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Cornel West on Truth as … huh?

"Cornel West: Truth" interview by Astra Taylor at Killing the Buddha (November 15, 2009).

I think in many ways it is the ultimate question: What is truth? How do we understand truth and what are the ways in which we wrestle with truth? And I believe that Theodor Adorno was right when he said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. He said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak — that gives it an existential emphasis, you see, so that we’re really talking about truth as a way of life, as opposed to a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.

Well, in many ways I wish people would think of Plato, rather than Bertrand Russell. Bertrand Russell, one of the grand exemplary analytic philosophers, tried to convince us that truth really was about propositions that correspond to objects in the world, whereas Plato always understood truth as tied into a way of life, as a certain mode of existence. And so what he’s trying to get us to enact is paideia, which I think at the end is really at the center of any serious philosophic project. How do you engage in that formation of attention? For Plato, that’s to move from becoming to being, but I would just characterize it as moving from the superficial to the substantial, moving from the frivolous to the serious, and then cultivating a self to wrestle with reality and history and mortality and, most importantly, promoting a maturation of the soul. And for Plato, that had to do, of course, with a turning of the soul, so that you become a certain kind of person. So I’m actually with the classics in general in terms of understanding truth in an existential mode. Therefore, philosophy becomes more a way of life as opposed to simply a mode of discourse.