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On Truth

I come before you as Socrates came before the court. I have neither corrupted the youth nor have I created new gods. However, just as Socrates began his speech with a plea for his jury to forgive his language, I beg of you the same. Socrates insisted that the jury consider him a foreigner to the courtroom so that he may speak in complete freedom and in a manner unfamiliar to a legal setting. Similarly, I ask that you allow me to speak as I see fit. Socrates claimed to be a foreigner of the legal speech; I claim to be a foreigner of the prose.

I invite you to consider the meaning of truth. I will return to this topic. Now, I recall childhood. If an adult were to ask a much younger version of myself the meaning of philosophy, I would probably reply, “I do not know. But they tell me that the nature of philosophy is very complicated. Perhaps I will know the answer when I am older.” I cannot remember if such a conversation with an adult occurred, yet I know that I considered philosophy in this way—incomprehensible. I suppose not much has changed. It seems a common person may discuss philosophy with another common person. One might even convince the other that their idea is intelligent. However, a common person must not discuss philosophy with a philosopher in so much as the commoner and the philosopher are two kinds of people with two kinds of language. A child falls into the category of a commoner. Surely, a child cannot be a philosopher. Thus, as a child, I understood not to touch the subject of philosophy.

Parents are responsible for the training of children. Is it not true that the parental objective is to ensure that children grow up to become productive members of society? The role of a parent is supremely important. Still, we fail to sufficiently support this role as we rarely pay paternal leave. I digress. A member of society is a citizen not only of the state, but also of a culture. If a child is to grow up to become a working citizen, they must understand their state’s cultural norms, the “rules of the game.” Our virtues, those items we deem to be just and worthy of teaching our children, define our cultural norms.

“..the unexamined life is not worth living for men…” –Socrates in Plato’s Apology

Parents instruct children on virtue. They teach, “Tell the truth. Honesty is a virtue”. On technicality, these same adults may lie. If we deem a cause appropriate, deception, thievery, and cheats are permitted. Children do not inhabit this adult world, though, and must not participate in such boorishness. Long ago, I made the terrible mistake of snatching a gift card from a bookstore. My mother saw the card in my toy purse and asked me where I had found the plastic money. I lied, telling her that the gift card belonged to me. Despite the fact that the card was worthless and did not have money on an account, she erupted into a blaze of fury. How dare I steal what is not mine!

To remain on a path of truth is to remain honest; to remain honest is to remain virtuous; to remain virtuous is to be uncorrupted and to maintain a child-like innocence. This is the meaning of simple truth. Other truths also exist.  

“Just as it is better to illuminate than merely to shine, so to pass on what one has contemplated is better than merely to contemplate.” – Aquinas in Summa Theologica

We insist that our argument is the stronger and that another’s argument is the weaker. We parse words so that we may cry, “False! Your claim is founded in error.” We call ourselves truth-seekers, but we hardly deserve the title. Without an ability to replicate the instance in question, as often is the case, we cannot prove fact. Instead, we may come to an agreement of truth through consensus. Truth is adaptable with the accumulation of new evidence and theories. I notice a lawyer strides across the courtroom floor with an airy confidence, impressing his audience with beautiful language and an extensive list of evidence to support his argument. He impresses the audience and secures a victory for his client. Interpretation fills the position of accuracy. Herein lies the nature of truth in practical political and legal settings. I recognize the lawyer and his “truth” in both ancient script and modern media.

“For men almost always walk along the beaten path, and what they do is almost always an imitation of what others have done before” –Machiavelli in The Prince

I wonder if we may ever truly understand anything. If truth is the basis of understanding, and truth is beyond reach, we are left in a cloud of confusion.

I leave you with this thought: To understand is impossible. To convince another that an understanding exists is a miraculous achievement.


       Photo Taken by lentina_x, original image here

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