I recently read Nietzsche’s quote: “There is no truth, there is only interpretation.” I thought his quote provided for interesting dialogue on the matter of truth — if there is truth and what does that mean. So, if you can tolerate my verbosity, I thought I would share some thoughts with you:
I find this statement by Nietzsche a contradiction in itself. How can Nietzsche make a definite statement if there is no truth? If we can only interpret, then his statement may or may not have credibility. We just have to interpret it how we wish. 🙂 Interpretations can get a little sketchy.
In another language, depending on how I translate, I could be asking someone if they are fat instead of full. Of course, you may be interpreting his statement to mean something totally different than anyone else because afterall there is no truth just interpretation. I guess that means we agree with others if they interpret things the way we do. We disagree if their interpretation is different. Then again, if there is no truth to our interpretations, our interpretations themselves are subjective. Phrases become random and incoherent at this point. But wait, we interpret based on the way we perceive truth or the definition of something to be. In that case, interpretation is how we define truth to be for that object, situation. The question then arises on what do we define truth? What is our criteria for our interpretations? Are they random? Based on whim? Based on opinions? Based on preferences? Based on our personality? Based on our life experiences? Based on what’s popular? Based on beliefs?
If we say based on beliefs? Then we are adhering to a form of what we consider truth. Beliefs are based on what we have defined/decided is truth. To believe a quote to be true means that we do adhere to a certain measurement of truth. The question is are we honest in our perception of truth, or are we trying to put our own interpretations upon truth? Do we seek truth, or do we seek interpretations for life? What is most meaningful and helpful?
I think what has to be established here is the difference between what is a matter of truth and error and what is merely a matter of preference. For example, one might say they like mushrooms and another might argue that they don’t. In this case, neither is right or wrong in liking or disliking mushrooms. But, what if the one was arguing that they liked a certain type of mushroom, and another was arguing they shouldn’t like that mushroom because it is poisonous. The first person might insist that liking the mushroom is fine, and then proceed to eat it. Within a short time, that person dies from liver malfunction due to the toxicity of the mushroom. In this case, it was wrong for the first person to like the mushroom. The key is determining whether our likes are merely preferences or whether they have encroached upon that which is now dangerous to our well-being due to the “wrongness” of it.
I believe you would agree that there are absolutes — absolutes in every area of life. There are absolutes in science, physics, chemistry, engineering, architectural engineering, languages, math, and so on. If we don’t adhere to these absolutes, we would have chemical compounds exploding, people being poisoned (pharmacist not mixing compounds correctly), buildings collapsing, electrical fires… If there are absolutes in every area of life, does it not make sense that there would be absolutes in beliefs and morals as well?
If we are establishing our own definitions of truth/defining our own truth, how do we prevent our definition from encroaching on another’s? What happens when one’s opinions are different from another’s? Another may decide that truth for them is that their actions are not an injustice. If we establish our own truth, we do whatever we feel like, believe whatever we feel like. If truth can be decided by each individual, why is rape, human trafficking, genocide, child molestation wrong? Have not the perpetrators of these crimes decided that they are not obligated to adhere to any solid form of truth — that they have no responsibility to it? Social injustice means nothing if there isn’t a standard that defines what injustice is. To call something wrong, we have to acknowledge there is an established standard to define it. Otherwise, my wrong isn’t wrong because it might not agree with your wrong. There can be no offense — no evil — if there is no truth. Why have police? Why have a judicial system if there are no truths and therefore no errors in conduct? By denying that there is truth, we feed into the very lies that perpetrate error as truth and thereby permit such evil.
People misinterpret truth – claim an evil to be truth. Truth hasn’t changed; instead, a person’s interpretation veered from truth and became error. Interpretation was the error – not truth.
How are laws for social justice established? By the majority? Does the majority decide truth? What happens when the majority goes wrong? What happens is the Holocaust, slavery, genocides, etc… If we can each decide on our own definitions of truth — if that is what we really mean when we say we choose our own truth — we are becoming our own gods. This leads to selfishness and pride.
What if the source of truth comes outside of one’s self? I would argue that truth is true to itself – not to a person or a person’s own definition. Otherwise, there is no truth – only people’s own opinions and whims.
We may decide that the fruit we hold in our hand is a strawberry. Someone else may decide it’s a Crabapple. What we decide to call/define it does not change the nature of the object.
What defines who we are? Our names. Our finger prints. Our DNA. Our birth-dates. Our social security #’s. Our personalities. Someone may try to say we are someone else, but their preference does not affect who we really are. Truth defines itself. That is how we have security. That is how we can speak with authority – by knowing there are absolutes.
Apathy and complacency are the results of an arbitrary line of truth. A society that establishes its own varieties of truth breeds apathy. There is no remorse where there is no recognition of wrong-doing – a truth established outside of oneself.
The question is do we seek to find what is truth — apart from ourselves and anyone else? If truth is outside of ourselves, then we have a responsibility to discern and heed it.