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“Context is all” a statement found in the award winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. At first it seems to make sense but upon closer investigation it raises the question, Is there no such thing as truth? To be able to answer this question it is important to find the appropriate definitions of truth and context. Then it is necessary to explore the depth of the relationships between the two concepts. Only after these conditions have been met is it possible to answer the question, Is there no such thing as truth?
To be able to understand the concept of truth is very difficult but it is possible. Dictionary.com gives ten different definitions of truth, each acceptable in its own sense. For the purpose of this essay the definition that is best is “truth is an obvious or accepted fact”. The Constructivist theory as well as the Consensus theory also support this idea of truth. The constructivist theory views our knowledge as constructed because it does not reflect any external realities.
Basically proponents of this theory believed that truth can be socially constructed. Karl Marx also claimed the existence of objective truth but he was able to distinguish between true knowledge and knowledge that had been distorted through power or ideology. The consensus theorists had a similar view. They believed that truth is whatever is agreed upon or might come to be agreed upon by some specified group. Both theories coincide with the definition of truth provided above but the constructivist theory also makes a clear distinction between objective truth and truth that is socially accepted. In order to answer the question above it is important to define objective truth as well as truth that is socially accepted.
Truth can classified further into two subcategories which are objective truth and truth that is socially accepted. Objective truth is very much like a universal truth which is a fact or a statement that is accepted by everyone and is proven using more than one area of knowledge. An example of universal truth would be that gravity causes all objects thrown in the air to fall back to the ground. This statement would be considered a universal truth because it has been proven using more than one area of knowledge (science and mathematics) and it is a fact that most people accept. Truth that is socially accepted is depends on one’s definition of society.
My definition of society is that it is an organized group of persons associated together for religious, cultural, political, patriotic or other purposes. An example of such a truth would be the fact that honour killings are accepted in certain parts of the world but are rejected in others. This shows how people’s perceptions of truth differ based on societal rules and regulations. The distinction between objective truth and truth that is socially accepted is also clearly defined and provides us with a platform to compare both of these to context.
To be able to compare the concepts of context and truth it is important for us to define context. To me context means the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning. According to Wikipedia “Context includes the circumstances and conditions that surround an event”. Ironically it also provides at least twelve different definitions of context giving an excellent example of the word itself. Upon further analysis of the definition of context it is clear to see how truth and context fit together. The definition of context states that it is part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.
The text or statement to which it is referring can be replaced by the truth. Thus, context refers to the information surrounding the truth. Context is also very important in understanding the truth because misinterpretation of the context could lead to a false impression of the truth. So, after defining both context and truth it seems to me that both of these aspects go hand in hand and each relies on the other to convey its true meaning.
To be able to further investigate the relationship between truth and context, I decided to first compare objective truth and truth which is socially acceptable. I defined objective truth as a universal truth or a fact that is well accepted. The example of objective truth mentioned above is a good example of misinterpretation of truth when the context is changed. Such a fact was not known in the middle ages and one would be considered crazy if they believed in such theories. Such a statement is only considered a universal truth in today’s world and context. But if the context around the fact were changed then the fact itself would be considered untrue.
Thus, the context around the truth is equally as important as the truth. Another way to view the context from the truth is to see them as two separate identities. The context provides the reader background information about the truth and if the context is misinterpreted then the truth gets distorted providing the reader with a false impression. Thus, objective truth can also be misinterpreted depending on its context.
There is also a relationship between truth which is socially acceptable and context. It is quite similar to the relationship between objective truth and context. Something that is considered truth in one society may be viewed as false in another. An example of this is the different views on arranged marriages held in different societies. For example in western society this practice is very uncommon but in most eastern societies arranged marriages are encouraged and it is a very common practice. Thus, society’s different views on such a topic would elicit different versions of truth from different people. This would occur because of the different societal views that people have been raised in. The context in this case would be the views of the society which in turn would influence their views on arranged marriages. Therefore, truth that is socially acceptable also depends on its context.
Therefore, context and truth are both terms that rely on each other to be understood. Without context it would be difficult to understand the truth. Objective truth as well as socially acceptable truth both rely on context to be understood and depend on each other to provide the reader with the clear meaning. Since, truth can not be understood without context then I believe that no such thing as truth exists. A fact that is considered true now may not be considered true later because of different contexts. Therefore, it is safe to say that the context determines the truth so, no such thing as truth exists.