Scheherazade and the Sultan, by Kay Rasmus Nielsen (1886-1957)
This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
“What is truth?” Kreeft quotes Mortimer Adler, who says that this is one of the easiest questions in philosophy to answer, and he quotes Aristotle´s quintessentially commonsensical definition of truth: “When one says of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, he speaks the truth.”
The most philosophical provocative part of “On Fairy-Stories” is what Tolkien says about fairy stories being “true”.
It is…essential to a genuine fairy-story…that it should be presented as “true”…
Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it…the peculiar quality of the “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?”…In the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium [gospel, good news] in the real world…All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen, that we know (“On Fairy-Stories”, pp. 87-90).
Truth is objective, and discovered. We have already looked at this in relation with The Core in everyday language as explained in the chapter on Ontology. The Core is a teaching created by my professor David Favrholdt, who was inspired by Niels Bohr. He begins with explaining what truth means in philosophical sense:
The truth, which philosophy seeks to achieve, is a truth that raises over human views, yes over the whole of the human existence. That something is true means in philosophical sense, that it is true independently of, who claims it, and when it is claimed. And independently of, whether anybody at all have claimed it, thought it, believed it or knows it. Truths are therefore, in philosophical context, both time-independent and idea- and consciousness-independent.
Since all philosophical views qua views claim to be true in precisely this sense, then it should be clear, that views, which try to reduce or cause explain all views, are self-refuting views.
Bohr regarded the concepts of classical physics as a more explicit formulation of everyday language. In that sense everyday language is a necessary precondition for all natural scientific epistemology, and it can´t be replaced by an unambiguous and formalised, logical scientific language.
Surpringly, Tolkien shares this idea. Remember: The two magics have a number of things in common or (when misused) evil. Technology becomes evil when it is turned from a means to an end (from philosophy to ideology). Fantasy becomes evil when it is turned into a create-your-own-reality philosophy. The ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, between objective and subjective reality, is the first mark of sanity, and the confusion of the two is the first and most basic mark of insanity. Neither materialism nor idealism have the ability to distinguish. In order to establish unambiguous description (and thinking) one must be able to discriminate between subject and object, dream and reality, etc. This is also the source of enchantment. Enchanment is only enchantment when it is sensed as being real, or true, as discriminated from unreal and false.
Favrholdt has developed this same important theme in Bohr´s epistemology further in his own philosophy.
Favrholdt asks us: please observe following concepts: Time – object – space – logic – body – person – experience – memory.
The phenomenalist/idealist claims, that we only with certainty can know, that the here italicized concepts stand for something real; that is to say: something from the concepts different: Time – object – space – logic – body – person – subject – experience – memory.
The materialist claims, that we only with certainty can know, that the here italicized concepts stand for something real; that is to say: something from the concepts different: Time – object – space – logic – body – person – subject – experience – memory.
Favrholdt claims, that since these concepts are interdependent, they all represent something. Together they are what he calls The Core in everyday language. That they are interdependent means, that they have to be used in a certain way in relation to each other, if we at all want to talk meaningful. The relations between them are not established by arbitrary definitions. We have discovered, that we shall respect the relations between them, if we want to describe something, whether we want to describe, that there is lying a phone book on the desktop, or that we have an experience of the phone book.
What we must say is as follows: When we as ordinary people – before we have heard anything about philosophy – orientate in life, we form a concept about reality. We associate with humans and animals and plants and non-living things in our daily lives, and we learn to discriminate between, what is dream and reality, - and what is lie or illusion, and reality.
Any human being understands, what we mean by saying, that the witness explained in the court, that the thief had a pistol, but in reality the thief was unarmed. We also learn to talk about the poetic reality, about the experienced reality etc. We learn to talk about things, which exist, despite that no one experiences them, or have consciousness about them. When they found the Golden Horns at Gallehus, they found something, which no one knew were there. But they found them. Is wasn' t so, that they arised, because they were experienced.
Then certain philosophers are coming and saying, that we don't know, whether there is anything behind our experiences. What can you do but ask them about, what they mean with ”experiences”. Then they explain this. But it turns out, that they only can do this by using the whole of The Core. And in this set of fundamental concepts is included the concept ”object” or ”thing” which represent ”things, which exist whether they are experienced or not”.
This is included as a necessary precondition for, that we can define or explain, what we shall understand by experience. So, because they have explained, what they mean by ”experience” - so that we know the correct use of this concept - they have already accepted, that we in our description of reality must assume a correct use of the concept ”things, which exist, whether they are experienced or not”.
The reason why the conceptual relations in the The Core not are conventional or accidental, but unavoidable as the relations in the number theory, is precisely because reality - the from our experiences (thoughts, mind) independently existing reality - is included in the determination of, how we have to use our concepts in order to be able to realize it, and describe it. It is not us who put reality in order, it is reality which puts us in order.
In accordance with Taoism there is nothing beyond the world. You can´t see the world from outside. You are in the world, and you can only define something from its opposition. What is the good? This you understand, if you know what the evil is. You can´t say anything about the world as a whole, because you can´t put the whole in opposition to anything.
We can choose not to describe it and instead soak ourselves in Hinajana Buddhistic meditation (or music), but if we want to describe it, if we want to find out, what is subjective and objective, if we want to achieve realization within physics, biology, psychology etc., then we must use our fundamental concepts in a correct, non-arbitrary way.
This involves, not an ontological dualism, but an epistemological, a so-called gnoseological dualism. Unambiguous description has the distinction between subject and object as a necessary precondition. And the fact itself, that we have to discriminate between subject and object in order to communicate unambiguous, actually indicates logically, that both materialism (the scientific bias) and idealism (the New Age bias) are mistaken point of views.
So truth is objective, and discovered. Mere fiction are subjective creations. Yet, like many great authors, Tolkien found the process of writing The Lord of the Rings to be one of discovery rather than creation. Tolkien´s son Christopher said of his father´s writing: “I say discover because that is how he himself saw it, as he once said, ‘Always I had the sense of recording what was already there, somewhere; not of inventing’ (Silmarillion, Foreword, p. 9).
And Tolkien says he wrote The Lord of the Rings to elucidate “truth”: “I would claim, if I did not think it presumptuous in one so ill-constructed, to have as one object the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments, that may tend to ‘bring them home’” (Letters, no. 153, p. 194).
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