The Historical Movement of 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 name National Collective Intelligence.

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

For those of you who hold this article before your eyes, one thing must be certain — that you have felt an unsatisfactory commitment toward the truth. Only on account of this dissatisfaction can a work which is titled How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity spark any interest. Therefore, this work assumes an atomic dissonance. A feeling that, in some way, we have not done a satisfactory job of nurturing the disclosure of truth within our social economy. Of course, our dissonance is founded upon real examples. Yet, we cannot surmise those cases which you, the reader, bring to this work. Therefore, we can only repeat here the most national or global. And after all, during the period of later modernization we seem to have harbored an almost universal suspicion toward governmental officials and those lobbying on behalf of capital interests. Our distrust is evident in the appeal which populist rhetoric entertained on both sides of the political spectrum. However, an example can also be made of our equally pervasive encouragement of concealment. This encouragement is not only apparent when looking to our virtue of privacy. In as much as truth not only contains object-facts, but also reports on our subjective states and aesthetic judgement, we can say that we have experienced something of a reservation toward disclosure, generally. Consider the disclaimer, ‘we don’t talk politics or religion at the dinner table’. Of course, when looking at family life during this period of later modernization, we can understand this disclaimer as necessary. However, we assume this necessity as mere evidence of an uncivil exercise of democracy. Therefore, it shouldn’t be any surprise that we found utility in the solace of the internet echo-chamber. No doubt, alternative infrastructure manifested to cope with symptoms of the existing platforms.

In looking into the rich history of human languages we find testament to the many projects in which the human spirit has found itself invested. Laying behind the objects taken up into those texts we find not only the material substrate with which they worked, but also metaphysical objects which facilitated an intellectual resolve to the hurdles which they faced. Throughout the One-Thousand and One Arabian Nights, for example, we find the disclosure of a metaphysical substrate — this substrate with the purpose of reconciling with natural hierarchies. In those fairytales we find appeals to humility before Destiny and praise to God for deliverance from the devastations of yet another deity, Time, “the parter of companions and the destroyer of joy”. Equally, we can find a similar substrate in the literature from the medium aevum. Here we find literature by those who have fallen victim to the indifference of lady Fortune, including the comfort of God’s council — which has not only been taken up during creation, but has also been consulted when drawing up the blueprints of the end of your days.

Now, despite all of this, it seems that ‘truth’ feels like a meta-object. However, this feeling does not come to us on account of the utmost value which we place on it. Instead, truth feels like a meta-object because it stands as that which is to be disclosed as a whole, in part, through each of those projects. Yet, despite this supposition, a light study of our historical texts reveals something quite to the contrary. What we know today by the name ‘truth’ has been arrived at though a history of ascending and descending human projects. Looking within the language which we known as modern English, we have been handed a history which tells us plainly that long before the truth was busy destroying the false, it was experienced as something of a light (it was a clarity of vision, so-to-speak) — one which was all-too susceptible to obscuration through the mists of doubt.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, we have an Old English text which reads,

“Nu þu ne þeaꞃꝼꞅꞇ þe nauhꞇ onꝺꞃæꝺan. ꝼoꞃþam þe oꝼ þam lȳꞇlan ꞅpeaꞃcan ðe ðu miꝺ þæꞃe ꞇȳnꝺꞃan ᵹeꝼenᵹe liꝼeꞅ leoht þe onliehꞇe…”

“oꝼ þæm þonne onᵹinnað ƿeaxan þa miꞅꞇaꞅ þe ꝥ Moꝺ ᵹeꝺꞃeꝼaþ. J mið ealle ꝼoꞃꝺƿilmað þa ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe ꞅƿelce miꞅꞇaꞅ ꞅƿelce nu on ðinum Moꝺe ꞅinꝺan…”

These words were transported into the Anglo-Saxon world by way of a translation of Roman senator Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), circa 524 AD. Translated into modern English by J. S. Cardale in 1829 we read,

“Now thou hast no need to fear any thing; for, from the little spark which thou hast caught with this fuel, the light of life will shine upon thee…”

“…From hence, then, begin to grow the mists which trouble the mind, and entirely confound the true sight, such mists as are now on thy mind…”

The project which De Consolatione Philosophiae is involved, can be deciphered through the objects taken up in the language of the text. In the work we read of ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe (true sight). Here, ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe is what we have while dwelling in ꞅōþ-an (the true). Only from this dwelling, can the mists of doubt come to cloud over it. Of course, ꞅōþ is not to be understood as a spatial-temporal dwelling, but as a disposition from which the world is ‘looked out to’. This use of ꞅōþ is retained into Middle English through William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.” That is to say, that while dwelling in ꞅōþ, I have access to the knowledge of my sadness.

