Truth, identity and the moral absolute


Keywords: social constructivism, core values, ethnocentric truth, perception of moral truths, absolute truth

The article analyses the mutual relationship of truth and identity in the context of the crumbling hegemony of truth, and its ramifications for the humanities. The author highlights the difference between the physical and humanitarian scientific truths, which during the past hundred years or more has led to serious scepticism about truth. Regarding truth as a social construct one has to admit that any truth is bound to identity: Truth is ethnocentric as it is based on the consensus of a community or a cultural group. Yet, although the hegemony of truth is important for the sustainability of collective identity, there also appears to be an assumption of its relativity, as far as different identities rest on different core values. If we accept that truth is identity-based, we also have to accept the use of “alternative facts” and the decay of truth hegemony. The hegemony of truth is based on the assumption that there is a single absolute (divine) truth about the essence of the world as well as humanness, even though that truth has never been fully apprehended. Even a true belief in the existence of such an absolute leaves open the question of its apprehension. Both Confucius and Kant refer to intuition, yet the question remains how to compare and evaluate the fruits of different intuitions. The results of humanities research have a direct impact on core values, which can (and often has) led to changes in moral systems. The final part of the article seeks an answer to the question whether it is possible to conceive a method to evaluate the truthfulness of the truths defined by humanities, first and foremost of arguments concerning values and moral norms, that is to check the conformity of those arguments to a moral absolute.

Martin Ehala (b. 1963), University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, Professor of Literacy Education (Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu); University of Helsinki, Visiting ­Professor of Estonian, ehalam@gmail.com


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