Student Daorsa Kamberi Discusses Truth in a Philosophical Essay
We are publishing AUBG student Daorsa Kamberi’s essay, which was selected as one of the top ten in the 1st Philosophy Undergraduate Essay Competition of the Central European University.
“What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation, and decoration, and which, after they have been in use for a long time, strike a people as firmly established, canonical, and binding; truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigour, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer as coins.” Friedrich Nietzsche: "On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense"
The philosophical problem implicit in this quotation taken from Friedrich Nietzsche is an epistemological one, more particularly it focuses on the definition of truth and falsity. Nietzsche regards the truth as merely an illusion. Truths, according to him, are established beliefs that we have justified ourselves to believe, because they help us make sense of the world. This process has been happening for such a long time that we have forgotten we are even doing it, thus inducing the illusions even deeper in our minds. Although we humans are meaning-making-machines, and there is justification to why we believe the illusions we have to be truth, does this make them true?
To establish a belief one first needs evidence, gained by one’s perceptions of the senses. The mind uses that evidence to analyze it by tearing it apart, then synthesizing it by putting it again together and finally reviewing it by verifying if it makes sense in the world or not. If the answer is positive, then the process results in the belief of a truth being existent. Yet, there is one inevitable problem with this process regarding the way we collect evidence in the first place. Our senses are deceitful. Knowledge comes from experience, and experience is formed by our senses retrieving information about the external objects, or even internal ones. These senses may only be able to perceive the qualities of objects they encounter, but not their substance. So, humans perceive the qualities of an object (be it an external or internal one), and assume it is true, forgetting that there is no actual proof of the existence of that substance.
We go further than that, by giving these illusions an even deeper meaning, like the example Nietzsche gives, the coin. Our external senses perceive a metal, but when it has a certain symbol carved, the operations of our mind reflect upon it and create the idea of the coin having a certain value as related to the carves in it, based on our previous experiences of this object that have led us to hold the belief that it has value. Since in those previous experiences we have noticed a causality between the symbol carved in the coin with being able to purchase an item (value), our minds accept it as a truth that this coin has value, since it is a probability we have induced from the causality we have experienced. Yet, it is not logically correct to assume that a truth is a truth by gaining evidence from senses and experiences, when we cannot experience every possibility of reality. What we end up doing is creating prejudices based on our particular experiences, which can be biased by the inability to experience every possibility. For example, if we take a child to a park and he notices that there are only white dogs, his mind will use causality to assume that every dog in the world is of the color white. Naturally, that is not the truth, but a judgment produced by his senses’ inability to experience other possibilities, in this case, to see other dogs of different colors.
Yet, there are judgments about the world that are not ‘a posteriori’ (based on a specific experience and related to the senses), but they are ‘a priori’ (universal). These ‘a priori’ judgments can be applied to everything without the need of prior experience, such as math for example, or the causality of things. These judgments are innate, coming from the structures of our own minds. Our neural structures make us able to understand things in different forms. Space, for example, depends on our perception, even though it is an external form. We can’t have proof of reality or materiality so our perception of things is subjective. Time, an internal form, is also subjective and is conditioned by our perception of things happening one after the other. If our perception of time would be true, and things would happen after the other, then it would mean that the past is gone, the future is not yet here, and the present would be the separation between these two. But, how can something be a separation of two things that don’t exist? It logically can’t, so it would mean that the present doesn’t exist as well.
Thus, we humans in order to be able to live in a reality that cannot be proven, we create our subjective beliefs. Our mind tricks us into forgetting that things only produce effects on our own perceptions, and not in the reality of things. Our beliefs help us to convince ourselves that reality does not matter as long as we are able to make some sense out of it, by using our faulty external senses, and our subjective internal operations of our neural structures, to give meaning to things. We often do this by metaphors, or symbols, or other means of attaching meaning to meaningless objects. Yet, doing this does not mean that we really know the truth. Our beliefs, justified as they might be, are still mere illusions, needed for us to function in this universe.