Mini-Feature: The Path to Truth

What is the best path to find truth; science, math, art, philosophy, or something else?

The definition of each one of these paths matters greatly, of course. Science and math in the way we usually define them are not as comprehensive. Rightly understood, philosophy subsumes the truths uncovered by science and math into itself and its greater quest. Philosophy rightly understood is the attempt to grasp the whole—to see what truly is. Art rightly understood or at its best reveals the same, or what we can grasp of it. But art is not the actual quest to know what’s true. It has other purposes and is also a kind of expression or creation of man. So philosophy—understood not formally as the word is used in our awful schools, but as the love of wisdom and the quest to seek out the truth about the whole—is the most obvious path, even if few today even know what this would look like.

But the “best path” for an individual varies. Not all are called to philosophy to the same extent, and many artists and their audiences see more of the truth this way. Science and math are necessary to peer into nature. Etc., etc.

Consider the advice of Aquinas: “Do not try to plunge immediately into the ocean of learning but go by way of little streams; for difficult things are more easily mastered once you have overcome the easier ones.”  You don’t get to “the truth” by Big Abstract Thoughts. The big highways to the truth are well traveled (sorry, intellectual hipsters). But the first steps are always particular. The little streams you take to the ocean matter. They vary but they have to be traveled. So stop dithering and just decide to learn particular things well—and then you can one day follow them to the sea.

-Matthew Peterson, founding editor of The American Mind

The best path to truth is the one intimated by sitting with the irreducible mysteries of given life. Some must be done alone—with God feeling close or not—and some must be done in different kinds of company. Disappearing down this path is not for everyone! Nor do those who venture that way earn command and control of society. There are other paths to truth of course, with their own risks and potential rewards. But when you lose sign of that which cannot be laid bare and made explicit, you distance yourself from the truth about truth.

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind

There are different ways to get to the finish line, so pick the approach that works best. And don't discount one mode because popular intellectuals are prejudiced against it. Did Hawkings or the positivists have a deeper understanding of "Truth" than Raphael? Unclear to me, and by the way it does not matter. The road to understanding is, ultimately, a solitary one. 

-David Bahr, senior communications director of the Claremont Institute

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We are often, in our age of skepticism, told the story of the blind men who all put their hands on an elephant. One touched the tail, another the flank, another the ear, and all disagreed entirely on the nature of an elephant: “it’s something paper-thin and floppy!” “No, it’s thick and wrinkly!” and so forth. 

The implied moral of this story when told today is something to the effect that all religions are a path to God. Like the blind men, they just all seized on different portions of one entire truth. Completely missing from this pat analysis is the fact that, if blind men ever did have anything like the experience in question, they would not be helpless to determine how their experiences fit together.  

They are blind, not mute or stupid: they can discuss their various experiences, compare them with one another, and get a picture of the whole truth. (This, incidentally, is what I think the Christian Church did when it pruned its way through the religions and philosophies of the world, jettisoning the falsehoods and incorporating the truths into one syncretic whole.) Besides which, they can tell if one of them did not grab hold of an elephant at all, but of a brick: Truth may well be multi-faceted. But it does not follow, as some people who tell the story seem to wish it did, that truth can be any old thing at all. 

Science, math, art: they all get from a certain angle at realities which, if properly understood, might be understood to be one. Philosophy, as the queen who brings them all together, is in the business of mediating between them and showing how they may be reconciled, or where they go astray. She is the discipline who adjudicates between disciplines and puts each in its rightful role. But all of them have their part to play, and each of us is more friendly with some of them than with others. In our father’s house, there are many rooms. 

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind