Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Monday, October 11, 2004

The Truth about Truth

Can we ever really know Truth? Does such a thing exist? Can we know anything?

Philosophers have grappled with that question. In fact, there is an entire discipline of philosophy devoted to the subject: epistemology.

The famous 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes, attempting to answer that question, posited for the immutable foundation from which he was to construct his philosophy, the premise: Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. That was to be the incontrovertible certain Truth forming the starting point of his contemplation. (Even that premise, however, has been challenged.)

For those of us not inhabiting the ivory towers of academia, what, if anything, of practical value, can be said of the notion of Truth, and our ability to know it? With your indulgence I will briefly lay the foundation of the argument.

Our awareness of external objects is made possible by, while simultaneously limited by, our “channels of awareness,” i.e., sight, sound, touch, smell, and perhaps intellect, although that may merely be a projection of an internal construction (a discussion for another time.) Those are the mechanisms by which we apprehend and form our understanding of an external object. The point is, that of the many facets inhering in the existence of the object of our perception, we are limited to apprehending only those characteristics that appear to our channels of awareness. There may well be many other facets or dimensions of the object that escape our observation because we do not have the means (additional channels of awareness) with which to apprehend those dimensions of the object. (It is interesting to note that the evolution of increasingly complex life forms introduces additional channels of awareness as that evolution progresses.)

With the limitation of our perception, perspective is introduced.

A perspective necessarily represents a limited view, rather than a complete view. By analogy, consider a circle of artists drawing an asymmetrical object positioned in the center of their circle. Each, looking at the same object, will draw something different. They will see the object differently, depending upon their vantage point – their perspective. What each artist draws will be true, but only a partial truth, not the whole Truth.

Some would have us believe that Truth does not exist, that at best, it is a purely relative construct. I would argue that Truth does exist, in its fullness and immutability, but that we are limited in our ability to know it by our limited channels of awareness. Yet it is in our constant striving to know Truth that we fulfill our destiny in the evolutionary procession of life.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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