Rosicrucian Writings Online

Truth--What Is It?

By The Supreme Secretary
[Ralph M. Lewis]
[From The Rosicrucian Digest November 1929]
IS there an individual who does not desire to know the truth of any proposition that may be propounded to him? I think not. We, as human beings, are inherent seekers of truth. Let us first have a mutuality of understanding on one point--the phrase, "Seeker of truth," not, however, to cast an inference that such a seeker is affiliated with any of the ancient or modern schools of philosophy, ethics, or morals. It might be well also to add that a seeker of truth does not necessarily mean a follower of a religious sect or dogmatic creed. In our daily realm of affairs, whether they deal with such worldly matters as business and finances or with such social matters as ethics or conventions, or even with physical matters of conscience and morals, the desire for truth is prevalent in our consciousness. Instinctively we want to know that a proposition is true, not for the intrinsic value of the truth itself, but for the consequent assurance and confidence it gives us.
Here are two important points to note: First, that the search for truth has not evolved out of philosophic speculation or religious denominational sects. Second, that though the desire to know truth is an inner urge, apparently it is not primarily motivated spiritually. The desire to become cognizant of truth, therefore, may be associated with the urge of self-preservation, the wish of every normal human being to save himself from annihilation, and certainly this cannot be said to be free from self-interest; therefore, it is not a spiritual urge.
To know the truth of a thing is to confirm it as a fact and to make it dependable for the best interests of the persons discerning it. This is apparently a selfish interest, an interest that at first view appears to be free from any inclination to determine the value of truth for truth's sake alone. From the above reasoning, it would be logical to infer that truth is essential to our very existence; by knowing certain things are absolute, we are encouraged in our ideals rather than lost in utter despair. The fallacy of many philosophical creeds and religious doctrines is the unqualified demand that truth be accepted as a principle of faith, rather than as logic; that we accept certain propositions as dependable even when they are contrary to the first natural law of truth which we have seen is self assurance and confidence. It has been said that truth is, as a whole, a system of mutually supporting truths whose absoluteness does not depend upon a set of first principles, but consists of the rational coherence and inevitableness of the entire system.
We now have a fair comprehension as to why we desire to know truth--but what is truth? How is it garbed that it distinguishes itself immediately and becomes acceptable to us? And further, is truth absolute; that is, at all times, irrevocable? It is well for us to give some consideration to the various explanations that have been expounded. Truth, the Aryan name, is contained in two originally connected equivalents--Sanskrit, "Satyd," and Latin, "Versus," both roots meaning "actually existing" or "to be, to exist." It has been said that the search for knowledge is the gaining of truth, that in the acquiring of knowledge, we aim at an ideal. Each of us, it is said has created in his consciousness an ideal toward which he mentally strives, it is immaterial what form the ideal takes. In striving to reach it he is bound to accumulate knowledge. His fixed and steady concentration on the ideal, compells him to pursue certain channels, resulting in the consummation of knowledge; this knowledge forms our ideals; therefore, it is claimed to be truth. Let us say that at first one merely has a mental conception without definite form, but in aiming at the ideal, he gathers knowledge that puts it into concrete form; thereby that knowledge in itself becomes truth.
Herbert Spencer, the philosopher and logician said, "The ultimate test of the truth of any proposition lies in our inability to conceive its negation." This statement, when analyzed, means that when one receives in the consciousness some impression, some thought, and after due consideration, is unable to conceive of the opposite of the thought, it must be truth. Here is an example: If a prominent scientist makes, in a public lecture, the assertion that the sun is approximately 93,000,000 miles distant from the earth, we accept this as a truth, according to Herbert Spencer, because we are unable to substitute an equally presentable assertion that will negate the former one. The original one remains ultimate truth by the sheer force of being indisputable. This form of reasoning gives truth a false glamor, one that does not invite confidence. The first principle of truth, personal assurance and confidence is called to our minds.
Spencer's interpretation of truth leads us to wonder whether it is a concrete thing, immovable and unchangeable, or, as Pythagoras said about matter, "Always becoming." Is truth a vacillating condition of the mind, which changes with the intelligence of the individual, diminishes with the increase of personal understanding, or substantiates itself as the light of knowledge is brought to bear upon it?
The theorum propounded here is that truth is merely a matter of values; that truth has no actual existence and that no principle or thing can represent truth; that truth, comprehended by each individual is a matter of personal value; that what one person accepts as truth becomes positive truth to him alone; and if I can contradict in my own reasoning that which you accept as truth, it is not truth to me. In other words, that which I assert as being positively known to me, in some manner, becomes truth to me. I at once realize it as truth, and act accordingly, whether such a condition actually exists as truth or not. The explanation given in support of truth as a personal value instead of an actually existing thing or principle is this: If what you have accepted as absolute truth can finally be bettered and improved upon, it no longer is truth. In other words, a truth remains a truth only so long as it cannot be bettered. When it can be improved, it is no longer absolute and it loses its former value as truth.
Further support of this reasoning is offered in the doctrine that truth can take no tangible form at any time; it is only a matter of relativity. We compare what is given to us as truth with former experiences and personal knowledge gained, and weigh the so-called truth for its worth, against that which we have classified in the past as being absolutely known to us. If we can support this so-called new truth with our personal experiences gained at some other time or times, we accept it. If we cannot, we reject it, regardless of the nature of the truth. Here is an example:
Suppose that a primitive man, raised in a savage state, with no knowledge of astronomy and cosmology, except that which has come down to him, traditionally, is placed in the open in some civilized land with an average modern man. Suppose that both were asked this question: "Above you will observe the moon. What do you think it truly is?" It is no tax upon the imagination to suppose the primitive man would reply, "A large silver disk, suspended by an invisible thread from the skies above." With all probability, the modern man would reply, "The satellite of our earth revolving around the earth from west to east in a period of one month, and accompanying the earth in its motion round the sun."
