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Aληθεια, Verum, Truth

This article series is for social reformers and activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call ‘liberal’, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions. Undoubtedly a bit of political agnosticism is required for digesting this series. Already now, the final recommendation can be teased. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity then we require an economy championed under the banner of prefigurativism.

***Note: some devices may not read special characters which appear throughout this article***


Our project is to nurture truth and authenticity. In order to do so, we must disclose the historical economies in which truth has found service. While this may seem like a roundabout way to arrive at social-organizational prescriptions, we should remain confident of our method. We turn toward our historical continuum in order to discover the cause in a deprivation of the phenomenal experience of truth. Only on account of this deprivation can our prescriptions have value.

Following the etymology of ꞅōþ initiated in the previous article we find ourselves directed to the Middle English origins of our object ‘truth’. Here we find very similar words trouthetruthetrewthe, and treowthe. Furthermore, this family of words can be traced to Anglo-Saxon trēowþ and trīewþ. Now, despite the appearance of deceased characters in these words, the modern English ‘truth’ is still recognizable. And while there is not a single definition to contain the meaning, we can say that the context of the Anglo-Saxon’s text directs us toward associations with modern English words such as ‘veracity’, ‘faith’, ‘fidelity’, ‘loyalty’, ‘honor’, ‘pledge’, and ‘covenant’. We can follow this etymology further back to Proto-Germanic triwwiþō (‘promise’, ‘covenant’, and ‘contract’). From here we find the Proto-Indo-European *drū- (“tree”) and *deru- (‘firm’, ‘solid’). Additionally, we find modern ‘truth’ cognate with Norwegian trygd (“trustworthiness, security, insurance”), Icelandic tryggð (“loyalty, fidelity”). All of this can be researched on Wiktionary.com in greater detail than is worth repeating here. However, a particular absence becomes strikingly apparent with only this shallow etymological interrogation — an absence which tells us that this might be the wrong place for investigation into the economy in which truth is employed today.

What is spoken today in the word ‘truth’ is only in a very narrow sense ‘fidelity’, ‘loyalty’, or ‘promise’. Today, what we mean by the word ‘truth’ undoubtedly refers us to something much more concrete. It is the real, the one and only. Only in this sense can truth refer us to the material substrate of physics. What should not be overlooked is that this essence of truth has meaning in relation to the false — and in looking at the Anglo-Germanic etymology of truth, this relationship is explicitly absent. In as much, we can conclude that the essence of our modern English word ‘truth’ is of very un-Germanic origin. Instead, this dichotomic paradigm of the true/false can be traced to the socio-political revolution preceding the medium aevum — the Christianization of Europe. Of course, we might ask ourselves — could Christianization have such force to transform the very conception of truth among a people? Undoubtedly, we should answer, ‘yes’. And in fact, we should expect nothing less from a transformation of pagan culture. In order to understand the transformation, we look toward the language of the Holy Roman Empire, the authority, and the Church. In Latin we discover the dichotomic essence — verum (true) and falsum (false). Interrogating this origin is essential for understanding the service which truth came to fulfill in the project of modernization.

We translate the Latin verum into modern English as ‘true’. The stem of verum is ver. In tracing the history of ver, etymologists have identified the Indo-European root per. Even in mouthing these two sounds we notice a correspondence. Now, understanding per in English is actually quite easy. These three letters most likely come forward to an English speaker as a prefix. In looking at words such as ‘pervert’, ‘pervade’, and ‘perfect’, the prefix directs us to associations with ‘through’, ‘thoroughly’, or ‘throughout’. However, we also find per leading the word ‘percent’. Here, per not only parses a whole, but also serves to establish something of a spatial or temporal boundary. Only by means of both ‘through’ and ‘boundary’ can the essential realm of human comportment preserved within this root come forward. In English per is preserved in the word ‘experience’. We can think of experience as that which is the boundary of a person’s day-to-day, their village, their tribe. However, experience not only parses a boundary in order to simply have that designation. ‘My experience’ and ‘your experience’ present themselves when that boundary is at issue — only when I am present with experience as an obstacle — one which must be transcended. The word ‘experience’ owes itself to an encounter with a boundary such that there can be movement not only throughout, but also through and beyond it. Therefore, we can come to think of per as belonging to the human comportment of ‘parse to transcend’.

