Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government


The Truth Does Exist

Res Publica

July 1997

by Jamey Turoff

I recently read an article in the Ashland University newspaper, The Collegian, by one of my colleagues that I found intriguing. The column begins, "I can tolerate anything, except intolerance." This statement brought to mind an article that I had read last semester, entitled "Our Listless Universities." In this piece, the author, Allan Bloom, claims that "Students in our best universities do not believe in anything, and those universities are doing nothing about it, nor can they." Bloom claims that we have been so ingrained with a doctrine of tolerance, and a belief in ’I’m okay, You’re okay,’ that the only belief people now hold is that everyone is free to do their own thing, and we should not judge others for their actions. He claims that the quest for knowledge of "God, freedom and immortality…hardly touch the young." It is Bloom’s assertion that the quest for answers to these questions now appears futile, so they are no longer e
ven asked. Bloom contends that the university, as an institution, has no vision, no view of what a human being must know in order to be considered educated. Bloom writes: "The meaning of life is unclear, but that is why we must spend our lives clarifying it rather than letting the question go." The function of the university, according to Bloom, is to remind students of the importance and urgency of the question, and to give them the means to pursue it. Instead, we are taught today that there is no absolute right or wrong, no just and unjust, only freedom. There are no absolute answers in today’s society. Rather, everything is relative; relative to culture, to religion, to geography, and to time. Thus, we have tolerance, for everything and everyone, which brings me back to the article in The Collegian.

In the article, my colleague expressed his feelings on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which he had to read for class. The article was very well written, and I would have to agree with most of what the author had to say. He calls the book "long, boring, repetitive, disorganized, and, worst of all, racist." I have only read certain sections of Mein Kampf, and while the overriding message of hate and discrimination is a powerful one, I do agree with my colleague’s review of the writing in general. In truth, I was more interested in my colleague’s reaction than in the book itself. The author explains that along with being tolerant of other people’s opinions, he also feels that one must be somewhat close minded, "or you’ll never be able to stand for or against anything." I would argue that an overwhelming problem in today’s society is this close-minded approach to life. Yes, it is important to have beliefs and opinions, but it is the close minded attitude t
hat keeps us from uncovering the truth. As Socrates asserted in the Euthyphro, our beliefs and opinions are nothing more than prejudices which we have built up over time. We, as students, are constantly bombarded with the notion that everything is relative, and therefore we must be tolerant. Thus, our definition of right and wrong is not based on anything timeless and definite, but on circumstance, and relation. One can only argue that he is right based on where he is relative to others, and by what is happening around him. There are no absolutes. This belief is so constantly pounded into our heads, by talk shows, by teachers, by government officials, and by parents, that we accept it as an absolute truth, without question. We must tolerate everything, because we have no higher standard than our own beliefs by which to judge, and our beliefs are cloaked in ignorance and prejudice.

Our minds are closed to the possibility that there exists an answer to the question "What is the meaning of life?" We know that we cannot figure it out, we ignore it, put it aside, and only ask questions which we know we can answer. Students read books not to find the answers, but because they contain information necessary to pass a class. As Bloom proclaims, "We rarely take seriously the naive notion that these (great) books might contain the truth which has escaped us." For Bloom knows, as well as Socrates, that the Truth exists, and that it is absolute, by which we should judge right and wrong. In Plato’s Apology of Socrates, Socrates is proclaimed by an oracle to be the wisest of all men. Socrates cannot believe this, for he knows that he is ignorant concerning wisdom. As Socrates goes through Athens looking for men wiser than himself, he discovers two things. First, that each man is wiser than Socrates, in his particular craft or trade. However, bec
ause of their wisdom, each man believes that he is the wisest in all things, especially the great things like Truth and Wisdom. In this the oracle proves true, for Socrates alone knew that there was a higher form of Wisdom and Truth of which he had no knowledge, but for which he spent his life searching. Socrates was the only man among all the Athenians who was free enough from prejudice to see this concept, and he attempted to rid others from their prejudice, so that they too might seek the Truth.

It is difficult for us today to seek the Truth, because according to the notion that there are no standards or absolutes, the Truth does not exist. We are taught to believe this because no one has been able to answer the question "What is truth?" so we dismiss it all together. As Bloom points out, "Without the belief that from Plato one might learn how to live or that from Shakespeare one might get the deepest insight into the passions and the virtues, no one who is not professionally obligated will take them seriously." Since we are taught that we cannot find the Truth in the great works of Shakespeare, then it is naive to think we shall learn it from Hitler.

My colleague, in his Collegian article, writes that the book aroused his hatred, not against the Jews, or Hitler’s actions, but against Hitler himself! He then goes on to say that he became angry at himself for letting the book have such an effect on him. For you see, books aren’t allowed to effect us in this way. We can’t get angry at a man, we must tolerate. Even if that man ordered the execution of millions of innocent people, we must tolerate. We can hate the actions, because relatively, in our time and culture, based on our beliefs and prejudices, what he did was wrong. What one fails to realize is that in his time, based on his beliefs and prejudices, what Hitler did was right! It’s all relative, so who is to say what is right and wrong? Socrates never answered that question, but he never gave up searching either. Why have we abandoned the search? Maybe we’re lazy, maybe we’re tired, maybe we’re ignorant. Or maybe, just maybe, all we need is some incentive to start sea
rching again, something to say that there must be a higher standard to appeal to, because this man was wrong. I don’t know what that standard is, but I know that my colleague, and Mr. Hitler, have brought me one step closer to finding it, and I thank them both. Keep an open mind, one never knows where the Truth may lie.

Jamey Turoff is a sophomore from Willard, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and Economics.

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