(noun) the quality or state of being true
Some definition, right? So much for not including the word in its own definition. Well the truth is…sorry…but the truth is that truth is a pretty tough term to define. The very question “what is true?” is one that has been debated by philosophers for millennia. In the fourth century BC Aristotle said of truth:
“To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true”
And for some reason that didn’t settle the issue. Huh.
For philosophers, truth is often the ultimate goal. Philosophizing is just one way of seeking Truth, and vice versa: if you seek truth, then you are a philosopher. Many artists are philosophers, capturing truth in their paintings or photographs or dances. Many civic leaders are as well. Gandhi’s entire life—one of the greatest examples of philanthropy, altruism, and a passion for social justice—was merely a self-described search for Truth. I say merely because for most people it would seem that his political triumphs, his accomplishments for civil rights and everything he did to earn his place in history are all so much greater than simply stops along the way on his journey to find Truth. That’s for hermits or monks or gurus who live in caves high in the mountains and subsist only on morning dew. But for Gandhi, it was everything. Truth was synonymous to God in his mind and he was incredibly devout. He devoted his whole life to trying to come in contact with pure Truth—and he still managed to be one of the most influential people in all of history through his courageous actions. Or maybe that is why he was able to do that.
Truth exists beyond philosophy, though. Many of us have no interest in being philosophers—ESPECIALLY after having taken a couple entry level courses in the subject—but that does mean we are exempt from truth or its effects. We may not explicitly consider the question “is there such thing as universal truth?” but we are faced with it every time we disagree with someone. We see it in political debates where Democrats and Republicans reach stalemates because of their differing fundamental principles. Is there one truth? If so, then someone must be right and someone wrong. Or is truth different for each person? If so, then how do we reach a compromise or settle on a common standard?
Of course, truth is not always so metaphysical. Whether or not there is such thing as Truth, there are definitely cases where it is either true or false. Did he commit murder? Is she lying? Was Dumbledore actually gay? This is the sort of truth that we see (or hope to see) on the news every day. It is the sort of truth that concerns us, and from whence stem the lies that we hate so passionately. It is also the sort of truth that has changed so much in recent years.
This lower case ‘t’ truth used to be very simple: there was only one truth and you either told it or you did not. If two people told differing accounts of the same event, belief was generally given to the one with a more rational explanation and the other was declared a liar. (The history of lying is a much longer story than what belongs here, but safe to say it has had its ups and downs; sometimes lying is in vogue and other times it is not—AKA sinful). But truth is no longer a binary: now it is a discussion, and belief is not always given to the one with the most evidence.
This is true for exactly two reasons, and generally speaking two sides can be blamed. I add that only because nobody likes to hear about a problem without also hearing who is to blame, and also so that this discussion can be put into the context of current events (modern day discussions over truth). In not necessarily this order, the two sides to blame are conservatives and liberals. Conservatives, for tightening their hold on outdated religious beliefs in the 21st century like a capsized sailor grasping at shards of his ruined ship; and liberals, for zealously adhering to the notion of open-mindedness and being afraid to take an absolutist stance. Both sides have become extreme in their ideology, and therefore the rift between them has become too extreme. This is incredibly evident in every facet of modern politics, but I will speak only to how it was affected our society’s view of the truth.
The truth is up for grabs, and it goes to whoever talks the loudest, the longest, or last. The truth is based more on popular opinion than scientific fact, and therefore can change at any time. The truth is not necessarily important, and has no bearing on emotions, morals, or impulses, all of which are much more important. The truth is a thing of the past, belonging to unenlightened simpletons.
Whether or not capital ‘T’ Truth exists, and what it means, will always be the same—that is, there will always be an unsolvable debate about such an idea. But the truth is something that can be changed and therefore can be lost if we do not take it back. The truth is fragile, and if we let it be passed back and forth between people who have no respect for it, it could be irreparably damage. And when the truth is lost or forgotten, humanity will become very dark indeed.