The Historical Movement of Truth

This article series is for economic reformers and political 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***

Initially we ask, what is truth? A timeless philosophical question. And, on that account, perhaps quite uninteresting, no? The very appearance of the question provokes suspicion. No doubt, we are weary to construe truth in such a fashion that our investigation becomes too narrow, thereby rendering our investigation easier, but less useful. We want to appeal to a common-sense answer. We want the whole truth and nothing but the truth! As the expression goes. Yet, at the same time, we should not be surprised that this is our initial question — after all, our investigation on how to nurture truth and authenticity demands that we delineate the object which guides our investigation. Of course, we can make a principal claim to this initial question. In asking after truth we are not after the truth — any particular object of truth — but the very nature of truth, as it shows itself in our economy. However, in thinking on this nature we need not heed to our concerns over the timelessness of this question. In asking about truth, we can proceed in much the same way we might seek to define freedom or power. Truth, just like any other word, can be understood by looking at the economy to which it belongs — or more correctly, by looking at the recordings of testimony from within that economy. It is here that we find the meaning of words — this meaning pointing toward the nature of that object. Of course, in taking up this method for investigation we should not worry of reducing truth to a mere ‘dead’ word appearing in text. We do, after all, seek the identification of the very phenomena to which the word refers us. This method for defining terminological objects will be taken up throughout this article series. Therefore, perhaps some preliminary remarks on words, language, and objects are in order.

It has been said that the world is constituted by the language which we take up in talking about it; and that this world is the total collection of objects talked about; and furthermore, that those objects themselves are nothing other than what we are able say about them. Even in talk of the mysterious we say something about the constitution of that which is mysterious — we know it, as part of its very constitution, as a mystery. This is a constitutive understanding of language. Another argument suggests that language is much more biological — that is life logical. Here language is a tool. Much like the hammer drives the nail, language disturbs the molecular composition of the air in order to affect another material object — a human ear, a human brain, a human body. However, we must also acknowledge that prior to such language as material tool there exists a ground for the possibility of language. That is, we must acknowledge the primordial condition from which language is possible. Following the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger we talk of this primordial condition as discourse.

Since discourse is a condition for language, it is prior to language, pre-linguistic. As such, it is likely best expressed figuratively. Perhaps we could talk of discourse as something of a harmony with nature. And only on account of this rhythmic harmony can the world come to be articulated as the world that it is. In this sense we think of language (whether body, verbal, or written) as a mere refinement — a further articulated form of discourse. For those who are more economically attuned, we might express this discourse as something of a pre-intellectual (or pre-cognitive, to use the scientific word) wheeling and dealing with nature. A dealing which takes place not only between people but with the entirety of phenomena in experience.

This understanding puts this pre-intellectual dealing as that which is prior to material, or rather, as that which is a condition for material description. Now of course, no one would question that food is material — or that our whole biology could sustain without this sustenance. Yet, if we were not the type of thing that experienced hunger, then apples, blueberries or chunks of raw meat could never come to be food. It is not to say that other physical descriptions could not be obtained from that phenomena, but food could not be one of them. Likewise, a fallen tree could never come to be a chair if we weren’t the type of thing which enjoyed a relaxing pause after a hike through the woods. These very objects, food or chair are conditioned by our very wheeling and dealing with our environment. Imagine, for example, an organism which, by way of its circumspection within its environment, created definitions in that environment, such that those definitions allowed for more articulated economy with its environment. Whether the organism of our consideration is some fantastical primordial ooze, or simply a human baby, we can imagine the process of definition — of drawing circles around phenomenal experiences — such that the organism could have in its possession wood then timber then toothpick.

And yet, regarding this condition for language, another qualification must be made. This very handiwork activity of wheeling and dealing with nature is itself possible only on account another condition — that which has been called projection. Perhaps we might think of projection by way of analogy to a physiological counterpart, for example, the previous mentioned hunger or perhaps even sexual reproduction. As the biologist might say, we are projected towards future survival and the future survival of the species. However, we should not get caught up in the analogy. Projection is that which conditions an orientation toward the future in its most robust sense. It conditions descriptions which provide for that future. For example, the good or the just are descriptions which provide for a realization of that goodness or that justice in the future. Projection, then, is the condition for the world to be encountered as the world which it is — whether the description which we come to is woodtimbertoothpickthe good or even the truth.

In looking into the rich history of human records we find testament to the many projects (projections) 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 the 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 an occult 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 — the European middle ages. 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.

Despite all of this, it seems that the object 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 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 onꞃæan. ꝼoꞃþam þe oꝼ þam lȳꞇlan ꞅpeaꞃcan ðe ðu mi þæꞃe ꞇȳnꞃan ᵹeꝼenᵹe liꝼeꞅ leoht þe onliehꞇe…”

“oꝼ þæm þonne onᵹinnað ƿeaxan þa miꞅꞇaꞅ þe ꝥ Mo ᵹeꞃeꝼaþ. J mið ealle ꝼoꞃƿilmað þa ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe ꞅƿelce miꞅꞇaꞅ ꞅƿelce nu on ðinum Moe ꞅinan…”

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 book we read of ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe (‘true sight’). Here, ꞅōþan ᵹeꞅiehþe is what we have while dwelling in ꞅōþ-an (‘the truth’). 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, for example, in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.” That is to say, while dwelling in ꞅōþ, I have access to the causes 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 book 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 book’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.