Today, we find this idea of truth as dwelling quite alien. But only on account of these objects can we obtain the project of De Consolatione Philosophiae. Disclosed through these objects we find a quite peculiar encouragement of doubt. Doubt is promoted as a means to edification and above all else, an assurance of God’s council in the actualizing of Fortune. In as much, we can interpret the project as one toward self-assurance. Of course, the need for self-assurance within this work is trivialized once we dwell on the Roman senator’s life situation — after all, Boethius had been incarcerated for defending a treasonous senator. De Consolatione Philosophiae is, therefore, undoubtedly a piece of prison literature. And of course, there is no better time for reconciling misfortune than during incarceration. Yet, despite this trivialization, what should not be underestimated is the work’s popular appeal. De Consolatione Philosophiae spread throughout the European continent. In this way, it can be said to resonate with the spirit of the medium aevum.

While ꞅōþ has fallen out of parlance, another word, with a different etymological heritage, triewþ (truth) remained through to modern English. But this was not before ꞅōþ had found home in another human economy, which remains preserved in the word ‘soothsayer’. A ‘soothsayer’ is one who speaks fantastically, without justification — in as much as divination is an ill-respected profession today. Therefore, we can say that ꞅōþ did not become obsolete, but rather has switched meanings.

Of course, running besides this understanding of truth as dwelling, we also interpret ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe as ‘the real sight’. In modern English we retain this use, for example, in the expression ‘true love’. This expression also indicates something of a false love — a prior deception. Not to be overlooked, the true as ‘the real’ also suggest ‘the one and only’. True love is undoubtedly single and sole — without comparison. This singularity retains in the conception of truth as an assertion which is in agreement with objective reality — ‘objective truth’.

In as much as the project of De Consolatione Philosophiae is equally that of self-assurance by means of doubt, we can say that it anticipates the foundation for the scientific industries. Rene Descartes “the father of the metaphysical foundations of modern science” began out of the same encouragement of doubt as a method for arriving at truth. However, in that work, assurance is explicitly absent and instead we find motivation for the method in certainty. The distinction between the two is essential in interpreting the novelty of Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditation on First Philosophy). While we could never understand what it would mean that nature would deceive us — with a fake atomic particle, say — we can follow the logic of Descartes in ‘subjectivizing’ the deception. After all, we assume that nature has no preference whether or not we know it. Deception is a possibility of the thinker himself; therefore, the thinker’s virtue is clarity of thought. In as much as self-assurance can only be achieved within the realm of the ‘subjective’, we can say that certainty (in contrast to assurance) has the distinction of the rational-logical which we find in mathematics. To be sure, we can revisit Descartes’ second meditation,

“…our reason is not unjust when we conclude…that physics, astronomy, medicine and all other sciences…are very dubious and uncertain; but arithmetic, geometry and other science of that kind…contain some measure of certainty and an element of the indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, two and three together always form five, and the square can never have more than four sides, and it does not seem possible that truths so clear and apparent can be suspected of any falsity or uncertainty.”

— this passage is repeated here from a composite translation from both the French and Latin, by Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross

In tracing the utility of logical-mathematical certainty further, we follow the historical continuum to later modernization. Here we find a second and explicit utility which certainty secured. Undoubtedly, the project of modernization demanded mobilization. Industrialization provided for that mobilization and therefore opened the necessity of cooperation. This cooperation across the segments made use of logical-mathematical certainty as a virtue. We have come to know this virtue as objectivity. Here objectivity requires a standardization by which to compare one object (phenomena) to another (the measuring rod). Neither the scientific industries, democracy, or the liberation of capital economy could have maintained without securing the virtue of objectivity.

This uncontested utility of the objective had given cause for a certain modern arrogance. And during later modernization, those that found themselves equipped with this narrative, were quick to interpret history as full of archaic minds — those which would be incapable of dealing with the ‘advanced’, therefore ‘better’, data hyper-complexity needed for modern world problems. And although this progressive narrative was critiqued by Friedrich Nietzsche some time ago, the deflation of the arrogance still resonates. After all, there is good reason for understanding this qualification of truth as an agreement with standard as very narrow. No doubt, we find some of the most pedantic concerns within internet forums. For those who have cared to look close enough, we find the project to discern ‘opinion’ from ‘fact’, ‘believing’ from ‘knowing’ — that is to say, to discern a distinction between ‘belief’, ‘fact’, and ‘believing in facts’. No doubt, this was an attempt at the reconciliation of the language inherited through the kings and philosophers. While ‘the true’ was equivalent to ‘fact’; ‘the false’ equal to ‘not fact’; and ‘the true’ opposite to ‘opinion’ and ‘belief’ — all that we really wanted to say was that ‘the true’ is tantamount to that which is ‘the verified’ with a third party ‘objective reality’. In as much, truth had been reduced to a tool only suitable in teaching our children and ex-lovers the virtue of integrity.