With the essential domain of per explicated, the domain to which the Roman Christianity verum belongs likewise draws forward. The proclamation “verum” draws a circle. The phenomena bound by that circle we know as true. But this designation does not come forward for the sake of merely obtaining in knowledge. The utility of the true presents itself only when looking to transcend the circle. Quite figuratively, we might say that verum (the true, in the sense of the correct) is a building block. The thorough, throughout, and throughness of verum discloses to us the project to construct and maintain an empire of knowledge. Therefore, in verum we read an implicit approach toward phenomena, generally. An approach toward phenomena for the sake of appropriation into knowledge — or episteme. To be sure, the discipline which followed Rene Descartes has come to be known as ‘epistemology’ — quite literally, the discourse of knowledge.

Now, we can bring ourselves into a moment of profound elucidation if we follow the utility of verum through the economy of the empire. Yet, this moment can only fully realize if we understand the dichotomy in which verum belongs. After all, only in understanding the two components can the whole be brought into meaning. In falsum we find fallo. Etymologists have traced Latin fallo to the reconstructed language of Proto-Indo-European. Here we find *(s)gʷʰh₂el-, meaning ‘to stumble’. The second-person singular future passive indicative of fallo is fallere — ‘bring to a fall’. However, where is the falsum, the ‘bringing to a fall,’ essential within the economy of the empire? What realm of experience is normative here? This question is not particularly novel, though it seems to have failed to produce much excitement within academia. In as much, it has remained obscure to a popular audience. Despite this, it is high time we repeat this question — after all, today we are operating from within larger empires than any which we find in our history books. Understanding the essential domain of verum and falsum — the essential domain of the true and the false — is of paramount import for diagnosing the symptoms of modernization. Therefore, in going back to the origin, we find the question delivered over to us by way of its pronouncement by Martin Heidegger. Of course, the question already contains in itself an answer. Heidegger himself answers his question by reference to the colonial history of the post-Iron Age Mediterranean. His narrative follows,

“Command as the essential ground of domination, includes being-superior, which is only possible as the constant surmounting of others, who are thereby the inferiors. In this surmounting there resides again the constant ability to oversee. We say where to ‘oversee’ something means to ‘dominate’ it. This overseeing includes the surmounting, involves a constant ‘being-on-the-watch’. That is the form of acting which oversees everything but still keeps to itself: in Latin the actio of the actus…The essence of the imperium resides in the actus of constant ‘action’. The imperial action of the constant surmounting of others includes the sense that the others, should they rise to the same or even to a neighboring level of command will be brought down — in Latin fallere (participle: falsum)…The properly great feature of the imperial resides not in war but in the fallere of subterfuge as round-about action and in the pressing-into-service for domination…the falsum is treachery and deception, ‘the false’.”

Heidegger’s narrative comes to us by way of André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz’s translation of Gesamtausgabe, volume 54. This volume comprises material from an hourly lecture courses which Heidegger conducted during the winter term 1942–1943 at the University of Freiburg. While the narrative goes unexemplified in the lecture course notes, the interpretation of falsum resonates. We can find supporting narratives running through Theodor Mommsen’s History of Rome. According to the Greek way of thinking, it was a polite method of acquiring influence over powerful barbarians, who would not submit to imperium (command), to treat them as of Greek extraction. This was not only an admirable refinement to flattery, but also deceptive politics. The myths of Roman settlement trace heritage to a Trojan colony. Therefore, for the Romans themselves subterfuge would have been a social substrate which laid the foundations of their very city. Following Julius Caesar and Augustus ius Latii (Roman Rights) were used in a similar way — as a political instrument that aimed at integration of provincial communities. We should not be surprised, then, if the falsum took its essence from the realm of Roman imperium in the form of the fallere — the false, that which is a deception — of subterfuge.

Now, we may be tempted to judge this etymology as material merely suitable for trivial pursuits — a narrative only useful for entertaining afternoon coffee partners — hardly material for making social-organizational prescriptions. And, at this juncture we might find ourselves inquiring into not only Heidegger’s ambition, but also the relevance of his project to the one which we are undertaking here. After all, what imperialism bothers us? Aren’t we talking about knowledge? And isn’t the project of a certain ‘epistemic imperialism’ healthy? More confusedly we might ask, “What other projects could we expect truth to serve?” And not to be mistaken, these are all good questions. They will inform the investigation through the last few paragraphs here, as well as the next two articles, concluding the first half of this work.

Heidegger’s lecture course in question was called Parmenides and Heraclitus, but in view of the nearly exclusive occupation with Parmenides’s didactic poem on the goddess Aληθεια the editors modified the title of the volume to Parmenides in publication. From the very first pages of this volume we find Heidegger eager to transport his student’s thinking from any modern prejudices. His ambition is to wrench Ancient Greek αληθεια of any modern associations which our translation into ‘truth’ provokes. This is in order to redeem Parmenides’ goddess from the Latinization which dominates our interpretation today.

