From time to time I hear curious things about what truth is or is not. I hear these things from normal, thoughtful people who are mainstream, law-abiding citizens. They are neither political fringe members of either direction, nor are they cloistered academics with only casual encounters with reality. Things I hear from them are something like these:
“There are no absolute truths.”
“I have the right to believe anything I want, and you must allow for that.”
“You have your truth; I have mine.”
To the first, that there are no absolute truths, the statement is internally inconsistent. The statement would be an exception in and of itself.
To the second, the American right to free speech certainly allows one to believe anything one wants. To conclude, however, that all ideas are equal is not a valid conclusion. You may, if you wish, write a spirited defense of pedophilia or slavery, but it will not convince me of its truth. The equal right to express ideas does not mean ideas are equal. You may call me intolerant, but that is a whole other question addressed elsewhere.
To the third, and more common, declaration about truth, there are several concerns.
Firstly, we are inundated with data in our Western society through radio, television and the internet. And, we tend to believe what we hear, or at least provide benefit of doubt, when we see or hear it. If we reword what we hear, see or read it becomes “ours” and we assume it true. But, rewording is not analysis, and we seem to not have, or take, time for analysis.
Secondly, since the idea is now “ours”, we rarely realize we are relying on some authority – a politician, or web site, or news conglomerate, or talk show host – as the idea generator. “This is my truth”, we think. Disagreement with the idea is now taken to be a personal affront. The results are loss of dialogue, isolation of people, and focus on trivial and irrelevant issues.
Thirdly, thinking highly of ourselves for all this “truth” to which we have sole access, we begin to think there is no truth outside what we know, personally, to be true. This may be just laziness, but this also requires me to claim a certain level of intellectual confidence, perhaps even arrogance, to which I am unqualified to claim. To think millions of people, and billions through history, are wrong is, well, absurd.