The trouble with truth, or so I learned at university, is that truth is always dependent on context. The question always to ask is, true for whom, and where, and at what point in time? Because the truth is that truth is always an invisible variable, so should not ever be synonymous with, or used interdependently with, fact.
For example, Jane Austen begins her novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with the well-known sentence: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
Well, that may well have been true for Jane Austen and the rest of the landed gentry in the early 1800s in Regency England, but certainly not for the whole world at large across the entirety of time. It may well have been a truth, but not a fact – back in the day many rich men did indeed marry in order to produce a legitimate male heir to whom to pass on their estate. Good old patriarchy and primogeniture!
But it’s certainly not true now – does that make it a lie then? No, of course not – well, not necessarily – because what is true for one person or society or culture at one time in history may not be true for another person in a different era.
And what about these newsworthy things that happen to crowds of people all at the same time, but confusingly contradictory reports come out that seem to make liars of everyone involved. Are they lying? Probably not, because one person’s experience may be true to them in their internal situation, but the person physically standing right next to them may have an entirely different experience, equally as true to them.
A deeply religious person may experience a particular situation very differently from someone with a purely scientific or atheist or agnostic background. For example, Biblical explanations of the creation of the world based on the Christian faith (the only faith I know enough about to comment on) are regarded by some as the absolute God-given truth, therefore how these believers experience the world as individuals is necessarily predicated on that belief.
Alternatively, more earthly-based empirical explanations based on carbon dating and the existence of physical fossils etc. are considered by non-believers to show the truth of how the world began. And other religions may have their own belief systems to colour how they experience the world. But are any, either, or all of these explanations based on actual facts for all people and all time?
Hmmm… well even what counted as scientific fact in the past got things wrong sometimes, where the arrogant use of artistic licence or biased assumptions and interpretations in previous times often means that previously undisputed historical ‘facts’ are no longer always true in the modern scientific world. So does that mean they were always truths not facts? Surely facts require proof to back them up, but truths only really need enough belief in their veracity to be true. Surely facts are objective, truths are subjective…
Ideally it would be nice to think a fact is a fact is a fact, fixed and constant for all people and all time, and so there can be no such thing as alternative facts. Except… are even pure measurements absolute facts? Distances can change over time as roads change direction, weights can change as gravitational pull changes, but nevertheless there is a reasonable constancy there. We like to think that an inch is an inch is an inch (unless perhaps certain parts of a male anatomy are under discussion)…
And what about the accuracy of the political statistics bandied about by all and sundry when measured against facts and truths and experiences? It may well be true on one hand, for example, that a given high numerical figure of people find themselves suffering because of a particular swingeing cut in Government spending, but also true on the other that a set percentage rise in funding for what appears to be the same topic from a very different perspective has been achieved – both may well be technically factually accurate and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Very confusing…
So basically I’ve just blown my own argument out of the water here – it seems that I’ve just proved to myself that sometimes facts are not necessarily that much more factual then truths after all… So I suppose I just have to give up here and end my treatise with the well-known words of Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who wisely surmised that ‘the only constant is change’.
Now that this week’s Fandango’s Provocative Question has provoked me into a thought-confused stress-headache, I must admit that it’s perfectly true that I’m off for an indulgent lie down in the middle of the afternoon – and that’s a fact! 🙂