High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

What About the Truth?
column Miscellaneous

What About the Truth?

This year, the Month of Philosophy in Belgium and the Netherlands is dedicated to the concept of truth. The truth Is a complicated matter, according to editor-in-chief Luc Devoldere, who actually favours the idea of ‘truthfulness’. ‘If we are unable to live a life of truth, let us try and live a truthful life.’

This month is the Month of Philosophy. It almost seems as if you can only start contemplating things this month. In a distant past, I was a student of philosophy, but I had unfortunately come across Friedrich Nietzsche too soon: the first hero of my adolescent life. Back then, I read the words of French author Sainte-Beuve: ‘Soyons philosophe, ayons de la philosophie et même une philosophie, mais ne faisons pas de la philosophie.’ (Let us be philosophers, let us have a philosophy and even one philosophy, but let us not do philosophy.)

Ever since, philosophy has become a language game – a superior kind of language game, that is –, which I continued to enjoy watching and participating in. And Spinoza and Wittgenstein earned my undying admiration. The latter because of his complete lack of compromise and Spinoza simply because of the following confession, which comprises an entire way of living: ‘Sedulo curavi humanas actiones non ridere, non lugere neque detestari sed intelligere.’ (I have laboured carefully not to ridicule, not to lament, nor to detest, but to understand human actions.)

Back to the Month of Philosophy. Such a month is assigned a theme. This year, that theme is, “the moment of truth.” What is it about the truth? These days, it seems to be preyed upon by fake news, conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts.’ We are supposedly living in the post-truth era, et cetera.

Lies have been around forever. However, the scale at which these lies are spread has grown exponentially because of the ubiquity of social media, allowing untruths to be dispersed immediately and across the globe. More than ever, we seem to be subjected to this tsunami of lies. What can we do about that? A reliable information supply chain and proper education remain the only possible antidotes.

Nietzsche taught us that there is no such thing as the truth; we merely have interpretations

What about the truth? We managed to dismantle the truth in our European/western traditions of thought. Nietzsche taught us that there is no such thing as the truth; we merely have interpretations, and those interpretations are seizures of power. At any time and place, we tend to approach things from our own perspectives. Allowing multiple perspectives is therefore a stretch. It is quite similar to allowing different voices in the debate about the truth. Take, for instance, the historical truth, ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen ist’. (what it was actually like) There is no such thing as objectivity in this context. We always observe the past through the framework of today’s preoccupations, often using today’s yardstick. Even though the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there, as we learned from the opening sentence of a 1950s English novel. Have another look at the above-mentioned Spinoza quote. When dealing with the past (as well as the present), let us attempt to describe and get to the bottom of its reality with as much truthfulness and integrity as possible. Doing so would represent a leap forward.

By the way, Flemish philosopher Alicja Gescinska wrote the essay for this year’s Month of Philosophy, in which she makes a beautiful plea for truthfulness instead of truth. Being truthful towards yourself equals authenticity. Towards others it equals sincerity. If we cannot live a life of truth, let us try and live a truthful life. Next month as well.

website Month of Philosophy (in Dutch)

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