Several weeks ago I attended a talk where the speaker made a comment I think worth repeating. I’m putting it into my own words here, but the comment was to the effect that today’s young people are more insistent than ever before on knowing the truth about what is going on in the world. Actually, I think that probably extends to all people, but that’s a little off the topic I want to discuss here. Someone from the audience asked, “How do you define ‘truth,'” and the speaker got onto a religious definition, which was okay, but limited, and I thought didn’t really answer the question. (It was a valid answer, but not exactly what I was expecting.) After the meeting, I thought more and more about what the speaker said, and started to wonder if there was a way to define ‘truth.’ What is the ‘truth’? What do we mean when we say we want the ‘truth’? What is it we’re looking for? Is there a definition we can all agree on?
The dictionary has several definitions of ‘truth,” several of which exist only in certain limited cases. But I’m looking for a definition that fits the above situation: what do we mean when we are looking for the ‘truth’? The closest my dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition) comes to this is, “The state of being the case: FACT,” or “The body of real things, events, facts: ACTUALITY.” Both of these definitions are close to what I want, but there are problems with them. The first is somewhat vague (I don’t know what the “case” is), and the second is overly broad. So, what’s really going on here?
In my limited cerebral wanderings on this subject, and trying to stay within the parameters given above about what people are actually looking for, I’ve come up with a definition that goes something like this. The truth is the ultimate reason, the bottom line, the real, unvarnished root cause as to why someone does something. It’s the fundamental cause of a human’s action. It’s the primary motive force driving a person’s actions. In it’s simplest terms, it’s the real reason someone does something. So often—way too often, really—that reason is hidden, and we have to guess what it is, or go to great lengths to bring it out. So much of our lives are invaded by politics these days that even the definition of a word becomes a guessing game. “What is the truth?” The FBI informant Deep Throat famously told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein back during the Watergate era, “Follow the money.” Money, or the desire to get more, is the leading candidate for why a lot of things are done, especially in the political arena, but it’s also true in everyday life. But whatever the reason, money or otherwise, find the ultimate, bottom line as to why someone has taken a certain action, and you will find the “truth.”
This, of course, is just my personal definition, and you may have a different one, but let’s see what we can come up with. How do you define “truth”?