“Truth” like so many other terms is not clear and unambiguous because we use the term in many different ways. Let me talk about just two: there’s capital T Truth and there is small t truth.
Capital T truth often finds its home in certain kinds of texts, most often those called scripture by those who are insiders in a particular group. Religious Truths, political Truths, are the sorts of claims I have in mind. They are proclamations, articles of faith, rules of the game.
- The free market is the only way to economic nirvana.
- God is love.
- God is peace.
- Three strikes and you are out.
- There are three downs in real football.
- On Easter Christ rose from the dead.
Small t truth is quite different. It never parades as fixed and eternal, but is more modest. It is quite clear about its function in a sentence and disappears as soon as possible once its job is done.
- It is true that there are 4 beer in the refrigerator.
- “It is raining” is true if and only if it is raining.
- Evolution is true.
- Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
- It is true that the NFL and the CFL have different rules.
Notice the first set is made up of proclamations. These capital T statements are constitutive rules of the language game they establish. They really are not true or false, but are just True by definition of the game. Notice the absurdity of a baseball player trying to argue with the umpire that he should be allowed four strikes. Or a Christian who doesn’t believe in the resurrection. Small case true is a relational term – it claims a relationship between a statement and a state of affairs. If Noam has scoffed two of the beers in the refrigerator then it is no longer the case that there are four beer in the refrigerator.
Capital T TRUTH is always delivered with certainty. Small case truth is more modest. It attempts to say what is, but can be emended if someone has drunk some of the beer.
Certainty tells us about the speaker’s state of mind and not about a state of affairs. Certainty is demonic.
Mark Twain gets it right: We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after the Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment- until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.
“What is truth?” asked Pilate of a now famous Roman prisoner a couple of thousand years ago. Unfortunately Jesus did not answer. But let’s imagine that the conversation was recorded by a Jewish scribe.
What IS truth?
Truth is a relational term, Pilate, just as “larger” or “heavier” it requires a relationship between two things – a belief and a condition that IS the case.
A belief? Do you believe that you are the son of God?
As I have said on many occasions I am the son of man. Beliefs come in three flavours, Pilate. True beliefs, false beliefs, and untested beliefs. It is our obligation as humans to eliminate false beliefs by constantly evaluating and testing our beliefs as to consistency and correspondence. Those that pass these tests we call true beliefs.
Your accusers have called you a miracle worker, a magician, a false prophet. Are these charges true?
That is for you, not me, to determine.
But what of the miracles?
Miracles are in the eye of the beholder, Pilate. They are also used in stories to indicate a special person, a hero. You will recall that your Caesar is called a god and a miracle worker.
The crowd is getting restless, Jesus, I must end this conversation now, interesting as it is.
Stirred up by false beliefs the crowd insisted that this charlatan, this philosopher, this challenger to the TRUTH be put to death.
And it came to pass.