The Banality of Truth?

What is truth?  I like the following definition:

X is true if X corresponds with the state of affairs

So if I find something matches reality, then I can say it is true. However, things get more involved because some people talk of types of truth.

For instance, there’s accidental or contingent truth; something is true because things happen to correspond with it, but they could have been otherwise.  For example, if I claim there is a red car parked outside, then this is only true if a red car happened to be parked outside.  It could just as easily be that a red car is not parked outside.

Then there’s necessary truth or tautologies.  These are things that are true by definition.  For instance, if I claim that bachelors are single, then this is true because I just re-stated the definition of bachelor. There is no state of affairs that could invalidate this claim.  Further, these necessary truths are not always obvious; sometimes, very long chains of reasoning are required to draw them out, but in the end, it comes down to re-stating definitions.

This line can be blurred by looking at the conditions for fulfillment of a claim.  For instance, in the case of the red car above, someone must drive a red car and have left it parked it outside during the time I made my claim. However, no one needs do anything in the case of bachelors being single.  One can also look at it in terms of causation: how many entities separate a claim and its fulfillment? Yet another way is to look at it is how much effort is required to validate a claim. If you want to know if a red car is parked outside, you have to come to me and take a look.  If you want to know if bachelors are single, you need do nothing.  The fewer conditions, entities or effort required to validate a claim, the more necessary it is as a truth.

As such, one could (in a sense) think of some truths being “truer” or more powerful than others, based on their necessity.  That they are more accessible to reason is an argument in their favor, as it democratizes the truth.  For instance, not everyone has the ability to come to where I am to see what I see, but everyone who understands my language knows bachelors are single. Yet, ironically, these necessary truths are often dismissed because of their very necessity. After all, how often do we hear people hand wave something away because it’s tautological?

So here’s a question: if the divine exists and wished to make itself known to all, would it choose an accidental means of communication or a necessary one?  That is, would it communicate by specific events, or write its existence in the structure of our reality (be it experience, language, etc…)?

I won’t go far with this because it’s too easy to pick holes in this question, but it’s tempting to speculate.  For instance, morality has often been treated as a sort of “truth”.  To claim that one should act in a certain way because it’s the right thing to do is a truth claim.  What’s more, the violation of morality is often seen as a cause for punishment, such that one could claim of a moral act (X):

Doing X brings a reward; not doing X brings punishment.

Yet, what is the nature of this reward/punishment?  Does it require the intervention of another agent, which makes it accidental, or is the reward/punishment built into the structure of the act itself, and thus it’s necessary?  That is, would doing right bring reward by an entity later, or would it bring a reward because of the act itself (a necessary truth of how my mind is structured)?

Some claim the possibility of a psychological reward for morality is argument against the divine, but what if this is a necessary communication of the divine?  It would also raise interesting questions about many parallel teachings we observe in different religions and philosophies.

Another example: if we consider suffering to be caused by thwarted desire to be a necessary truth, then another necessary truth is that overcoming desire implies overcoming suffering.  Now, some may take objection with the possibility of overcoming desire or whether one would want to do that, but let’s not go there :).  The point is that given all the above, the parallel prohibitions of some desire-inducing acts (like pride, envy, etc…) take on a new dimension.

So what if the “righteous” dimension of morality is a non-issue, and morality is instead like proper nutrition — for the mind/soul?  That is, one simply does it because it leads to optimal functioning (happiness) and not because it’s “right” or “wrong” in any ‘ethical’ sense?  What if this basic structuring is the divine communication?

To those who think this marginalizes the divine, I say it actually makes the divine seem much more competent.  After all, who’s the better designer — one who must interfere in the operation of a machine to get it to work, or one who designs the machine to do the right thing in the first place?


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