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I came across the quote “Context is all; or is it ripeness? One or the other” when reading Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” for English. I didn’t give it much attention, because since I was 12, I had come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as a “fact” and every thought depended on other factors for it to be true. However in this essay I’m going to see if my original assumption was true or if there is a way to reach a truth through different branches of knowledge.
I’m going to take the definition of “truth” from the dictionary, solely to have a base for which to compare the rest of the essay to; “A verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle”.Which means that that there are facts that are backed by evidence, such as; it is 14:24 (at the time of writing). However in this case we can apply Atwood’s ‘context is all’, and change it to “context is location”, as this scenario isn’t necessarily true, seeing that in Sydney the time is 22:25, therefore the truth can be considered relative.
Relativism is a doctrine where there is no absolute truth; that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture. Which brings up a paradox as if someone were to say “context is irrelevant” meaning the truth would remain a truth in every situation, it would contradict themselves, as that statement would be relative depending on the context.
Francis Bacon’s Empiricism or otherwise known perception, is the process of arriving at the truth through sense experience. People use their five senses to arrive at a truth, however depending on the context, the exact same senses can make that truth false. An example that happens to me frequently is; when I look at a shirt, to me it looks black, but then when I put it under a stronger light and look at it carefully it often turns out to be dark blue.
It doesn’t mean the senses are “faulty” or can’t be trusted, but the observation; truth, arrived from the use of perception, isn’t congruent when the context is changed. Another very bizarre example that happened to me last year when I bought my new phone; is before purchasing it, I didn’t know of anybody that had one, but as soon as I had it in my pocket I started realising that a lot of people around me had it as well.
Language is the use of characters, symbols, images and sounds as a means of communicating a message. We assume that language is a truth, as we have a general consensus of the different characters, symbols, images and sounds in language. However once again the truth is challenged with the “context is all” axiom, where in certain cases the truth behind language doesn’t stand. My father told me the following example; when Vice-President Richard Nixon, at the end of the 1950’s was visiting Colombia, he used the commonly known “OK” hand sign, denoted with a circle formed by the thumb and the first finger, with the remaining three fingers outstretched, to which the Colombian people, thought they were being called assholes.
Rene Descartes’ Rationalism is the use of reason, be it inductive or deductive to logically arrive at the truth. Descartes used reason to arrive at his famous; ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, I think therefore I am. He was asking the question “How do I know I exist ?” and he deduced by no more than reason that it all boiled down to; I doubt that I exist, therefore I think, ergo I am. When I first heard this deduction, it seemed to me that it was flawless. However I remember looking around the room I was in at the time; I realised that objects such as the chairs, tables and even trees to an extent, couldn’t deduce their existence like Descartes did, therefore according to his deduction they wouldn’t exist. Once again I came to the conclusion that context will undermine truth.