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 banner of prefigurativism.

***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 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 international. 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 the rational, but also reports on our subjective states and aesthetic judgement, we can say that we have experienced something of a reservation toward disclosure, generally. No doubt, we have all heard 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 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 history of modern English, we find texts which reveal 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 the real—reality. In as much, 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. 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. Clarity is exclusive to reason. In as much, we can say that certainty (in contrast to assurance) has the character of logical-mathematical. 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

It is here, as the logical-mathematical, that we find a second and explicit utility which certainty secured. Undoubtedly, the project of modernization demanded mobilization. Standardization provided for that mobilization in the form of decentralized industrialization. The logical-mathematical proved a foundation for this decentralization. No doubt, the pervasiveness of this method of ascertaining the world went unquestioned. And during this period the utility of the logical-mathematical world description had given cause for a particular arrogance. Those that found themselves resonating this arrogance 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. A value entirely parasitic to modernization’s demand for mobility. And although this progressive narrative was critiqued by Friedrich Nietzsche some time ago, the deflation of the arrogance still resonates.

In looking back to this period, what we find 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, if respected at all. No doubt internet forums became platforms for pedantic concerns for the qualification of truth. For those who cared to look close enough, we found the project to discern ‘opinion’ from ‘fact’ and ‘believing’ from ‘knowing’ — that is to say, to discern between ‘belief’, ‘fact’, and ‘believing in facts’. This was an attempt at the reconciliation of the language inherited through the kings and philosophers. While ‘the true’ was equivalent to ‘fact’ and opposite to ‘opinion’ and ‘belief’ — all that we really wanted to say was that ‘the true’ is tantamount to that which is verified with a third-party objective reality. An understanding of truth taking for granted the ‘thing-in-itself’, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysical object, noumenon.

One of the most elegant objections to this qualification of truth as the logical-mathematical comes to us from a translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In what has come to be known as Wittgenstein’s Butterfly Challenge you are asked to perform a quite simple task, “Imagine this butterfly exactly as it is. Except beautiful instead of ugly.” This challenge invokes a realization which is likely obvious to any child; any aesthetic value whether beautiful or ugly is there immediately, alongside the phenomena. It is not some ‘human coloring’ which is secondarily added on to the phenomena. And not until a new circle is drawn — either including more, excluding some, or outright mutilating the phenomena — can the judgement be imagined otherwise. This exercise reminds us that any judgement — whether beautiful, ugly, or four inches or thirty minutes long — is informed by the method which we use. The difference lies in our method of ascertaining. And already here, it should be obvious. Our lack of desire to ascertain ‘the beautiful’, ‘the ugly’, ‘the disgusting’, ‘the precious’ by way of standardization should tell us that this method of qualifying truth, while helpful in many respects, is also quite narrow.

During later modernization, the understanding of truth as the logical-mathematical gave cause for certain heartache. And in looking back we find a perverse utility which the logical-mathematical came to serve. The empirically founded ‘fact’ had become a shield — one which protected the speaker and concealed subjective experience and aesthetic judgement. We only need recall the practice of fact-laden political debate. Here, we wrote away the profundity of our experience. We simply resolved that, “I can’t dispute the facts” — and we had done this with our shoulders shrugged. And yet, 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. Today it is obvious that the proclamation “truth!” discloses more than simply verifiable phenomena. Behind this statement is the value “good!” or “healthy!” — it is a testament to “an affirmation of my life!” The fact undoubtedly carries value. This utility was utterly obscured in, for example, the United States abortion debate. In as much, we cannot expect that our prescriptions for nurturing truth in this work will be directed toward nurturing the disclosure of quantitative 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 history with a polemic on the logical-mathematical ‘objective’ qualification of truth, we are 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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