In a previous post I discussed the three primary theories of truth that dominate Western conversations of well, pretty much everything. I believe all three theories are valuable and have their place depending on the subject we are considering as well as the context in which that subject is being discussed. Without question Correspondence theory dominates our everyday lives simply because we are governed by cause and effect. If I go to work, I’ll get paid. If I I don’t take out the trash, my wife will be frustrated with me. In most cases the Correspondence theory is simply “obvious” because it establishes the relationship between causes and effects and, perhaps most importantly, allows us to make decisions based on what executed outcome we feel is most likely.
But as I have thought about truth in an abstract sense; that is, without applying to any specific question or context, I have come to wonder if truth, in itself, has inherent moral value. Quite often I have seen and heard people seek after “the Truth” as it if were an end it itself. And of course, they do so seeking specific answers and within a very specific context. Yet, if they were suddenly lifted out of that context and those specific questions, would Truth have any value at all? For example, is the value of the truth that water will cause my crops to grow a good in itself? No. That truth’s worth is to be found in its application. Consider a stoplight with its three colors: red, yellow, and green. Simply establishing the truth that red = stop is meaningless without application and context.
Truth is merely a concept; a construct that establishes a relationship between two or more observations. Of course, this raises important metaphysical puzzles such as the ubiquitous question from George Berkely: “If a tree falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” There are, of course, two (or more) ways to answer this question. The first is that no, sound is a function of the “producer” and the “hearer” and therefore, because no “hearer” is present, no sound exists. On the other hand, we can answer that sound is a function of energy causing vibrations in the air and as such, the tree falling does indeed make a sound. I believe both answers are accurate and merely reflect differences of context and perspective. This example illustrates that even seemingly simple questions can often produce distinct, but equally “true”, answers. What makes the question even more interesting is to consider that sentient beings (animals included) perceive the world based on the limitations of their physical capabilities. Were I to hold up a standard stop sign to a human, dog, and mantis shrimp and asked each to tell me what color the sign is, I would receive three different answers because of the difference between how human, dog, and mantis shrimp eyes. Dogs see fewer colors than humans and humans see fewer colors than the mantis shrimp. Yet we can still describe what is happening with the stop sign even in the absence of an observer. We know, for example, that if it is daytime the sign is reflecting energy from the sun. Yet with no observer the sign is not red, nor does the sun produce light. Rather, the sun emits energy and that energy is reflected by matter in space. The qualitative properties of this interaction only become realized when there is an observer to both consider and describe it.
I suppose it can be a bit disconcerting to recognize that we take many “absolute” truths for granted. They are anything but absolute. As such, It behooves us to be both humble and precise when we declare what is, or is not, “true.” And certainly, we can see that truth, in itself, has no moral value. Moral value is derived only from the application of truth.
Here is an interesting slideshow showing how our beloved dogs see the world