “Nothing is true,” they declare. But a contradiction arises: if the statement “nothing is true” is true, then the same statement “nothing is true” is not true!

The second kind of truth is what we could call “logical” or “gnoseological” truth. This is the kind of truth that we refer to when we are talking about our knowledge. Is what I know true? Is my knowledge correct? Does it match reality?

Some people say it is not possible to know the truth and they offer many reasons for it. This position is called skepticism. Others, on the other hand, say that truth depends on each one of us. This is called relativism. We shall talk about skepticism and relativism in the near future.

The third kind of truth is what we call “moral” truth. This kind refers to the relationship or connection between what I think and what I say or do. Do my words or actions reflect my thoughts and beliefs? We all wish that others will be truthful with us, that they will be true to their word. But we know that it is not easy. At times, we ourselves are culprits of the post-truth syndrome.



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