Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gimme some Truth

What is truth? We have so many in our culture who seem to know it in its totality and will hand it to us (if not jam it down our throats) if we will only grasp for it. It seems only fair that they are usually well compensated for doing so. With so much “truth” being peddled out there, it must be some lack in ourselves if we do not feel we have it in our possession. A moral failing perhaps?

What is often confusing is that these claims are often at odds (to put it politely.) We are expected to choose the “right” one and there we will find repose. Of course, that repose is disturbed if our neighbor chooses the “wrong” one. If he is Guelph instead of Ghibelline; Red instead of Blue. Then that neighbor is a very deluded and dangerous person; he is probably unpatriotic to boot.

How different could things be if we just admitted that none of us finite and mortal creatures could ever have possession of the totality of truth which so many now claim in word and deed? What if we gave up the project of totality? What if we could “think” in a different way? Would this lead us out of our cultural impasse?

I don’t claim to be any more than a novice in the study of Heidegger and I have struggled with him for the last year. I am currently on my third copy of “Being and Time” as the first two were thrown in the fire. Thankfully, the summer months approach. But through the study encouraged by our group I do believe that Heidegger was offering a solution; an exit from the age. At least an exit in thought.

Heidegger claimed that truth is not a correspondence (proposition to object guaranteed by the mind of God or some such transcendent source) by rather an “event.” This event occurs in the movement between my solicitation of an entity and what the entity reveals. The space between my solicitation and the entity is the “open region.” It is in this “open region” that truth might be glimpsed.

Heidegger says that we must make an insistence (solicitation) for the entity to reveal itself. We do not impose meaning on the entity; we draw it out through the solicitation. Bucking virtually the whole Western Tradition, Heidegger is asserting that the entity has an agency. It is an active participant in “the event of truth.” Truth needs both the solicitation of Dasein and the revealing of the entity. In “The Letter on Humanism” Heidegger will make us the “lieutenants of Being”; receivers of what Being discloses to us. In “The Essence of Truth” Heidegger goes back to the Pre-Socratics, he insists that every revealing is also a concealing. We can never get the entity in its totality. Something always withdrawals. This is the notion of “aletheia.” This is not to deny that we get some truth; the entity does reveal itself in some way. I don’t think Heidegger can be counted as one who denies truth. What he does deny is our ability to get the totality of the truth. So aletheia gives us both truth and error. It gives it truth in so far as the entity reveals itself and error in what withdrew in the face of our insistence. Truth and error make up “the event of truth.” This is unavoidable; no insistence can get the totality of the entity. Error is as constitutive as truth is in “the event of truth.”

The problem is that we embrace what is revealed in our insistences and forget aletheia. We forget that error is an essential component of our “truth.” Instead of “letting beings be” so they can reveal themselves in manifold ways, we crush them through the weight of dogmatic insistence. The problem is the forgetting: the forgetting that has run through the course of the Western Philosophical tradition since Plato. We fall in love with our insistences and forget that something withdraws. We forget aletheia. According to the “Essence of Truth” we must insist. But we do not have to forget that something withdraws from that insistence. We need to remember that we have the freedom to make other solicitations that will lead to a different revealing (and concealing.) This road leads to Heidegger's engagement with the poets.

What if we learn to “think” differently? To think and remember aletheia? We would not have to deny truth or make it relative. We would have to accept the humility of realizing that we cannot ever expect to come in full possession of truth and maybe we could learn to thrive in the freedom that new solicitations could offer. We would understand that all of our insistences are only partial and that unavoidably there will be error. How would this change cultural and political discourse?

It is fair to ask exactly what is this “open region” where the insistence and entity meet in the event of truth? To learn to think differently Heidegger tells us not to think of it as "what" or an "entity" at all. Heidegger calls it “the mystery.” Could we learn to treat this “mystery” with reverence and gratitude as perhaps the antidote to a dispirited and fractured age? Heidegger gives us these intriguing alternatives.