Can we experience truth?

In this essay I will argue that you can never experience the truth, because when you experience  something you always have an incomplete and biased translation of a phenomenon that was the  truth on that moment. In order to do so, I will start with a definition of truth. Then I will explain why  the experience of the truth is always an incomplete interpretation of the truth. After that I will  explain why this interpretation is biased. Fourthly, I will explain why that makes it impossible to  experience the truth. Then I shall discuss the objection of the scientific approach. And I will end with  a conclusion on this essay.

 To grasp the idea about experiencing the truth, we must first find out what truth is. Martin Heidegger  has a definition of truth in his work Being and Time. Heidegger states that according to the ancient Greek “truth is the simple sense perception of something”. 1 According to Heiddegger “ perception is always true, this means that looking always discovers colours, hearing always discovers tones”. 2 This  tells us that truth is that what you perceive when using your senses. And what you perceive trough your senses is true. So we can percieve the truth and what we percieve is true. We can use our senses to access a phenomenon that is happening on a particular moment and therefore access the truth on that moment. This definition excludes the fact that a being is not always what it shows itself to be, but I shall not focus on that part of truth because it has less to do with the human capability to experience the truth. 

 Now that we have a definition of truth, we can see that it still does not tell us if we can experience  the truth. Because, to experience the truth, we must interpret our perceptions into thoughts. ‘Thoughts are formulated in a linguistic form’3, as we can learn from Hans-Georg Gadamer in his work Semantics and Hermeneutics. This means that all of our thoughts are formulated in language.  Therefore, language is used to interpret our perceptions. We see that Gadamer also claims that ‘hermeneutical inquiry is based on the fact that language always leads behind itself and that this makes clear that anything that is thought has limits’.4 ‘Linguistic expressions always fall short of what they evoke.’5 When we consider this, the linguistic form in which we interpret our perception is not complete. There are things that we simply do not know and therefore we can only perceive them but not interpret them genuinely. For example when we see and hear someone playing a banjo, but we have never heard of such an instrument. We could translate it as a guitar, but this is not the truth on that moment. Linguistic expression can also cover things up. For example things that relate to a positive or negative emotion so that we have a certain perspective on that what we precepted. This means that our experience of what happened can be incomplete without us knowing this, because  we cannot interpret everything and things can be covered up.

 When we agree on the fact that our thoughts are formulated in language and that our experience  can therefore never be complete, it is still possible that the part that we can translate in the right way can be true. However, language has another limit, the limit of prejudices, concepts and agreements. Gadamer states that ‘all language relies on prejudices and preconcepts.’6 This means that all of our language is based on earlier experiences, opinions and things that are taught by our educators and social circle. Furthermore, ‘language exists by the means of establishing meanings by convention’.7 The purpose of language is to understand each other. There must be an agreement on the concepts in language, otherwise it is impossible to translate your experience in an authentic way.  This means that when we translate an experience, this translation is always influenced by earlier experiences and builds upon concepts and definitions of others. In this way, language can never represent truth and therefore we can never experience the truth. When we combine this argument of concept based language with the argument that language has its limits, we can conclude that it is not possible to experience the truth.

 An objection that can be raised on the reasoning above is that science, due to its methodology,  exposes true knowledge. Therefore scientists who discover new things do actually experience truth They can have an experience that was unknown before they experienced it and they are able to give it a new definition due to their position in society. But it is not certain that scientific methods reveal the truth.  Firstly, we acknowledge the truthfulness of science because of its methodology. But Jean Grondin states in her book Sources of Hermeneutics that ‘our mind reasons upon subjective principles, such as causality, and it actively imposes natures laws of logic’.8 We can conclude that we cannot be certain that methodology is a proper way to practice science because our mind relates to this method as a biased idea of logic. Therefore we cannot state objectively that methodology is truthful. Secondly, Gadamer writes that ‘science is often seen as the highest authority in decisionmaking processes of society.’9 ‘The position of science can be suspected because of its ideology’.10 This raises the question if science in general has an objective position. So we cannot be sure to what extent scientific discoveries are true. Due to the subjectivity of scientific methods and the possibility of a prejudiced position of science we can conclude that the objection that science leads to an experience of true knowledge is invalid. 

 As a conclusion I can say that I have been reasoning toward the thesis that you can never experience the truth. In order to do so I explained what ‘truth’ is according to Martin Heidegger. After that I provided two arguments that supported my thesis. The first one was the argument that our mind uses language to interpret our perceptions and that language has its boundaries. My second argument was that language is based on prejudices and common concepts and therefore it can never be a genuine translation of perception. Then I discussed the objection of scientific truth and  invalidated it. Because of this reasoning I can state that you can never experience the truth because  when you experience something you always have an incomplete and biased translation of the phenomenon that was the truth on that moment.

1 Heidegger, M. (1927), P29 2 Heidegger, M. (1927), P29 3 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P82 4 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P88 5 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P88

6 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92 7 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P85 8 Grondin, J. (1995), P2 9 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92 10 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92

Gadamer. 1972. Semantics and Hermeneutics. 1972. pp. 82-94.
Grondin, Jean. 1995. From Metaphysics to Hermeneutics. Sources of Hermeneutics. 1995, pp. 1-18.
Heidegger, Martin. 1927. The phenomenological method of investigation. Being and Time. 1927, pp.

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