[NB: this post, more than many I write, is an exercise in thinking aloud.]
It is probable that most of us have been taught to assume that truth is something that is expressed in language or in sentence (I reckon a good many of us began identifying ‘true/false’ statements in quizzes at a fairly young age). At worst, this assumption is incorrect. At best, it is deceptive. Such an assumption makes the fatal mistake of assigning truth to the disembodied realms of semiotics and linguistics, thereby creating a disconnect between truth and being or truth and doing. It is this disconnect that we must overcome.
In order to do this, we must begin by realizing that language is nothing more than the manipulation of sounds (when it is verbalized) or signs (when it is written) within the framework of previously established rules and limits. That is to say, any truth value found within language is one that we a priori and arbitrarily assign to it. In and of itself, language has no meaning and expresses no truth. Even if we find it convenient to pretend that it is meaningful or truthful, all language is actually tautological.
So, for example, let us imagine the following. Let us create a language game wherein all objects possessing a certain characteristic (let’s call it ‘X’) also possess a certain other characteristic (let’s call it ‘Y’). Let us now examine an object (let’s call it object ‘A’). Let us assume that object A possesses characteristic X. We can then conclude that object A also possesses characteristic Y. Within this scenario, we might be tempted to say that our conclusion is ‘true’. However, this type of truth is then something we have arbitrarily created — based upon the rules of our language game and our manipulation of signs — and this truth consequently has no connection to any reality external to our game. Truth, in this case, is not stranger than fiction — it is fiction.
Or, to take another example, let us take the statement that ‘1 + 1 = 2’. Once again, what we have are signs that we have arbitrarily manipulated and slotted into a particular language game (mathematics). Within that language games those signs have a particular meaning, leading to a statement that produces a supposed truth — but, once again, that truth only has value within the boundaries of that language game and it tells us nothing (true or false) about the world outside of that game. This truth is also fiction.
Now, I take the time to dwell on these (somewhat dull) examples because we need to understand that a great deal of what goes on in scholarship — in theology, philosophy, social theory, and our so-called quest for truth — is little more than this manipulation of signs and language games in order to create systems that are, perhaps, logically rigorous or aesthetically pleasing, but whose truth values have no relationship to any reality external to the games being played by the scholars.
This is why we must not judge scholars and their scholarly proposals on the logical force or aesthetical appeal of the arguments that they produce. Instead, we must judge scholars on the basis of how they live their lives. Therefore, I entirely disagree with Seth who commented on my last post and stated:
If the essay has truth in it but doesn’t necessarily translate to the truth in the author’s life I would not discount the truth of the essay.
The point is that no essay has truth in it. All essayists are doing is manipulating signs. Therefore, what matters is not the essay but what the essayist actually does with his or her life. Unfortunately, Seth’s argument is used to justify the ongoing existence of academicswith high status and comfortable lifestyles who say a lot of things they don’t actually mean or understand (otherwise we would see that meaning genuinely reflected in their lives and actions). Thus, contemporary structures of power and privilege are perpetuated, regardless of the ‘radicality’ of the argument constructed by these scholars.
Consequently, truth, if it is to be something concrete, or a-thing-that-is, must be sought in being and in doing. It is the truth that is found in these things that possesses significance and meaning. The truth that is found in language is ever only fictional — truth that is sought in being and doing is historical and material.