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January 16th, 2021
What is it?
Philosophically speaking, there are many different theories: correspondence theory, coherence theory, deflationary theory, pluralist theory, epistemic theory, pragmatic theory, etc. There are more, and some of the ones just listed have subcategories as well.
There was a survey that happened in 2009, in which 3226 people associated with academic philosophy responded, and 45% chose the correspondence theory as their theory of choice. Peter Boghossian nicely defined this as:
The correspondence theory of truth basically states that objective truth exists and we can know something about it through evidence and reason. That is, there are objective truths to be known, and we gain reliable knowledge about them when our beliefs align with reality. It’s termed “the correspondence theory of truth” because a statement is considered true when it corresponds with reality and false when it does not.
There are philosophical challenges to this theory of course, but this is the one that first comes to my mind when the word truth is discussed. Beyond all these geeky philosophical theories, it would also be good to consider how the word shows up through a premodern, modern, postmodern, and metamodern lens, and through different developmental frameworks such as the Kegan stages or spiral dynamics.
I also find it quite helpful to make another important distinction, and this is between truth and truthfulness, or: speaking what is true and speaking truthfully. Our friend Daniel Schmachtenberger cleanly makes this distinction in his Rebel Wisdom’s “War of Sensemaking” video.
He uses the correspondence theory for his definition of truth, e.g. what you say maps over to reality, while being truthful means what you say maps over to what you believe to be true. You can have different combinations that arise with these distinctions, e.g.
Someone is being truthful, and is speaking what is true.
Someone is being truthful, but not speaking what is true.
Someone is not being truthful, and is not speaking what is true.
Someone is not being truthful, but is speaking what is true.
The latter is what politicians and lawyers are good at doing. One of their techniques is called paltering, which is stating true facts in such a way that consciously engenders a false impression, with an intent to deceive. This is similar to Harry Frankfurt’s notion of “bullshit.” When somebody is bullshitting you, they are not being truthful, but they may speak what is true at times, without caring about the truth, and they do this with the intent to persuade.
While palterers aim to deceive, bullshitters aim to persuade. These are also tools of the sophists of course, those who enter conversations to win arguments, rather than to discover the truth. None of this is going to lead to communitas, and to turn to the words of Josef Pieper, one of my favorite Catholic philosophers: The natural habitat of truth is found in interpersonal communication. Truth lives in dialogue, in discussion, in conversation ...
This is why Daniel puts so much importance on truthfulness. From the Rebel Wisdom video:
One of the highest values is truthfulness, with other people that are committed and want to do that and not only people who are not lying to each other, but they are endeavoring to not withhold information, which is tremendous intimacy, and tremendous vulnerability.
I think another term can be added to the truth and truthfulness distinction, and that term is this: the spirit of truth.
My Christianity will show now, and I will quote John 14:17, the New King James Version: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
When one is being truthful, without trying to engineer an outcome, then the spirit of truth will flow through, and then He will be here. I really like Gregory Kramer’s notion of “truth power,” which I defined before as: a certain type of speech where you speak what you believe to be true, and it is a truth that wants to be spoken.
There are ways to practice this, and this may be my bias showing, but I think Ria Baeck’s Collective Presencing is one of the best ways to experience, and get good at, expressing truth power. Ria first reached out to me on April 9th, which was about three weeks after The Stoa launched, and she has been doing weekly sessions at The Stoa ever since. I do not think this is a coincidence.
The reason why I sense Collective Presencing is so important, and other intersubjective practices that are finding (and will find) their way to The Stoa, is because we live in a world where the sophists won, and in order to “succeed,” one needs to get good at paltering or bullshitting. It is easy to get cynical of course, and embrace the phrase: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur, which is to say: The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.
Fair enough, but this is where the story gets interesting. Those who can see the world through a transperspectival lens, which is to say those who could “see through” multiple reality tunnels, have optionality in how they express themselves. AllSides has a culture war dictionary, which shows you how certain words show up in the war. They only show two perspectives though. Imagine if you had access to many perspectives, and had the capacity to speak through all of them.
What perspective do you choose?
Perhaps the one that invites your interlocutor and yourself to experience the spirit of truth together.
This is speaking truth power of course, and whatever perspective is needed for this truth power to manifest will be different from context to context. This is why those of us who have gravitated to The Stoa are so attracted to all of these intersubjective modalities such as Collective Presencing. We are becoming intimate with the felt-sense of truth power itself.
We know where truth is found, and it is not found in words typed on a keyboard.
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