Objective Versus Relative Truth

The previous article, discussing the absurd, yet effective inversion of history by Dotan and Abiram, raises the contemporary issue of narratives and how to evaluate them.

Our tradition, actually, provides a set of straightforward techniques to verify/generate statements that, to borrow a term from symbolic logic, have a positive truth valueOnly if a statement satisfies these criteria it is true.

The first, and most powerful/convincing is verifiable experience/observation.  The template for this is the mass, public experience of Sinai, where a large population not only shares experience, but then transmits it in an unbroken chain.  Talmudic tradition reinforces this, as in numerous examples of first-hand testimony of Temple practices, witnessed by that generation that formed the bridge from the final days  before and during the Temple’s destruction to the beginning of the Mishnaic process.  It also reinforces this principle through the frequent application of the technique, Rabbi X says in the name of Rabbi Y who says in the name of Rabbi Z……. (although there is also a deeper spiritual motivation behind this form of statement, namely to continue elevating the soul of those who thus added to the stream of Torah).

Then there are a limited number of logical operations, well-known and simple to apply, while immensely powerful in scope, to generate new true facts from what is previously known.  They are encapsulated in the famous Thirteen Principles of Rabbi Ishmael, part of the daily morning liturgy (a reminder/warm-up of how to be objective as each new day’s experiences open).  (There is a profound and unexpected relationship between these intellectual techniques and the Thirteen Principles of Divine Mercy, but that’s for another discussion.)

Although not necessarily a popular position in contemporary society, our tradition insists that not all narratives are equal.  Of course, one can say anything, but that statement, or set of statements or narrative, is true only if it meets one of the above criteria. Otherwise, it has the status of 2+2=3 and must be rejected.

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