[T]he truth is neither relative nor illusory nor a function of the prevailing structure of power — but also … the truth is many-sided; … none of us has a lock on it; and … we can best approach it through the patient accumulation of facts and a vigorous and fair contest of ideas.
Christian Larson argues that the defect in many systems of belief is that what are partial truths are taken to be the whole truth. It is in virtue of that portion of truth that the whole “system” or world view is even plausible. As an example of such a half-truth rounded up to a whole falsehood, Larson critiques what sounds like either idealism or the superstitious belief in the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking (a la Rhonda Byme’s The Secret). Larson’s critique in this excerpt of that idea — that “thinking makes it so”, that our mental powers in themselves are so potent that they can determine reality — begs questions, since he was, after all, a major proponent of New Thought. What interests me is his more general observation that the shortcoming in many systems of thought is that they are overblown half-truths. Truths are taken for the truth. His words are one entry into an ongoing project along these lines, collected in “Half-Truths“. ~ Nate
This work is not undertaken in a controversial or partisan spirit. I am no dogmatist or polemic, though my point of view, to which much patient study has led me, is the supernaturalism of Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed needful to say this at the outset, owing to the acrimonious and denunciatory style in which, for the most part, the questions between Christianity and its assailants have been hitherto debated. The natural presumption, in view of the past, is, that whoever appears on this field has only entered into the strifes of other zealots; that he comes as a warrior thirsting for victims, and in no sense as an inquirer. The terms which this ancient debate has bequeathed to us, and to some of which a certain odium still adheres cannot be now laid aside. They have such a currency, in the language of the day, that no candid person will charge it to bigotry or unfairness, but purely to the necessity of the case, that they continue to be used. It will be seen, in the title which I have chosen for this work, that I regard many forms of infidelity as half truths, at least in their origin. Believing that the human intellect naturally craves truth, I shall not easily be persuaded that any body of doctrines, which has been put forth by earnest thinkers, is unmixed error; nor shall I fail, so far as the nature of my undertaking will permit, to point out the merits of writers whom, as to their main tenets, I may feel bound to condemn. Some of those writers manifest, at times, a calm spirit of inquiry which their critics would do well to emulate. It is not only lawful, but often greatly for our advantage to learn from those with whom we disagree. Truth has not as yet revealed itself wholly to any finite mind; and the remark of Him who was the Truth, about the beam in the eye which sees the mote in a brother’s eye is not altogether inapplicable to those who are defending scriptural doctrine against the assaults of infidelity.
Discover the truth (and the falsehood) in the sound bites that rule so much of your life! Today they’re called sound bits, but they’re older by far than sound bites, and they play a larger role in your life — those pithy, quotable phrass that capture in a few words the wisdom of the world: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “Talk is cheap.” “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere.” “Love is blind.” “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In a few words — wisdom in shorthand — they speak truth won from generations of experience (and we know from our mothers that “experience is the best teacher “). These sayings survive because they work; which is why, in good times and bad, we use them to guide our actions and even to resolve intractable disputes (“Hey, let’s just agree to disagree”). The problem is that most of them are not really true: they’re half-truths. And when we rely on them uncritically (as often we do) they lead us out of one difficulty right smack into another. That’s why philosopher Montague Brown, author The One Minute Philosopher, has here taken up the task of considering over 75 of these popular sayings, plucking from each the wisdom they contain while showing just where they steer you wrong. Presented here in an easy-to-read format are the common understandings of each saying, plus the additional insights you need to transform each from a dangerous cliché into a living truth that will improve your understanding and effectiveness in our world. But this is mor than just a book of aphorisms; taken togehter, it’s a delightful mini-course in philosophy, studied by means of the perennial wisdom that’s been embodied in these sayings over the years. Hey, why not try it? After all, “The proof is in the pudding!” ~ Publisher’s Description
The other thing that I have become increasingly aware of is that there is not just a single version of events called the truth. Life is not nearly as simple as that. Each of us brings to the table our own beliefs, backgrounds and experiences and we all have the potential to interpret a single event differently. One person’s experience is a truth of sorts, but it is never the whole story. There is a separate truth for each one of us. The brain is such an incredible organ that if we repeat things often enough, we come to believe them. It can be the use of the phrase, ‘I’m not a good sleeper,’ that creates the insomniac, the repetition of prayers that creates faith. After almost thirty year of working in the legal profession, I have lost confidence in a system that looks for a single set of facts by relying on the evidence of others based on something as elastic as memory, and labels it as truth. The plain fact is that I wouldn’t want to be judged by twelve of my peers, let alone by a higher being. Let’s hope that if there is a God, he takes a greater interest in what is in our hearts than our actions, otherwise I fear we’re all for the high jump.
The beginning of my illusive half-truth model of life started to rear its ugly head for the first time in my consciousness. The doctor wasn’t completely wrong for chastising me. I was young and brash, and I had broken some of the rules. I initially denied this and got the empty pleasure of being right, but not happy. Only later did I realize that what bothered me more than his carping was something that lay hidden inside or underneath his words: my job was not to find or even look for innovative therapeutic strategies, but to keep the professional waters calm. The only problem was that the half-truths and psychological formulas the instructors were using didn’t go far into the process or mystery of finding real solutions or optimal responses to human conflict or pain. I was grateful for my training but I wanted something more than worn-out reactions and half-answers. ¶ A half-truth is always a representation of some part or aspect of a situation. But if we take it to be the whole truth about that situation, we can go dangerously wrong. I’ve come to feel that psychology is full of half-truths. So many popular books and feel-good gurus trade on half-truths. We are always in danger of falling for a half-truth if it gives us enough to validate our first reactions to a situation, eases our discomfort, and keeps us from doing the hard work of penetrating through to the full truth of the problem or problems we confront.
There is no shortage of critics who have observed and recorded the dissolution of public discourse in America and its conversion into the arts of show business. But most of them, I believe, have barely begun to tell the story of the origin and meaning of this descent into a vast triviality. Those who have written vigorously on the matter tell us, for example, that what is happening is the residue of an exhausted capitalism; or, on the contrary, that it is the tasteless fruit of the maturing of capitalism; or that it is the neurotic aftermath of the Age of Freud; or the retribution of our allowing God to perish; or that it all comes from the old stand-bys, greed and ambition. I have attended carefully to these explanations, and I do not say there is nothing to learn from them. Marxists, Freudians, Lévi-Straussians, even Creation Scientists are not to be taken lightly. And, in any case, I should be very surprised if the story I have to tell is anywhere near the whole truth. We are all, as Huxley says someplace, Great Abbreviators, meaning that none of us has the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it.
No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question and this is here impossible.