In pursuit of truth by Angela Caldin

truth-1

Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

That’s what John Keats wrote in 1819 and he attributed those famous words to an inanimate object – a Grecian urn. They are great words with a real ring about them, poetic, moving, inspirational, but do they get us any nearer to an understanding of what truth actually is? It’s fairly clear that they don’t, nor do they help us to get our heads round the various tamperings with facts and evidence that we have witnessed over the last few days on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was Pontius Pilate who famously asked in AD 33 ‘What is truth?’ faced with Jesus’ claim that he came into the world to testify to the truth. Pilate told the assembled crowd, whose beliefs were truth-2different, that he could find no fault with Jesus, but then proceeded, with possibly the most well-known washing of hands in history, to facilitate his execution. It’s an interesting illustration of the difficulty we face: one person’s truth may be another person’s untruth.

Those who work in the courts of law can attest to how difficult it can be in a criminal trial to know where the truth lies. The prosecution version of events can differ so radically from the defence version that it’s clear that someone is not telling the truth or, perhaps more accurately, one person’s truth is different from another person’s truth. In domestic violence cases, for example, it’s not uncommon to be presented with photos of a small woman with heavy bruising to face and arms while her burly male partner says he acted in self-defence. He may well truly believe this against all the evidence; it is his truth, relatively speaking.

One of the first pages to be removed from the White House website on 20 January was the page concerned with climate change. For Trump and many of his right wing supporters, the claims concerning global warming are dubious. Trump went so far as to say that climate change was a hoax played on the world by the Chinese, though he has softened his attitude recently. The facts and the evidence agreed by the vast majority of climate scientists point overwhelmingly to the truth of climate change and to the fact that human activity is a primary driver. The Holocaust is similarly considered a hoax or an exaggeration by some people, ignoring overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary. Most of us know a friend or a neighbour whose family members perished in a concentration camp.

truth-4There are, it would appear, relative truths and truths which, while not absolute, are getting on for irrefutable, like the law of gravity. But my head is hurting now with the stress of thinking about all this and realising that what I’ve written is all a bit muddled, so I’ll finish with a quote attributed to Eminem:

‘The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.’ 

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6 Comments on “In pursuit of truth by Angela Caldin

  1. A letter in today’s Times suggested sending the Ladybird book on climate change to the new President, co-written by HRH Prince Charles. Be interesting.

    • That is a brilliant idea and I take my hat off to whoever had it. The book might be at just the right level for the new President and he could read it in bed with Melania when his busy day is done.

  2. Very good Angela, just a point on the courts of law: Ours is an adversarial system based on trial by combat where might is almost invariably right, and the truth, when it manages to lift its hoary head, incidental.

    • Yes, I thought afterwards that that was a bad example because in a trial the defendant is only guilty if the prosecution can prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, otherwise he goes free. However, as I was trying to point out, those reaching a verdict in a trial will be concerned with the credibility and consistency of people’s testimony. In other words, they must make some kind of judgement on who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Many cases in the Magistrates’ Courts concern one person’s word against another’s. I know this because I spent 23 years as a magistrate in the UK.

    • Yes, I thought afterwards that that was a bad example because in a trial the defendant is only guilty if the prosecution can prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, otherwise he goes free. However, as I was trying to point out, those reaching a verdict in a trial will be concerned with the credibility and consistency of people’s testimony. In other words, they must make some kind of judgement on who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Many cases in the Magistrates’ Courts concern one person’s word against another’s. I know this because I spent 23 years as a magistrate in the UK.

    • Yes, I thought afterwards that that was a bad example because in a trial the defendant is only guilty if the prosecution can prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, otherwise he goes free. However, as I was trying to point out, those reaching a verdict in a trial will be concerned with the credibility and consistency of people’s testimony. In other words, they must make some kind of judgement on who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Many cases in the Magistrates’ Courts concern one person’s word against another’s. I know this because I spent 23 years as a magistrate in the UK.

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