The next three paragraphs will give us three words to work with in understanding Heidegger’s project: αληθευειν (alētheuein, ‘to adhere to the unconcealed disclosive in the saying that lets appear’), ομοιωσις (homoiosis, the disclosive correspondence expressing the unconcealed’), and οιεσθαι (iesthē, ‘to taking something as something’).

“Since Plato, and above all by means of Aristotle’s thinking, a transformation was accomplished within the Greek essence of αληθεια, one which in a certain respect αληθεια itself encouraged.”

 “Aληθεια is the unconcealed and disclosing.”

“The unconcealed can be disclosed by humans and for humans only if their comportment adheres to the unconcealed and is in agreement with it. Aristotle uses the word αληθευειν for this comportment…This adherence to and agreement with the unconcealed is in Greek ομοιωσις. This correspondence takes and holds the unconcealed for what it is. To take something for something is in Greek οιεσθαι…”

While it has become trivial to acknowledge that ‘the subjective’ was a concept foreign to the Ancient Greek way of thinking, it nonetheless requires a special attunement to experience ourselves out of this very ‘modern’ conception. In the above three sections, we find Heidegger’s ομοιωσις (the disclosive correspondence expressing the unconcealed’) as an ‘event’ which occurs outside the subjective realm. Perhaps we could say that it is immediately present in the object itself. It is ecstatic. Either the phenomena presents itself as what it is, or it presents itself as guise, ψευδης (pseudōs). But Heidegger is concerned with the Latinization of Greek culture and language. And more importantly the obscuration of αληθεια by way of a Latinization which set the course for history.

“Imperium is commandment, command. The Roman Law — ius — iubeo — is rooted in the same essential domain of the imperial, command, and obedience. Command is the ground of the essence of domination…But now because verum is counter to falsum, and because the essential domain of the imperium is decisive for verum and falsum and their opposites, the sense of ver, becomes maintaining…verum becomes forthwith ‘being-above’, directive of what is right; veritas is then rectitudo, ‘correctness’.”

“…But because the Greek ομοιωσις turned into rectitudo, the realm of αληθεια, disclosure, still present for Plato and Aristotle in ομοιωσις, disappeared.”

The Latin rectitudo, the ‘correct’, Heidegger understands as ‘the self-adjusting to’. Oμοιωσις, as self-adjustment, is an ‘event’ which requires a home.  Today, after many centuries of refinement, we have the object ‘the human subject’ to contain this event. Heidegger’s critique is modernity. The object of his attack is the Latinization of Greek culture and language — such that ομοιωσις had already been prepared for a world of subjects. Aληθεια is wrench from its original domain in the ‘objective’ and handed over to subjectification by way of an economy of imperium, the ‘I command’. Of course, whether this has been a wholesale productive transformation depends on the project in which we find ourselves today. Regardless of our answer to this question, one thing is certain — in accordance with Heidegger’s conclusions — today, it is next-to-impossible to experience αληθεια from within the economy which our inheritance provides. Perhaps some may even claim that we don’t know which experience αληθεια refers to; and therefore, we could never know if we had found it or not. Despite this, one thing is certain. Only on account of this rehousing of αληθεια could ‘the judgement’ come to known as ‘the personal judgement’. And only on account of this rehousing could truth come to studied as a phenomenon for anthropology or sociology. That is, ‘relative’ from the position of the omniscient historical observer.

Although we began with the Holy Roman Empire and the Christian transformation of the Anglo-Germanic conception of truth, it is now only a matter of enumeration to complete the history of our subjective understanding of truth and its use within the economy of imperium. We can trace the dichotomic essence of modern truth from the various scientific industries back to Rene Descartes, “the father of the metaphysical foundations of modern science”. No doubt, Descartes’ metaphysics not only laid the foundations for modern science, but also transported verum’s utility within imperial economy. The imperium, the ‘I command’ was transported from the Pope, who commanded the truth through, for example, the Spanish Inquisition, over to the authorities within the scientific industries.

In as much as language articulates the world, there is something profound in tracing the history of modernization through the Latin language — constructed during the establishment and maintenance of imperial economy. Objectivity, which followed the epistemological tradition’s description of the metaphysical subject, is founded upon the project of imperialism. Truth exists, even today, as that which parses to transcend, within the same economy. This economy seeks to build an empire by way of ‘the one and only’ domain of the true and the false. And although we might be proud to have wrested the ‘I command the truth’ from the hands of the priests of Catholicism, we should not be surprised over the abuse of truth in later times — in the form of fake news or alternative facts. Our infrastructure is built to maintain this economy. Truth is in service to power. Therefore, there can be no doubt, as a consequence we have developed a perverse relationship toward disclosure, generally.

Justin Carmien, July 6th, 2020

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