Regarding Facts as Truth
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Published: Tue, 01 Aug 2017
In order to address the specific question, first, the word “fact” needs to be defined. Often associated with information and knowledge, a fact is a truth that has been verified and is supported by objective evidence. This being said, facts are limited by the scope of human ability and reality. Therefore, factual disputes can occur and will examined within the areas of knowledge of art and history.
Regarding facts as a truth, individuals can mention the theory of relativism which states that there is no absolute truth, so truth is considered relative to culture or the individual; essentially, what is considered true for some, is considered false for others. Therefore, relativism allows both views to be valid. On the other hand, some can argue that truth is considered what an individual believes to be true. It is the use of our judgement, which stems from reason, that ultimately allows us to reach a conclusion. Therefore, facts as an aspect of truth can be subject to disputes; even if the facts are clear, judgements may differ based on reason, emotion, sense perception, and language.
This leads to the knowledge question, to what extent is reason reliable in obtaining knowledge in history? History is the study of present evidence of the past. Using primary or secondary sources, historians try to understand the past using these records. In history class, different historians’ perspectives are examined on one specific event. For example, regarding German foreign policy, intentionalist historian Hugh Trevor- Roper stated Hitler was a man of ideas that had clear strategic objectives in foreign policy and war. On the other hand, structuralist AJP Taylor argued Hitler’s foreign policies were essentially a continuation of imperial German motives and aimed to overturn the terms of the Versailles Treaty. These two historians can have differing views since they use reason to reach a different conclusion. Therefore, it is the methodology of history as an area of knowledge which requires the use of reason by which individuals not only analyze and construct their own ideas, but also, in which people can collectively create meaning by exchanging and improving these ideas. It is through reason that the legitimacy of knowledge claims can be questioned and answered. When disagreements occur, not only do the facts and subject of the matter need to be questioned, the evidence which allow facts to be accepted or valid need to be questioned. As individuals seek to determine the validity of facts, other issues will arise, such as reliability, and will allow them to consider the purpose of analysis in the framework of history and the issue of truth defined in the context of history. The interpretations and perspectives of individuals based on their process of reason will invite analysis.
In one case, Historian R.G Collingwood (1889-1943) drew attention to the importance of going beyond the study of the actual historical event and understanding the motives and reasons behind those involved to understand the event as a whole. This involves using emotion, imagination, and reason in order to evaluate the actions and thought process behind an event. However, if may difficult to sympathize with certain events or historical figures like Hitler, Pol Pot, etc.; this may cause an overload of emotion and instead cause social bias. Poor ability to reason can cause ignorance and prejudice, which in certain cases in the methodology of history, can be a limitation. A counterclaim to this is that reason is limited to the human ability and therefore, there may be certain things we, as humans, do not have the capacity to comprehend.
Another way of knowing that comes into mind when mentioning reason, is language. So, to what extent do reason and language work together to achieve certainty in history? As the framework of history depends on language and the communication of information, we need to understand the meaning of language before truth can be analyzed. In history class, our class held a discussion in which we discussed the demands of the French revolutionaries which were satisfied by 1794. Depending on how the word, “demand”, was interpreted, students came up with different responses. For example, I interpreted the word demand as the social, intellectual, economic, and religious goals of the revolutionaries. Therefore, different people reason the meaning of language differently which can cause disagreement despite access to the same facts. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are aspects of truth that cannot be described adequately with language.
Moving on to the second area of knowledge, art, is focused on sense perception and emotion. We can call something art because the intentions of the artist are known; something is a work of art if the maker intended it to evoke an aesthetic response. We can call something art as the intentions of the artist are known and was intended to evoke some sort of response. Another individual can call something art by assessing the quality of the work. According to the methodology of art, art relies upon the personal knowledge of the artist and is meant to interact with the audience on an emotional level. Therefore, art and the response to art may change over time and differ between individuals because art relies on sense perception and emotion as ways of knowing. Therefore, it is accepted that there are certain standards to judge art by, but different people have different tastes based on their perceptions and emotions towards a specific piece of art.
This leads to the knowledge question, to what extent are sense perception and emotion reliable in interpreting reality in the arts? Upon viewing Jackson Pollock’s Convergence painting, I personally thought the painting looked like a child could have painted it, but my sister loved the painting. For both my sister and I, we first used our sense perception and based on these senses, we constructed a basic understanding and meaning of what we were seeing. This was affected by the emotions that were sparked from what we sensed. EssentiallyÂ¸ we were using our perception and emotion to understand what we were sensing. From this basic understanding, we built on it by drawing on past experiences or encounters. Therefore, based on these aspects, it is possible that my sister and I could reach different conclusions on how this piece of art was viewed. In this way, depending on the response evoked by each individual, art can influence our views and perceptions of the world. This can lead to confirmation bias and willful ignorance as we tend to favour the interpretation that coincides with our own interests and experiences. However, the emotions that are provoked can influence decisions and actions and it may challenge us to question our assumptions. A counterclaim is that despite the different perspectives and emotions that are evoked, truth is not guaranteed. Despite the interpretations and the response of the individual, the certainty of truth is not whole.
Therefore, it is possible that experts within a discipline can disagree despite having access to the same facts as seen in history and the arts. These facts are reliant upon reason, sense perception, emotion, and language. I view disagreements similarly to perspectives; according to the cubist theory of truth, the more perspectives you have, the closer you are to the truth. Even though truth can vary with perspective, this does not mean there is no truth at all. In fact, different views can enrich our understanding of the truth and different interpretations give meaning to the facts. Furthermore, this allows us to avoid the error of dogmatism, mistaking a half- truth for the truth, as well as the error of relativism.
 Boucher, D., 1989, The Social and Political Thought of R. G. Collingwood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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