Archive for April, 2020

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them. –Gandhi

The Consensus Theory of Truth.  This theory is rooted in the idea that truth is what the ‘vast’ majority of the people believe.  In our example from PART I, if the vast majority of the people at the game affirmed that this certain player did play in the game (and you were not there to see it for yourself) then you could accept their affirmation as truth.  This theory of truth is frequently drawn on by folks in order to confirm that what they are saying is true.  This ‘truth’ can easily be disconfirmed and turned into ‘fallacy’ – ask any politician who uses this theory as a means of telling us the truth.  [Note: the word ‘consensus’ is/ can be misleading for we are not talking about ‘true’ consensus; we are talking about the ‘majority’s’ position.]

The Pragmatic Theory of Truth. Pragmatism holds that truth is whatever is useful and profitable to us, and whatever brings us benefit.  For William James, one of the great pragmatists, this meant that truth was ‘changeable,’ rather than something concrete and absolute.  James believed that it often takes a long time to figure out whether something is true or not, based on whether it ‘works successfully’ [much like one trying to distinguish the true prophet from the false prophet; only over time can you really be sure who is who].  For example, when it came to God, James said that there was no real proof for God’s existence and so there was very little ‘reason’ as to why one should believe that God does exist.  However, James believed that if a person found that believing in God help’s one live a virtuous life and a more fulfilling life, then for that person, the truth is that there is a God.

How do we know if a claim is true?  Put simply, what kind of evidence counts depends upon what kind of claim is made as regards what is ‘true.’  Here is one:

Opinions.  These are never false, because the evidence is in the mind of the person giving the opinion.  For example: ‘I don’t like lima beans.’  Is this statement true or false?  In order for you to know you have to be able to enter into my mind – this is impossible (at this time anyway).  Since it is impossible, there is no ‘reason’ to doubt my statement.  Of course, opinions don’t count for much when it comes to ‘persuading another about a truth’ – for all of us have our own opinions.

In order to decide if evidence is convincing we first of all have to know what type of claim is being made.  Claims come in at least three types:

An Empirical Claim.  This claim makes a statement about the world.  For example: The moon is made of green cheese.  We need scientific knowledge in order to test an empirical claim.  Scientific knowledge is public information gained by careful observation, experiments and confirmations.  Today, we have a great deal of evidence that the moon is made up of certain types of rock, not green cheese.

An Analytical Claim.  The claim makes the statement about the meaning of words or other symbols.  For example: The Constitution gives us freedom of speech.  We need knowledge about words and symbols in order to test an analytical claim.  We might consult a document (e.g. The Constitution) or a dictionary or some other reference in order to discover how people have agreed to interpret a word.  This is no easy task; ask anyone who has attempted it. [Consider: ‘Freedom’ – Progressives and Conservatives do not embrace the same definition for this word/concept.]

A Valuative Claim.  This claim makes a statement about what is good or bad, right or wrong.  For example: People should read books and not watch reality t.v. programs.  To test a valuative claim we generally appeal to standards of value.  In this case, the standard might be the value of literacy.  Valuative claims are rooted in deep assumptions about empirical claims (reading and watching t.v.).  For example, we might assume that reading makes us more literate than watching reality t.v. programs; we might assume that being literate is important when it comes to being a good citizen; we might assume that being literate is more valuable than being illiterate.  Responding to valuative claims requires us to decide which value standard is higher.  Like analytical claims, engaging valuative claims is challenging if not daunting.

So, here are two ‘simple’ questions to help guide us: What kind of claim is being made?  What evidence supports the claim?  The search for the truth is not an easy search.  I end this brief exploration with one more question: Is the search for truth worth my time and energy?   Mark Twain remind us:

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

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The great enemy of truth is not the lie…but the myth. –John F. Kennedy

After reading my entries ‘The Lies We Tell’ a regular reader, Steve, wondered if there are a number of ways of telling the truth.  In our country, when one is in court and is called to the witness stand and is sworn in one is asked to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So what is truth?  Perhaps our friend the dictionary can help us.

Truth Defined.  Truth is the state of being the case: fact; the body of real things, events and facts: actuality; a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality; fidelity to a standard. 

We bandy this little word about a lot without paying too much attention to what it means.  ‘Truth’ even forms part of our definition of knowledge – ‘justified, true belief.’   But here I sit wondering what this little word ‘truly’ means AND how can we know it when we see it, hear it spoken, or experience it in action?  I don’t think that this is a silly nor inconsequential question.

How many different ways do we use this word truth?  Here are some examples (and Gentle Reader I invite you to add to this short list) – notice how the idea of truth varies in each statement:

  • He is a true friend
  • He has remained true to his beliefs
  • I love you, truly I do
  • She is wearing true diamonds
  • That is a true replica of a Green Bay Packers football jersey
  • That door is not hanging true
  • He did not stay true to his commitment

It quickly becomes clear that there are many different uses of the word true.  It is synonymous with many other words – genuine, faithful, loyal, original, honest, etc.  This is not surprising for words that are important, like true, often represent a number of different ideas or concepts.

