What is the truth?  Can we know it?

Some may argue that these are very important questions.  I wonder.  Why? Is the truth all that important in our world where image is more important than substance?  The economy of our world isn’t based on any kind of truth?  Survival does’t go to the fittest but rather the fattest.  Wealth isn’t based on investment but rather on debt.  Life in our affluent bubble reality has no sharp cutting edges or deep chasms that the unwary can fall into.  There is no pressing reason to know the truth – so why bother to seek it..  The school of life has been put on permanent recess.

The Free Dictionary defines truth as; “conformity with fact or reality.”   Yet Kat McGowan writing for Psychology Today tells us; “In recent years, cognitive psychologists have gathered bountiful evidence that self-deception is a basic feature of the human mind. There are many advantages to deceiving ourselves, including appearing confident and winning the favor of others. Our minds are a jumble of conscious and unconscious elements that allow us to be both deceiver and deceived, although we may differ in the degree to which we are onto our own tricks.”  Even the high priests of social science will admit that mankind is not temperamentally suited for the truth.

Yet, the truth does exist even though we may not be avid fans of it.  Would we  be able to acquire any sort of knowledge of it even with the most rigorous methods of science or philosophy?  To say the truth exists is to say reality exists.  But this is quite a different thing from saying that we can completely know either by purely human methods.  Claiming that the truth can be known involves a paradox; “Fitch’s paradox of knowability is one of the fundamental puzzles of epistemic logic. It provides a challenge to the knowability thesis, which states that any truth is, in principle, knowable. The paradox is that this assumption implies the omniscience principle, which asserts that any truth is known. Essentially, Fitch’s paradox asserts that the existence of an unknown truth is unknowable. So if all truths were knowable, it would follow that all truths are in fact known.”

The problem with human’ knowability’ of the truth can be described in another way; “If you, dear reader, could theoretically know anything which is true (even if it required you live forever), then, in fact, you already do know everything which is true, that is, you are omniscient. (If you don’t believe yourself to be omniscient, you are forced to conclude there is some truth you cannot possibly know.  . . . )” (Sam Alexander in Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability)  It is human pride that inclines us to the belief that there isn’t anything we as a species cannot know or come to know.  Yet, this prideful claim has obvious logical flaws.

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We desire to be like God and know everything – to be omniscient.  This is an age-old flaw in the human character; “For God knows that in the day you eat from it [the Tree of Knowledge] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)  We deceive ourselves and are partial to being deceived by others especially if flattery is involved.   The notion that some truths we cannot know or come to know by ourselves goes against our pride.  It’s bad enough to deal with the idea that facts are slippery, partial, context laden and sometimes discovered to be wrong.  For many it is intolerable to be asked to consider the possibility that human reason and ingenuity cannot uncover every truth in existence.  They would rather believe a lie than admit to a limitation.

The postmodern mindset prefers to kill the idea of absolute truth rather than admit to man’s inability to know all that is absolute truth.  Indeed to say there are no absolute truths is to make an absolute claim – to commit the very crime being condemned.  If we let go of our prideful desire to be like god(s), a whole different category of truth becomes available to us.  This category of truth is revelation.  Sadly, revealed knowledge is often too revealing for our ego.  In a society where facts are relative and truth is only accepted if convenient  there is little interest in revealed knowledge.

The truth like freedom isn’t desired if it doesn’t come at room temperature and pleasing to the eye.  Why bother with it?

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