The primitive man's realization of the moon was absolute truth to him. In relation to his limited knowledge and experience, it was logical that the moon was perhaps the shield of some mythological God, burnished, and suspended in the skies above. Modern man would laugh at such a thought, and immediately proceed to contradict and disprove it, with the aid of past scientific instruction and observation. The truth as accepted by the modern man would be based on his understanding of astronomy, which has greatly evolved during the centuries of scientific research. But even at this time the world's greatest physicists are discussing the refraction of light in the steller spaces, this in actuality, alters the present theory of the size and distance of the moon. What the modern man now accepts as truth regarding the moon would lose its value by the introduction of further knowledge. It would appear that the truth of the matter to either the modern man or the primitive one is not an exact standard, but an arbitrary conception. This further establishes the belief that there can be no criterion of absolute truth, since our means of determining what is truth is constantly improving and changing our former truths to errors.
The definition of truth by Epicurus, the Ionian philosopher, is perhaps the nearest exoteric parallel to the Rosicrucian attitude toward truth of any presented in either past or present theses on the subject. He says, "A proposition is true if it describes or portrays facts as they are." We differ with him, however, in his additional statement which is, "that perceptions of sense and mental intuition are always true, and that error creeps in only with judgment and opinion."
From the above we are led to believe that all sense perceptions reveal the truth of things as they are to our consciousness, but that the falsity is in our interpretation of them or our reasoning. As Rosicrucians we know that no absolute reliance can be placed upon our five objective senses, for many illustrations have been given to us to show the deception of those senses. Let us study the common, but simple illustration of the illusion of parallel railroad tracks converging in the distance as one looks down the long roadbed. If we were to accept this impression as truth as it is given to us through the sense of sight, we would be sadly wrong in accepting that truth; the falsity of the impression would not be in the judgment, but in the perception of our sight alone.
As the centuries have gone by, they have contributed their wealth of fact and speculation, phrased in the languages of all races. Each sage has placed a gem in the crown of wisdom worn by the human race. In the above we have discussed several of the philosophers' conceptions of truth which have aided in the presentation, through the Rosicrucian teachings of What Truth Is and How It May Be Known.
The Rosicrucians recognize one outstanding thing, and that is that certain things or conditions are absolute truths, never decreasing in their value as such, but remaining absolutely reliable and dependable. As Rosicrucians we know also that certain principles are truths, but at the same time we know that these truths do change in a certain way, do alter. They do not, however, in the change, lose their original value. These truths alter with our ever-evolving understanding of Cosmic principles; these truths grown to more beautiful simple lights which aid us on our upward path. With further knowledge, our understanding of certain truths changes, step by step, in relation to our previous knowledge, but divine truths lose their value at no time; they always become more understandable. Divine truth is always proved to us as such by the very evident falsity of contradictory statements, and it differs in this essential thing from truths of the mundane world. The Rosicrucians divide truths into those of the objective plane and those of the spiritual or divine plane. On the objective plane in the material world, truth is not a concrete, definite thing. It is a matter of reasoning. It depends on the individual understanding. When we receive certain definite impressions through the senses of hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling, or seeing, we immediately compare the impressions received. If in our reasoning, we accept the new impressions received, we then admit them as truths. If we cannot reconcile the new impressions with our former experiences, we disregard them as falsities. We can clearly see then, that we are very liable to reject many objective impressions received through the senses which are actually truths, but which we cast aside because of wrong judgment or reasoning. In some instances, we reassure our judgments by analyzing impressions received by one sense with our other senses. Sometimes, however, it is impossible to further examine impressions received; then we must infer from knowledge already gained, as to the truthfulness of our perceptions. This leaves truth but a shapeless clay in the moulding power of our objective reasonings. In understanding this, we realize that we must not only be so positive in affirming that certain results of our objective reasoning are absolute truths, unchangeable, since as we increase our state of objective knowledge, we are bound to alter our judgment and thus affect the truths originally accepted.
Our science of today is an example of this. That which was accepted yesterday as truth, is today rejected in lieu of more presentable hypotheses. This fact teaches us as Rosicrucians one very important lesson in our objective reasonings. That that which seems as truth today in the material world is only the reflection of the present standard of intelligence, reasoning, and science; that its value to us as truth is only of temporary importance; that we must be most willing to discard it when our future experiences show its falsity. If we bind ourselves by truths which prove to be erroneous, we check our mental development, objectively.
As explained above, the truths which never alter as truths but which constantly add to their splendor, are those which are Divine, and which are not received through the objective mind, but through the psychic self. The glorious virtue of Cosmic truth lies in the fact that as we grow in Cosmic understanding, we prove rather than disprove them. This truth comes to us, not through sense perception, but through meditation and revelation. When we are inspired with an ideal from within, that ideal is a Cosmic truth. As we go about manifesting it and making it applicable to our affairs, we confirm and prove it to ourselves; thus it becomes absolute, irrevocable Cosmic truth. Remember that the only truths, are those divinely inspired ideals within us; those we confirm to ourselves by demonstrating them in our daily lives. Though various individuals, schools of thought, philosophies and religions interpret Divine truth differently, and these apparently seem to conflict, you may easily determine whether the truths presented by these different schools and religions are actually Divine in nature. If there is a similarity in the creative results produced by these different schools in the application of the truths, as they know them, that is sufficient endorsement to anyone, that those truths are Cosmically inspired.

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