What is truth?  There are four theories of truth – or ‘truth tests’ – that might help us as we embrace this question.  The four are: The Correspondence Theory of Truth, The Coherence Theory of Truth, The Consensus Theory of Truth, and The Pragmatic Theory of Truth.  Let us take a brief – a very brief – look at each of these.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth.  This theory of truth asks whether the proposition matches up to what we know/experience via our five senses to be true.  For example: I go to a football game and afterwards I claim that a certain player was playing in the game.  My claim is based upon my being present at the game and then my seeing said player on the field participating in the game – my senses confirm the truth of my claim.  This theory of truth ‘demands’ that I rely on my own personal experience to be able to discern whether a truth is afoot or not.

The Coherence Theory of Truth.  This theory of truth relies on the proposition fitting in with what we know to make sense.  If I had made the knowledge claim that the football player was playing in the game on Sunday without having been at the game and observing him playing in the game, then my claim would have been made based on other pieces of information that makes my claim to be a claim of truth.  Perhaps I knew he was ready to play; perhaps I heard the coach in a pre-game interview tell us that he was going to play; perhaps my friend, who was at the game, told me he played.  This theory of truth ‘demands’ that I use information not acquired through my personal experience to ‘logically’ reach a truth-full conclusion.

There are two additional theories that we will briefly explore in ‘Part II’ – I am being truthful when I tell you this; honestly I am going to be true to my word (or not – we will see next time).

The truth is found when men are free to pursue it. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Did I offer peace today?  Did I forgive?  Did I love?  These are the real questions. –Henri Nouwen

Good morning Gentle Reader.  If you have been reading my posts these many years you know that I love stories and questions.  Two nights ago, before turning off the light and putting my head to pillow, I found that I was holding a question: What are the questions we do not ask?  Yesterday morning I decided to think more about this question and mid-day I decided to write a bit and as I put finger to key the working title emerged: The Questions We Do Not Ask…

Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider that within each ‘Culture’ and within each ‘Sub-Culture’ there are certain questions that are not asked.  A simple reason is that the circumstances that give rise to them do not exist.  Ah, if only the ‘simple’ truly existed.  It seems to me that there are many reasons and most of them seem simple but are anything but.  Here is one example.

All faith traditions are taught to be response-able, responsible and accountable to those within their tradition.  How many of these faith traditions hold and seek to be response-able to this question: To what extend are we response-able, responsible, and accountable for those who are not members of our tradition?  Here is a corollary question: Do we have a collective responsibility that extends beyond the boundaries of our faith community? 

It appears to me that even today, given the reality that a ‘global community’ truly exists, that our faith traditions are more concerned with defending their ‘interests’ rather than emerging and holding/responding to questions that are truly global.  How many faith traditions are more concerned with ‘conversion’ rather than with ‘serving’ (all faith traditions are rooted in ‘serving’ – the question is: To what extent are we self-serving?).

Consider if you will, Gentle Reader, that one of the reasons we do not frame certain questions is that questions lead to our becoming more aware and, as one sage reminded us, awareness does not bring comfort or solace, awareness brings disturbance.  During this pandemic how many of us are asking questions that are disturbing us?  As a friend noted in a recent email: How much awareness can we really handle?  A great question.

Gentle Reader, I invite you to emerge some questions that you do not ask.  Here are a few of the ones that emerged for me this morning: Why do I continue to choose behaviors that are at minimum depleting and at maximum self-destructive?  Why do I continue to avoid behaviors that are nurturing?  How do I nurture ‘Hope’?  How do I deplete ‘Despair’?  How do I nurture ‘Despair’?  How do I deplete ‘Hope’?

The great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, encourages us to love the questions themselves and to live your questions so that perhaps someday you might live into the answers.

I leave us this morning with what I call Essential Life Questions.  Here are four of them: Who am I? Why am I here?  Where am I going?  Why am I choosing to go there? 


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[Gentle Reader, please see 15April, 2020’s posting for the context of today’s posting – this morning’s post will be the last in this series]

‘The only form of lying that is beyond reproach is lying for its own sake. –Oscar Wilde.

DELUSION.  ‘We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.’ – Eric Hoffer.  I am a master when it comes to delusion.  Like the alcoholic I can delude myself that my problems are the real reasons for the self-violent choices I make; I ignore that many of my problems occur because of the self-violent choices I make [Note: a self-violent choice is one where the result is that I deplete myself in one of four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual].  Delusions support my version of the ‘truth.’  On the other hand (it seems with many forms of lying there is always ‘the other hand’), delusion is a survival mechanism. If I (or you or we) were to contemplate the true effect of global warming, increased consumerism, increased national debt, increased gun violence, etc. I would be so whelmed-over that functioning day-to-day would soon become a challenge.  Too much reality can be paralyzing; as a dear friend once asked me, ‘How much awareness can we stand?  Delusional thinking helps us cope and survive today [of course, the piper will show up one day and expect to be paid – but that is ‘then’ and this is ‘now’].

