What is Truth?  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

     Truth? Truth? There ain't no such animal.

    Well, maybe, maybe not. Let's start with the assumption that that which can be proven with scientific objectivity can be safely placed in the category of "truth". Even this becomes problematic when further research uncovers previously unknown facts and older concepts must be laid to rest. Nevertheless, currently accepted scientific truths lend a level of reliability, confidence and comfort to decision-making.
    Aristotle weighed in on the topic centuries ago when he said, "To say of what is that it is not, nor of what is not that it is, is false; while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true." Which brings to mind Bill Clinton's question of how to define “is".

    But, of course, much of our life is spent outside scientific validity, and this is where the rub comes in. Now it becomes a matter of truth by belief. We all believe what we want, choose or happen to believe. No one can gainsay or contradict the beliefs that one holds to be true. Whether right or wrong, adaptive or destructive, our beliefs are true for us. We are comforted when others believe as we do, just as we may be irritated by those who refuse to see the light.

    So, this sets the stage for some philosophical considerations. Outside of science, is there such a thing as absolute truth? How can/should one examine an idea or concept for its truthfulness? Who or what do we take as an authority to lend credence to our beliefs?

    What are the consequences of believing something that is not true? How would we know if we were in that situation? What consequences follow when our truths are contrary to those close to us, or to society in general?

    If there is no absolute truth, how can we know the meaning of life? Why do we exist? What is this thing we call morality? If we cannot know the answer to these questions, is there any point in asking them? What difference does it make? How disconcerting is that!

    There was once a bumper sticker that read, "God said it. I believe it. End of discussion."

Why do we ask Why?  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

     Certainly, it is easy to see that asking "why" is essential to progress in any field of endeavor. There would be no advances by individuals or society without asking that vital question. It takes a certain level of intelligence and motivation to ask "why", and those who do not do so will remain stagnant.

    Why do we ask why? There are several possibilities. We may be seeking the answer to a puzzling question or problem, or we may want to understand how or why something works the way it does, or we may simply be nosy about someone or something, running the risk of invading another's privacy.

    It is deeply unsatisfying to not know the answer to something that puzzles us. This is an example of fear of the unknown. In these circumstances, we may make up an answer that seems reasonable just to escape the anxiety of not knowing. In the days when we lived in caves, we had to know the reason for thunder and lightning. What do you think the answer was that they came up with? Later, we had to account for the daily rising of the sun in the east and setting in the west, and we all know how that was handled for many centuries. The point here is that it is counterproductive and perhaps dangerous to answer the question carelessly or ignorantly.

    When we seek answers, how can we judge the quality of the solution that we come up with or is suggested to us? Is the answer based on demonstrable facts or does its validity rest on the testimony of others? Since we cannot know everything about anything, we must rely on others to answer our "why" questions. This can be a risky proposition.

    Why do we find it so difficult to accept an answer that is contrary to our current understanding?

    What is the most important "why" question that can be asked?
    When asked "why", it is not unusual for someone to offer the first response that comes into their head when they actually do not know the answer. Why is that?

    "Why?" can be the most aggressive word in English language. The one posing the question can be seen as demanding an explanation that can make the recipient decidedly uncomfortable. He/she is likely to fabricate an answer just to escape the torment of being questioned.