The “Truth” Problem

One of the “interesting” aspects of the Trump presidency is the amount of misstatements, false statements, and contradictory statements that issue from the man’s mouth and tweets. One of the more intriguing aspects of this is the polarized reaction of Americans. From what I’ve observed, the President’s supporters either endorse those statements, in many cases finding them true, or admit that many aren’t… and that they don’t care. His opponents reject pretty much anything he says either unheard or with outrage.

Obviously, people have very different ideas about “truth.” I did some research and discovered that philosophers have about as many definitions of truth as there are philosophers, and that there are quite a number of theories that attempt to define truth… or not.

I was clearly misguided; I thought the degree of truth of a statement rested on how close it came to objective verified facts.

In a way Immanuel Kant addresses this, by saying that truth “consists in the agreement of cognition with its object,” which I’d interpret as meaning that if what I see seems to agree with what the object is and does, that is truth. But that means truth is defined by my belief, not necessarily by factual objectivity.

Some philosophers at least deal with the possibility of objectivity.

According to Søren Kierkegaard, at least as I understand what he wrote, there are two kinds of “truth” – objective and subjective. Objective truths are based on facts, while subjective truths are concerned with a person’s way of being and what they believe.

These days, however, especially in the United States, there’s little distinction between these two kinds of truth, which isn’t totally surprising in a nation that all too often equates popularity with excellence and where many believe in promoting self-esteem based on words alone, and not upon achievement.

Martin Heidegger pointed out that the essence of truth in ancient Greece was lack of concealment or bringing into the open that which was previously hidden. That’s definitely not the sort of truth favored by politicians.

And then there’s Friedrich Nietzsche, who essentially rejected any objectivity in truth and claimed that the arbitrariness of human nature meant that humans defined truth as an assemblage of fixed conventions for the practical purposes of repose, security, and consistency… and possibly of gaining power, although I didn’t find that spelled out directly. But it seems to me that Trump could just claim that he was following Nietzsche.

Personally, I tend to favor Alfred North Whitehead’s observation that “There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.”

And Trump is exceedingly good at treating partial truths, or even tiny shreds of truth, as whole truths that his supporters swallow whole… or, as the old saying goes, “hook, line, and sinker.”

3 thoughts on “The “Truth” Problem”

  1. Kevin says:

    In economics there is a concept called “Gresham’s Law” that says that “Bad money drives out good”. In a situation where two different types of money are viewed as having the same face value, eventually the more intrinsically valuable money will be hoarded and disappear from circulation, leaving only the less valuable in use.

    I wonder if that is what is happening to Truth?

  2. Tom says:

    In a Tyranny as in a Gang one learns to say what is required for survival rather than have any concern for the Truth.

  3. Tim says:

    Truth can also be viewed as that which one wants to believe. If two people have different and passionate views about the same event, then both will cry ‘truth’.

    From experience, the more liberal party will also claim the other is a ‘denier’ whereas the less liberal party will claim the other is just ‘plain wrong’.

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