LYING WITH INTEGRITY.  ‘Never forget to lie.’ – Marian Marzynski, a holocaust survivor.  There are times when we must lie if we are going to act with integrity; telling the truth becomes an immoral act.  The young Jewish children in Poland who were taken in by non-Jews were given new names (literally) and new identities and were taught to lie and were taught ‘never forget to lie’ and learned how to live a lie.  If they did not they would not survive the holocaust.  Families who hid Jews had to learn to lie so that those they were hiding could survive.  On 30 April, 2013 the PBS program FRONTLINE aired the documentary that Marian Marzynski produced and directed.  In it the children who were saved because they learned how to live a lie told their story and Marian himself shared his own story of learning how to live a lie.  Telling the truth can be an immoral act and telling a lie can be a moral act; lying can be an act of integrity. 

PUNISHMENT‘The liar’s punishment. . .is that he cannot believe anyone else.’ – George Bernard Shaw. We all lie, I believe.  And we all have many ways of doing so and we all have many different motivations for doing so.  No matter how we try at some point during the day we will tell or live a lie [there is, by the by, a great difference between telling a functional lie and living a lie].  Nevertheless, our acceptance of lies is like a cancer that we come to accept as ‘normal’ and like the fish who is not aware of the water, we are not aware of the many lies that we swim in every day.  As I sit here pondering all of this I am reminded of what Martin Buber once said – and I will close this piece with his words:

‘The lie is the spirit committing treason against itself.’ 


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If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, it will be believed. –A. Hitler

  [NOTE: Gentle reader, please see 15 April, 2020’s posting for the context of today’s posting]

STEREOTYPES & CLICHÉS. ‘Where opinion does not exist, the status quo becomes stereotyped and all originality is discouraged.’ –Bertrand Russell.  Stereotypes and Clichés serve a purpose given the enormous – and growing – amount of information that washes over us it seems with every blink we take; they serve as short-hands that save us time and energy.  The downside is that both block original thinking; they provide those seeking ‘truth’ for example, a candy bar rather than a full nutritious meal.

The stereotype contains just enough truth for many of us.  The ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, trumpism, etc. – are rooted in and nurtured by the stereotype and cliché and these rely on exaggeration, omission, and ignorance.  They are dangerous, at best.  They take one tree and call it a forest (‘All politicians are self-serving.’)  More importantly these two siblings blunt, if not destroy, curiosity.  They help hearts and minds to close tight and remain locked and guarded.  ‘Surety’ is provided and this trumps ‘doubt’ and ‘skepticism’ (pun intended).  They emphasize differences and hence separate people from one another.  Any minority could tell you the impact of both upon one’s self-image.  Each person in the world could tell us how much more alike we are than different, if it weren’t for stereotypes and clichés.  Many years ago I was sitting in the audience listening to a remarkable woman tell her story.  At one point in an attempt to be ‘open’ she remarked that she had a mouth like a construction worker.  A voice from deep within the audience said, ‘I’m a construction worker and I don’t swear, curse or pimp women!’  The speaker paused, gathered herself and apologized.

GROUPTHINK. ‘A sect is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.’ – R.W. Emerson. Irving Janis (1918-1990) was a research psychologist.  In his 1972 book, ‘Victims of Group Think,’ he defined group think as loyalty to the group being more important than any other value and hence dissent and alternatives are suppressed.  Group think requires a combination of other forms of lying – ignoring facts, selective memory, omission, denial and stereotyping, to name some of them.

A classic example of group think is held within one single day of infamy: 7 December, 1941.  Although there were many signals and a few ‘voices’ they were ignored and silenced or dismissed because of group think.  The United States is not vulnerable to attack!  The Japanese cannot attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor because as we know all torpedoes require 60 feet of water depth and Pearl only has 30 (implied, if not spoken in this, was that the Japanese were not smart enough to create a torpedo that would be effective in 30 feet of water.  Why?  The reason was simple: we couldn’t invent one that could operate at 30 feet.).  Even though the members of the Japanese consulate in Hawaii began burning papers on 5 December, 1941 we ignored this subtle signal.  Within the closed network and closed minds of the top commanders in Hawaii the group think affirmed that all was well.  No one at that level considered the alternatives.  No one wanted to assume the risk of being wrong; no one wanted to assume the risk of going against the group.  Illusion and wishful thinking trumped reality (again, pun intended).

Gentle reader, we will pick up with more ‘Lies’ next time; their number it seems is legion.


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