A sidebar discussion with Peter in the comments to The Mythic Void set my thoughts back onto a familiar topic: the question of “the truth”. As regular players will know, I have a fairly soft view of the truth. I don’t dispute that the concept is meaningful, but I do dispute that it is as robust as most Realists want to assert. I take a broadly contextualist view, whereby if something is true it is true in a particular system or context. But Realists of various kinds contend that true things remain true even if no-one believes them.
My problem with this is: where is this truth? How does it attain to truth without a system or context to validate it? For theists and the like, this truth can be sited in God. But there are plenty of Realists around who do not have a working concept of God – so where does their absolute truth reside? In some strange parallel universe that has truths but no thinking beings to conceptualise them?
This ties in with Nietzsche’s observation that “anti-metaphysicians” still believe in Plato’s absolute truth, they just reject Plato’s claim that this truth is God. He criticises this prior commitment to truth, and so do I. I’m far from convinced that the truth is worthy of this degree of adulation, especially once it is stripped of any divine veneer. The idea seems to be that there is a system of truths that we tap into, and our grasping of the truth is just glimpsing this ultimate system. But that was precisely what Platonic idealism was – so are contemporary Realists confessing to being idealists? Because that admission seems rather self-defeating!
The truth has to be somewhere, it can’t just be an ephemeral spectre that has ‘truth’ and nothing else. For me, true things have their life in systems of thought and belief, and it is only in such systems that something can be true. That’s where my truth “lives”. But Realists insist this isn’t the case, and that what is really true is universally and absolutely true – even without God as an anchor for this absolute assertion.
So where does this absolute truth reside? If it resides in some absolute system, perhaps one that we don’t have direct access to, then this is tantamount to God (or at least, the “God of Spinoza”, whom Einstein acknowledged). But even then, the truth would be true only within a system; this view amounts to the idea that there is a perfect system and within that perfect system truths are absolute. This view doesn’t give much for Realists to hang on to, since clearly nothing we think or believe rises to the level of this imaginary perfect system.
As pictured above, The X-Files used to claim that “the truth is out there”. Fair enough – but where?