What is Truth, REALLY?

by Dr. Mark Tietjen

(PC: Bruce Jeffrey)

Over the past few months my five-year-old son has grown rather creative in conversations at home and with Stony Brook students. He recently declared to me that when the sun shines, it shines mostly on him. At dinner the other night I overheard him tell some students that he speaks Chinese. He has also made it clear to us that another faculty child (not his older sister) is his “real” brother. When he makes these claims, both the SBS students and I find them hilarious. We do not, however, find them to be true.

Our culture today can sometimes convey the idea that truth is whatever we want it to be. Live and let live–if other folks want to run their lives a certain way, then that is their prerogative and that is their truth.

But truth cannot be a function of our desires. If it were that simple, we would all be rich, famous, and attractive.

Another view of truth claims that truth is whatever the group agrees to. If other cultures differ from my own, who am I to judge their practices? Their moral truth is one thing and mine another. This kind of relativism quickly leads to all sorts of problems, since, as we all know, many groups throughout history have condoned things as wicked as slavery and genocide.

So, if truth is based upon group opinion, we also have a problem to face when a group changes its mind: did the truth change?

Truth is something we discover, something we find, rather than something created by an individual or determined by a group. And while some truths are easy to discover (say, one’s credit card balance), others are not (say, answers to questions of morality).

Difficulty, however, shouldn’t keep us from seeking.

“Truth is something we discover, something we find.”

Our hope as Stony Brook educators is that students would seek to discover truth–about the world, about themselves, and about God. We hope to encourage their development of virtues that aid in that quest. Virtues such as humility to admit when what one thinks is true is not, tenacity to not give up when the quest grows challenging, and courage to face disagreement, which surely will come.


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