Of course, the pedantic debate is actually quite justified. Ludwig Wittgenstein has written concisely on this matter. One of the most elegant passages comes to us from a translation of a notebook clipping never intended for publication. In what has come to be known as Wittgenstein’s Butterfly Challenge you are asked to perform a seemly quite simple task, “Imagine this butterfly exactly as it is. Except beautiful instead of ugly.” However, for anyone whose vision has conformed quite militantly to truth as that which is an agreement with an objective reality, the meaning of this challenge must be nearly impossible to interpret. Yet, anyone who has honestly attempted the challenge will understand that the task is impossible to complete. Of course, it would be a mistake to consider the paradox as a rhetorical statement on our inherent subjectivity. The challenge is merely directing attention to what is obvious; any aesthetic value whether ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ is there immediately — primordially — together with the phenomena. It is not some ‘human coloring’ added on to a cold-hard and human-independent substance. And instead, all judgement is reducible to the experience of phenomena — whether the description which we come to is beautiful, ugly, or four inches or thirty minutes long. The difference lies in our tools — our measuring rods. And already here, it should be obvious. Our lack of desire to compare ‘the beautiful’, ‘the ugly’, ‘the disgusting’, ‘the precious’ to standardization should tell us that this method of qualifying truth, while helpful in many respects, is also narrow.

Consider the moment when someone ostensively proclaims, “Truth!” This expression discloses more than simply verifiable phenomena. Behind this proclamation is the value “good!” or “healthy!”—it is a testament to “an affirmation of my life!” The object-fact undoubtedly carries value. And yet, when looking backward toward the developments of later modernization, we find that an obsession with ‘objective truth’ had obscured the robust human experience. What we find during the period of modernization is that the intimate ‘subjective’ discourse such as aesthetics (the romantic, the epic, the uncanny) and personal experiences (love or grief) were bullied—relegated to secondary objects of discourse, if respected at all. As an example, we can consider the practice of object-fact-laden political debate. While emotion-filled during the time, today these debates appear soulless. After all, during this period there can be no doubt, we wrote away the profundity of our feelings. We simply resolved that, “I can’t dispute the facts”—and we had done this with our shoulders shrugged. Industrialization had encouraged the expectation that true facts are cold-hard, human-independent. However, what we find today is that the objective truth had become a shield which protected the speaker and concealed the subjective experiences and aesthetic judgement (—we only need to consider the soullessness of the abortion debate!) Therefore, we understand this diagnosis as both dire and pervasive. After all, the prioritization of objective truth seemed to hold even in our private encounters, which have adopted the form of our industrialized language. Not only do we hide behind the objective fact in political disclosure, but likewise in personal relationships. But let’s be honest. The descriptions of our subjective states and aesthetic judgements identify the richest and deepest objects we have in our world. Possibly the most fruitful to share with each other. Only from the vantage point of today, with appropriate distance from this period, can we now acknowledge that a robust human experience requires a liberation of human expression. In as much as this is the case, we cannot expect that our prescriptions for nurturing truth will be directed to nurturing the disclosure of objective truth. And, after all, we must admit that prescriptions here would be quite uninteresting. This article series would have never been written if it were with the intention of simply prescribing the establishment of better institutions for empirical investigation.

While we have initiated this proposal with a polemic on the objective qualification of truth, we are ultimately interested in nurturing not only a more robust truth, but also ‘the telling of the truth’, generally. We are interested in encouraging the condition for this ‘telling’—that which we know as authenticity. In as much, we are interested in deconstructing the infrastructures which encourage deception, dissimulation and concealment. Only with such a diagnosis in hand can we make social-organizational prescriptions for reform—those which can establish an infrastructure capable of nurturing a robust truth—including and yet beyond the quantitative thinking of modern industrialization.

Justin Carmien, July 6th, 2020


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Justin Carmien

Lecturer on Philosophy at Spinderihallerne, Vejle Denmark. Philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and political metamodernism

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