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Are We All Entitled to Our Own Truth?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-05-25 07:08:39
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Plato’s Myth of the Cave

You may have noticed lately that the popular slogan “everyone is entitled to their own opinion” has slowly evolved to “everyone is entitled to their own truth.” This is particularly evident among the very young but it is not however something brand new, given that what in philosophy goes by the name of Relativism and Subjectivism, as opposed to Universalism and Absolutism, has a very long and even respectable history.

In any case, somehow, in our troubled times, the word “truth” has come to substitute the word “opinion”; sometimes it substitutes the word “interpretation.” Meaning, ultimately, that everyone is entitled to create and hold on to one’s facts no matter how they are arrived at or on what foundations those facts rest. That is to say, we are all entitled to our own ignorance of the facts; that too is guaranteed by the Constitution and democratic principles. It’s part of being free. We now have people’s representatives who, with a straight face, will flatly deny that there is such a thing as climate change. When challenged about their assertion with scientific facts, they will declare that scientists are entitled to their own opinion on the facts, while they are entitled to theirs. In any case, vote for me and follow me, and don’t pay too much attention to scientists and their findings. Indeed, when the blind lead the blind, can the demise of democracy be far behind? De Tocqueville had a few things to say on that aspect of democracy.


Science seems to have been degraded to the subjective while truth seems to have been reduced to the sphere of the private, the subjective and the personal. My truth is sacred to myself and so much the worse for the scientific evidence of the facts. The facts are what I say they are, and in any case I am entitled even to my own ignorance; we live in a free country and nobody can impose his views on anybody else. I own my own truth, whatever it may turn out to be. If I don’t own it, then how can I speak truth to power, how can I stand up for my beliefs and confront those who have different beliefs?

At first blush, the above rationalizations seem rather reasonable, in defense of individual rights. But make no mistake about it, this is a very dangerous operation as Plato’s “Myth of the Cave” (found in his Republic) has powerfully been intimating for the last 24 hundred years. That myth continues to appeal to our imagination because it points to a crucial distinction between appearances or taken for granted misleading assumptions and the truth of an issue, which lies not in the dark cave but outside where the sun (an allegory of truth) shines in all its splendor.

Leaving epistemological controversies and Plato’s myth of the cave aside for the moment, let’s briefly reflect and analyze this ominous modern understanding of the nature of truth and let’s do desisting from too much philosophical terms. The first question that arises here is this: Has truth become a fad like any other? Obviously, “my truth” and “your truth” are on the rise. Could it be that we are going back to a more ancient definition of truth understood as fidelity? Fidelity to what? Not with the facts, not with reality as it is, which only appears with the 16th century, the century of Galileo and Francis Bacon. Before that “living one’s truth was understood as “being faithful” to one’s Self or perhaps something outside one’s personality. So we end up with “my truth” and “your truth” and the two may not agree. After all, did not Shakespeare advice “to thine own self be true?”


So we end up with owning our own truth. That could mean the truth according to my own state of mind at the moment, or according to the human condition, or what is convenient or inconvenient at the moment. After all, there are plenty of inconvenient truths that I’d rather disown. But could it be that Shakespeare’s advice was ultimately a warning against self-deception rather than an advice to consider one’s state of mind objective and self-justifying? Could it be that “owning one’s truth” simply means stubbornly sticking to my own opinion regardless of the evidence of the facts? Could it be that such a state of mind leads to inevitable disaster? Could it be that this owning of the truth as a personal possession of sort, reduced to the private sphere, not only will not redeem or free us from the chains of the dark cave, but, to the contrary will divide us from one another, make us lose sight of the common good, and thus lead to our perdition? Food for thought!   

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Nikos Laios2015-05-25 13:15:54
A world awash in ignorance and opinions where the light of truth dims and flickers less brightly than before...year by year.....very timely and prescient words indeed...thank you for holding up the torch of examination.

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