Daily Archives: March 1, 2012

Truth and relativism

Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

But are there also unknown knowns – things we know we can’t know? In practice we don’t know a lot, but does this mean we know nothing in principle?

Believe it or not this blog has a loose theme. I’ve posted on Christianity and  Orwell, because they both represent different facets of this thing we understand as truth. It seemed to me that Christianity was manifestly based on something that just we have no right to believe to be true. Orwell’s writings throughout, and especially the documentary Homage to Catalonia and his later novels, were about the subversion of truth for other ends, and how this would lead, inevitably if unchecked, to man’s descent into ignorance. Whether we’re talking of religion or ideology, there are powerful forces working against truth, and therefore against progress. So I intend to write quite a bit about truth. I have started this post several times, and abandoned it on the basis I changed my mind on exactly how to approach the subject – would it best to approach the subject of truth for what it is or what it isn’t? For now, I chose the latter.

People don’t believe what they don’t think is true, obviously enough. But maybe they don’t have the right reasons for thinking the way they do. But whatever they do, when arguing they make an appeal to truth. Even those that seek to deny the reality of truth argue for the truth that there is no truth, or that truth has varying meanings.

At the very least, truth has elusive qualities. Something ostensibly so simple to comprehend has an extensive history in philosophy. Continue reading

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