OPINION

A deep dive into the truth about the truth

I was going to write a column on procrastination this week, but I think I will leave that until next week. I want to write an article on truth ... I guess I have to write an article on truth now, or you'll think I'm lying.

A lot of people praise me when I tell them that I made a lot of money as a model in Europe before I became a priest and then donated it all to the poor.

But it's amazing how much you can impress people when you tell them lies.

Until only a few years ago, I believed that one could know the truth easily if they just looked.

It was almost my calling card. Now, I'm not so sure.

Many have discovered, the hard way, that people they wouldn't have thought would speak untruths can lie like a child in trouble.

Which often ends in them believing there is no such thing as truth or, at best, they believe that truth is unknowable, rather than a good that is worth pursing.

Jesus taught "the truth will set you free", so it's no wonder Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard warned: "Woe to the one who brings the horror of confusion into more peaceable situations."

It's almost comical, but any definition of truth developed falls prey to the question 'is it true?' A post I saw doing the rounds on Facebook quoted Augustine of Hippo saying: 'The truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.' Apart from history and life experience proving this statement false, the quote itself is fake.

Even though we rely on truth almost every moment of every day - and even a child knows the difference between the truth and a lie - it is something that is surprisingly difficult to define.

It's almost comical, but any definition of truth developed falls prey to the question "is it true?"

A post I saw doing the rounds on Facebook quoted Augustine of Hippo saying: "The truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself."

Apart from history and life experience proving this statement false, the quote itself is fake. Augustine never said this.

But hang on, this is supposed to be an article about truth, not lies. Yet, perhaps lies are one of the best proofs for where we will discover truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed truth should be used as long as it promoted life and the will to power (our human driving force).

He believed untruth was better than truth if it had this life enhancement as a consequence. This way of thinking and living is remarkably common today.

My musings have lead me to prefer Aristotle's view of truth, that truth is "thinking and saying what is."

If this is the truth about truth, perhaps we can say that truth resides in our intellect, which comes to us through our senses.

If you are at a party and there is chocolate on the table, how do you know for sure that it is truly chocolate?

You use one or more of your senses until you come to a conclusion.

First, you look at the chocolate by using your sense of sight.

If you are still in doubt after taking a closer look, you might use your sense of smell.

If still unsure, you might actually pick up the chocolate and feel its texture.

After this, you use your sense of taste. And if you don't know whether it is chocolate by then, I would spit it out if I was you.

Living in a small country town a few years back, there was an elderly lady who, while walking her dog, would loiter outside my house each day as her dog sniffed the flowers in the front garden.

One day, she was looking around a little more suspiciously than usual.

By all appearances she was just standing there while her dog was doing its business on my front lawn!

I wasn't happy, but I was brought up to respect the elderly and I was in no condition for dispassionate discussion, so I paced in my office until they were gone.

When they eventually left the scene of the crime, I searched until I found her dog's little calling card.

Was what I was looking at what I thought it was?

The only way I could be sure was to employ one or more of my remaining senses. I preferred to instead walk away, uncertain of the truth.

Twitter: @fatherbrendanelee