What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

Part 2: What is the value of Truth?

If every single person has their own version of “the truth”, then what’s the value of even having such a word, or a concept? The most obvious use is that it gives us a starting point for seeking agreement on any given subject, whether the subject is scientific, legal, political, philosophical, religious, or “other”. Within those subjects, we devise a code of behavior by which we can live. Within that code of behavior there are (in my opinion) two basic, distinctly separate sets of guidelines. The first is morality, and the second is ethics.

There have been many definitions of those worlds. In the most simplistic sense, I like to think of morals as the group code of behavior. Ethics are the individual’s code of behavior. These could be exactly the same, but they rarely are. Generally speaking, codes of behavior are truly specific to the individual, no matter how much the individual may strive to adhere to the code of their group.

No matter what the group, each one has a basic code of behavior, although not every single aspect of behavior may be encompassed by that group. Certainly every religion has a highly codified set of behaviors, which are usually all-encompassing in the lives of the adherents of that religion. More to the point, each group has a unique code. While every religion has a morality, each sect and each church has its own variations. Each school or subgroup within that school, each business or division or department within that business, each ethnicity or segment within that ethnicity, each culture and subculture, each neighborhood, and so on, all have their own general codes of behavior. If a person belongs to that group, they are expected to follow that code of behavior as much as possible.

However, while most members will generally identify with the behavioral precepts of the group (or else they would not be a member!), it is within the nature of humans to have their own opinions that may differ with some of the group’s precepts on behavior. That’s where ethics enters into the picture. Whenever the individual differs from the group, they do so because, within their personal set of beliefs, a particular code or behavior of the group is not right for them. If a person finds that there is no general group code to which they can “in good conscience” subscribe, then they must form their own code, which is personal ethics.

Therefore, to be “amoral” does not necessarily mean that a person is “bad”, although every religion and many other organizations (such as governments) would wish you to believe so. On the other hand, if a person considers themselves to be ethical, that does not mean anyone else in the world would consider them to be “good”. Many serial murderers considered themselves to be very ethical. There is little doubt that Tomás de Torquemada, the Dominican friar who was the first Inquisitor General of Spain, considered himself to be highly moral. It is all a matter of viewpoint. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Act II, scene 2).

After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else. That is far more complicated than it sounds, and perhaps no human is capable of completely following that maxim. After all, sometimes just a careless comment to someone can be insulting or otherwise hurtful to them. Still, given that basic maxim, it is then possible to build an entire ethical system by which a person may strive to live–that is, as long as that person subscribes to that particular belief.

Another important reason for understanding “truth” is that we can more easily relate to the behavior of others if we are aware that our truth is not necessarily that of someone else and, even more importantly, that ours is not any more valuable than that of the other person. After all, how can we prove that our truth is correct and that of the other person is wrong? For example, the question of whether or not god exists cannot be proven. For an atheist, how can you prove the non-existence of a non-existent being? By the same token, if god does exist, then which religion is the correct religion and subscribes to the “true” dogma? Many wars have been fought, and many people have died trying to resolve that issue.

… and the Truth Shall Set You Free

How much more tolerance could there be in the world if everyone honestly thought that another person’s truths were just as valuable, within the world of that person, as their own truths are to them? How much more peaceful would the world be if fanatics of all stripes did not seek to impose their “truths” on other people by force? That is not to say that we should never seek to convince another person toward our way of thinking, if invited to do so, by the force of our logic. But, if we do so, we should be just as willing to listen to their counter-arguments. Once again, that is one of the great values of having an open mind. Just like a cage, we have no freedom if the door is locked tight.

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8 Responses to “What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?”

  1. Nate Says:

    I really enjoyed both your posts on this subject. You write very well, and I’ve found your points to be quite thought provoking. I was thinking about writing on this subject soon myself, mostly looking at the difference between truth and fact. I think what you’ve written here will definitely influence the way I eventually decide to tackle the subject.

    • Don Maker Says:

      Thanks, Nate. It’s always interesting to explore these metaphysical subjects, and to hear the views of others. I look forward to reading your opinions on these and other abstract topics.

  2. Fact and Truth « Finding Truth Says:

    […] a bit more relative. A few days ago, I read two blog posts about truth, which can be found here and here. In the posts, Don makes the argument that all truth is relative. Truth is merely the sum of all […]

    • Don Maker Says:

      Thank you for quoting me properly, and for having an open mind in consideration of what I wrote. As you may recall from those articles, I clearly distinguished between (what I believe) those words mean: truth, fact, and information. As to the possibility that a supreme being could have created the biblical universe by way of The Big Bang and evolution, I make exactly that same point in my upcoming book, so I strongly agree with your point. I look forward to reading more of your writings! Cheers, Don

  3. William Says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I enjoy most things that make me feel enlightened after having read them.

  4. haydendlinder Says:

    I loved you closing, but this earlier part I had to comment on,

    “After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else.”

    So after all that study, your Jewish?

    That is a joke by the way. I love this post.

    • Don Maker Says:

      Thanks for your comments. I enjoy reading the thoughts of many people, and hope a few of my own will give some people either pleasure, or at least a moment’s reflection. Cheers, Don

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