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. The French philosopher Rene Descartes, who has been called “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 his work, assurance is explicitly absent. Instead, we find motivation for his 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 of this distinction, 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 projects of later modernization demanded unprecedented human mobilization. This mobilization was promised by an industrialization of human activity — an industrialization which could not have been possible without a logical-mathematical standard. During this period, the pervasiveness of standardization went unquestioned. This is attested for in the popularity of positivism as the guiding philosophy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Positivism takes the positum, the sensuous, as the real. Yet, positivism goes further than empiricism. The sensuous is that which constantly proves itself upon any appearance of doubt. Such proof can only be had by way of a subsequent verification — a repeatable verification. The positum is that which constantly proves itself by way of comparison with a ruler of the standard. The positum is verified data — ‘positive data’ — the fact. In positivism, positive facts constitute the only genuine form of knowledge.

Of course, from the vantage afforded us today, what we find concerning regards the verification of the intimate objects, such as those of aesthetic judgment or of ‘subjective’ experience. After all, it is not entirely clear what standard could be used for verification here. The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein interrogated this perplexity. Yet, his purpose was not merely to qualify the intimate objects of experience as different from those of scientific description — this much had been admitted for some time before him. Instead, Wittgenstein presents a series of arguments which suggest this perplexity over standardization extends even to scientific investigation. In his own words, “We learn to observe and to describe observations”. That is, we are taught the scientific method. But he asks “how is my own ‘inner activity’ checked in this case?” That is, “how will it be judged whether I really have paid attention [to my sensations of the phenomena or not]?” (Zettel, section 426). To be clear, the purpose of his interrogation was not a destruction of scientific investigation outright, not even an ungrounding of the philosophical foundations for the sciences, but instead a philosophical elucidation. While measurement by way of a ruler of the standard is often given as reason for judgement, such reasoning must come to an end somewhere. Wittgenstein’s elucidation completes once we understand that even in standardization a judgement must be made. That is, we must still determine which standard to use.

“If a blind man were to ask me ‘Have you got two hands?’ I should not make sure by looking. If I were to have any doubt of it, then I don’t know why I should trust my eyes. For why shouldn’t I test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? What is to be tested by what?”

This passage from On Certainty (section 125) concludes in a quite punctual question. “Who decides what stands fast?” In other words, who is the final judge? A God? A dictator? A technocrat? Society? Of course, with the failure of a grounding standard as the test for genuine knowledge, we must admit that at some point of grounding our reasons, we approach the very foundation of our reasoning — a “rock bottom”, as Wittgenstein called it. However, we should not understand Wittgenstein’s elucidation as a criticism, such that we are reduced to either the irrational or occult. Instead, what we find at such a rock bottom is not faith (his is not a critique of Christianity, for example) but conviction — or rather the economy in which we find our convictions. This is what Wittgenstein means when he says that “…it is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.” (Philosophical Investigations, Part I, section 241). Only a form of life could determine the ‘final judge’ — an ultimate ruler of the standard. Of course, in thinking on form of life, we are nearly brought full circle, back to the very inception of this chapter and our reflection on discourse.

Yet, in as much as we recognize in ourselves a want for the truth as a positive fact, we also understand this conception as our own today. However, we can also say that Wittgenstein’s elucidation has prepared us. Much like the mark of a snow angle which is left by waving one’s arms and legs, we search for the economy of the human animal — that form of life which is impressed upon each one of us in having the truth of matters decided by way of the positive fact. Our clue for discovering this impression is nothing yet, besides the positive fact itself. Yet, we can also remind ourselves of the original provocation for this investigation — a feeling that in some way we have not done a satisfactory job of nurturing the disclosure of truth from within our inherited economy. We go forward with the understand that any deception, dissimulation, or concealment of the truth has only surfaced as a by-product of our economy. We likewise understand that nothing interesting can come from looking at dissimulation, deception, and concealment as deviations from normal behavior from within our inherited infrastructure.

From the vantage of the liminal here and now of our today, it has become overly obvious that a robust human experience requires a liberation of human expression, beyond the positive fact. In looking back to recent modernization, we find that the intimate ‘subjective’ discourse such as aesthetics and personal experiences were bullied — relegated to secondary objects, if respected at all. No doubt internet forums became platforms for pedantic concerns for the qualification of the nature 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 the ability of truth taking for granted the thing-in-itself, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysical object, noumenon.

Today it is overly obvious that this resolve has shown itself unsatisfactory. No doubt, 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!” Even the positive fact carries value — a utility which was utterly obscured in, for example, the United States abortion debate. No doubt, the positive fact had become a shield — one which protected the speaker and concealed the good and the just. We simply resolved that, “I can’t dispute the facts” — and we had done this with our shoulders shrugged. We wrote away the profundity of our experience — and with them the projection to which those descriptions referred. In as much, we cannot expect that our prescriptions for nurturing truth within this work will be directed toward nurturing the disclosure of the fact. 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. For the time being we assume that the economy itself can no longer satisfy our content. We conclude this chapter only as an initiation for what follows.

Justin Carmien, July 6th, 2020

Share this on your Social Media:

1 thought on “The Historical Movement of Truth

Comments are closed.

Follow by Email