Thursday, January 19, 2006

Truth, what is truth?

For this writer, who hasn't found enough time in his life to study philosophy or languages, this morning's 'In Out Time' on BBC Radio 4 was a gem. It was about relativism. It asked (according to its web site): "Why has relativism so radically divided scholars and moral custodians over the centuries? How have its supporters answered to criticisms that it is inherently unethical?"

I can't possibly do the programme justice in a review, but I urge you to listen (which you can do from the web site). Suffice to say that since I got Really Interested in Politics I've found it useful to try to see the political world from other people's perspective. Supposing the Daily Mail comment writer is correct, what then? It's a useful way of refining one's own thoughts. Absolute certainty ain't half dangerous and it's a shame that our media demands that our politicians must present themselves as absolutely certain.

One of the contributors to the programme spoke about 'moments of enlightenment'. I had one when I realised that many people must regard Tony Blair in the same way that I regarded Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. I couldn't then see (as I can now) that anything she or her government did was sensible because I so despised her basic philosophy.

I've also only recently realised how much our individual 'truth' depends on our language. I'm hopeless at learning other languages and really envy people who can speak more than one. I'm struggling with French but even those struggles have helped me to see how my own thoughts and truths are, to some extent, dependent on my native tongue. It's one of many things that makes me suspicious of the sorts of people Richard Dawkins was confronting on the tele on Monday. People who hold that the Bible contains absolute truth when it's been translated many times and originated in spoken thoughts. Even reading the King Jame's version alongside a modern translation will help to show that it ain't necessarily so. The Pope has declared relativism to be responsible for moral decline, at the end of the programme there's an insight into why this probably isn't true. Heavy stuff......

So go and listen.


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