It is clarity of what I want out of life that I sometimes lack. That perfectly distilled purpose that shines white hot, like the summer sun reflecting hard off of still waters. I am frequently without that eye melting variety of certainty and, lacking that bright reflection, I get distracted by the tiny flickers of occasional substance and imposed authenticity that floats past my eyes as I try to work out what the fuck I am supposed to be doing with my life.
I understand why this happens. It is because the truth – My Truth. Your Truth. Anyone’s Truth – that capital-T Truth that tunnels your vision and abbreviates the edges of your periphery so you can focus on what you should be doing to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life is a hard thing to sustain.
It is like a mirage in the distance as you plod through endless desert sands. It’s there and then it’s not. You see it, then you don’t. And in that fury of joyous frustration, you keep your feet moving because your dry, cracked lips ache for one sweet drop of the nectar that spills from the fruits of that Truth you so desperately seek. That Truth that will give your life purpose and meaning and definition. That Truth to which you alone have been called that will electrify your vision and give focus to your life.
This calling towards that clarifying Truth is perhaps best summed up in the words of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard when he said:
“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act… the crucial thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”
It is in our slow march through the barren wasteland of tiny, insignificant distractions that lie all around us – those shiny, temporary things that we so desperately want to make us full – that we must come to realize that we all want to find a Truth that we are “willing to live and die for” because we know that it could sustain us if only it could be found.
And that is where we all have to start; by finding that sort of Truth.
What is the Truth?
“Here is such a definition of truth: the objective uncertainty, held fast in an appropriation process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth available for an existing person.” -Soren Kierkegaard
There are two sorts of truths in our lives. The first are important, every day, “objectively certain” truths that make no demands, short of cognitive ability, in being understood and grasped. These we call scientific truths. These are truths that can be captured secondhand, through the diligent observation and discovery of others, and passed back and forth amongst ourselves, regardless of the sort of person you are.
The second sort of truth – the truth that Kierkegaard was searching for and the truth that he considers to be the “highest truth available for an existing person” – that sort of truth we typically call moral truth.
Moral truths are the truths that are decided when we are “objectively uncertain” about the efficacy of our claims but we hold strong to them in the face of the gravest of circumstances. These are truths that are not discovered but created through our steadfast adherence to the principles that are demanded in order to make these truths “true” for us.
Moral truths require a discipline of action in order to be born. Perhaps it is through meditation, or constant kindness, or a strict diet, or a monitoring of speech, or a commitment to a cause, or whatever – this sort of truth is not a clarity of understanding, it is a clarity of being. These are the Truths that we commit to in our lives that give it depth, direction, meaning, and purpose.
These are the Truths that Kierkegaard so desperately ached to find in order to live fully. The Truths that spring from the idea about what we think that we should be in the world. The Truths that will push us towards our living and dying and will help us make the most out of both.
The case for Truth as subjectivity.
“It will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth.” –Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
Before the mass of angry rationalists descend upon me and eat my soul for suggesting the subjectivity of truth, I want to defend my argument further by considering our ability to maintain both objective and subjective truths in the world.
I am not such a backwoods barbarian that I do not see the value and validity of logical reasoning and scientific truths. Obviously, these sorts of truths are critically important in the world. I am merely saying that, if we claim that only these truths can be true objectively I do not think we are being genuine to the spirit of truth.
Logical and scientific truths do not hit at the deepest sort of reasonings, convictions, and reality that shape and gives direction and meaning to our life. They ignore the importance of the individual, subjective, personal component of fact and by doing so, never fully hit at the heart of our desires for living.
The truth of gravity will not help me make it through one more stress filled day of demands from my deep desire to make an entrepreneurial enterprise succeed. The truth of friction will not help me decide if I should help a stranger begging for cash on the side of a cold and rain-soaked street. In order to find the Truth that exists in these experiences – that exists individually – we have to retreat to the potential of the subjective in order to divine the power of the objective.
How do we do this?
According to Kierkegaard, we must first be reminded of the lack of objectivity in what we are coming to decide as truthful. We must have “objective uncertainty” in our choice and then we must come to choose it time and time again, despite that uncertainty. And in that steadfast adherence to our choice, we find the strength and character of subjective truth. Subjective truth then is something akin to a “leap of faith” – that leap of faith taken with the best available evidence and towards the most desirable outcome you want out of our life.
As so many of our deepest ideas and beliefs about life are not based on impersonal facts or laws of nature, we are often forced to face and prove the subjective truths of our existence. Those things that rise from objective uncertainty but those things that define the very nature of our being as subjects in the world.
These are the powerful subjective truths that are the true substance of our being and that shape the course and direction of our lives.
No truths that harm
“Those thoughts are true which guides us to beneficial interaction with sensible particulars as they occur.” – William James
Here is where some will attempt to make the case that I am advocating that people have the right to believe in any old truth. I want to stop that train of thought before it leaves the station.
I am not advocating the purely irrationalist position that there is only subjectivity of moral truths and that everyone has a right to theirs. The sort of subjective truths I am talking about are not blindly cobbled together, unexamined beliefs of pure experience. No. You still have an obligation to search your subjective truths for as much objectivity as possible and, what’s more, you have a duty to humanity to remove the damaging things that hurt for no reason and with no sense.
That Truth that you find – that you have decided to live and die for – should never be a truth that should cause harm, physical or otherwise, for no legitimate and defensible reason. If it does, it is not an idea or belief that is True. I am sorry, but it’s not. It’s a lie pretending to be something true and if you look deep enough into it you will see behind its facade.
If the things you claim are true have harming as their means, you have not discovered a moral truth that is worth taking the leap of faith towards so keep looking.
Truth is decision, not discovery.
“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
The Truths that we apply to our life – those moral things that define our principles – these can not be discovered as though they existed outside of ourselves, they can only be constantly and consistently affirmed as Truth through our decision to commit to the actions that make them true.
If I decide that my Truth is that I should always seek to help those in need, I make this true, not merely by presenting it to others, as though it were a law of nature or math, but by proving it through the “truthfulness” of it through my actions. The Truth of it can in fact only be confirmed through my commitment to the proving of it by helping those in need as often as possible.
Truth, therefore, is a continuous process of doing what you have decided is true and holding that Truth up to the light time and time again to make sure that the evidence that made it true for you in the first place continues to exist and affirms the Truth of it.
This makes the subjective Truth we have discussed here – the Truth of personal ideas and beliefs, political ideologies and social identities – a Truth that is impossible to dismiss. It makes it a Truth that is under constant scrutiny that requires constant duty and discipline. It makes it a Truth that can not merely be believed and then taken for granted. It makes it a Truth that always has to prove its “truthfulness” in the face of ever-changing circumstances, situations, and experiences and that makes it a Truth that you can live and die for.