Overpowering the Truth

Here’s a recent piece on Greek concepts of the truth from The Conversation. It is part of a series developed with WBUR’s On Point, called “In Search of Truth” (here’s the first episode)

Sophocles, fr. 86.3

“What is believed overpowers the truth.”

τό τοι νομισθὲν τῆς ἀληθείας κρατεῖ.

Stobaeus, 3.1.154

“Truth is victorious within itself, but belief wins over those without.”

῾Η ἀλήθεια παρ’ αὑτῇ νικᾷ, ἡ δὲ δόξα παρὰ τοῖς ἔξω.

Plato, Phaedrus, 272-273 [cf. Philebus on difference between truth and opinion]

“In the courts, no one has any concern for the truth of matters at all, but only for that which persuades, this is what is probable. For this reason, to speak artfully one must pay attention to probability. Sometimes it is not possible to say what was done in both the accusation and the defense, even if it was unlikely to have happened, but only what was probable. So, a speaker must always pursue what is probable, saying many things to bid farewell to the truth. For this, when it happens for the entire speech, provides furnishes the whole craft of speaking.”

τὸ παράπαν γὰρ οὐδὲν ἐν τοῖς δικαστηρίοις τούτων ἀληθείας μέλειν οὐδενί, ἀλλὰ τοῦ πιθανοῦ· τοῦτο δ᾿ εἶναι τὸ εἰκός, ᾧ δεῖν προσέχειν τὸν μέλλοντα τέχνῃ ἐρεῖν. οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτὰ τὰ πραχθέντα δεῖν λέγειν ἐνίοτε, ἐὰν μὴ εἰκότως ᾖ πεπραγμένα, ἀλλὰ τὰ εἰκότα, ἔν τε κατηγορίᾳ καὶ ἀπολογίᾳ· καὶ πάντως λέγοντα τὸ δὴ εἰκὸς διωκτέον εἶναι, πολλὰ εἰπόντα χαίρειν τῷ ἀληθεῖ· τοῦτο γὰρ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ λόγου γιγνόμενον τὴν ἅπασαν τέχνην πορίζειν.

Harmonika, 18.4

“The truth is simple and clean, a lie is the opposite.”

ἁπλοῦν γὰρ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ καθαρόν, τὸ δὲ ψεῦδος τοὐναντίον.

Cf. Aesch. fr. 288 “True words are simple ones.” ‘ἁπλᾶ γάρ ἐστι τῆς ἀληθείας ἔπη’

Crispin van den Broeck, 1523, “An Allegory of Truth and Deception”

Opinion: A Product of Habit and Pleasure

Dio Chrysostom, the 68th Discourse On Opinion

“Most people practice however many things they do or desire even though they don’t understand about any of them what kind of thing they are or what type of benefit they provide—they are compelled by opinion or pleasure or habit to these things. It is the same too in however many things they avoid and are careful not to do: they do not abstain because they know it is harmful or what kind of harm certain matters threaten, but because they see others taking care concerning these things or just because they have been in the habit of caution regarding affairs or because they imagine that these matters must be unpleasant for them and present what seems to be toilsome, they are really suspicious of them.

And, in addition, the matter of pleasure and toil is common to all people even though some people are slaves to them more than others. But opinion is ungoverned and is not the same for all. This is why some people praise these things and carp at those and others often do the complete opposite.”

Οἱ πολλοὶ ἄνθρωποι ὁπόσα ἐπιτηδεύουσιν ἢ ζηλοῦσιν, οὐδὲν αὐτῶν εἰδότες ὁποῖόν ἐστιν οὐδὲ ἥντινα ἔχει ὠφέλειαν ἐπιτηδεύουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ δόξης ἢ ἡδονῆς ἢ συνηθείας ἀγόμενοι πρὸς αὐτά· οὐδ᾿ αὖ ὅσων ἀπέχονται καὶ εὐλαβοῦνται μὴ πράττειν, εἰδότες ἃ βλάπτει ἀπέχονται οὐδὲ ὁποίαν τινὰ φέρει τὴν βλάβην, ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων ὅσα ὁρῶσι τοὺς ἄλλους εὐλαβουμένους ἢ περὶ ὧν ἂν εἰς ἔθος καταστῶσιν ὥστε εὐλαβεῖσθαι, ἢ ἃ νομίζουσιν ἀηδῆ ἔσεσθαι αὐτοῖς καὶ πόνον τινὰ δοκεῖ ἔχειν, ὡς τὸ πολὺ ταῦτα ὑποπτεύουσιν.

Καὶ τὸ μὲν τῆς ἡδονῆς καὶ τὸ τοῦ πόνου πᾶσι κοινόν· ἀλλ᾿ οἱ μὲν ἧττον, οἱ δὲ1 μᾶλλον ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν δουλοῦνται· τὸ δὲ τῆς δόξης ἀνόμοιον καὶ οὐ ταὐτὸ πᾶσιν. ὅθεν οἱ μὲν ταῦτα, οἱ δὲ ταῦτα ἐπαινοῦσι καὶ ψέγουσι, πολλάκις τἀναντία.

Detail from "The Rutland Psalter", medieval (c1260), British Library Add MS 62925. f 70v
Detail from “The Rutland Psalter”, medieval (c1260), British Library Add MS 62925. f 70v

 

Opinion: A Product of Habit and Pleasure

Dio Chrysostom, the 68th Discourse On Opinion

“Most people practice however many things they do or desire even though they don’t understand about any of them what kind of thing they are or what type of benefit they provide—they are compelled by opinion or pleasure or habit to these things. It is the same too in however many things they avoid and are careful not to do: they do not abstain because they know it is harmful or what kind of harm certain matters threaten, but because they see others taking care concerning these things or just because they have been in the habit of caution regarding affairs or because they imagine that these matters must be unpleasant for them and present what seems to be toilsome, they are really suspicious of them.

And, in addition, the matter of pleasure and toil is common to all people even though some people are slaves to them more than others. But opinion is ungoverned and is not the same for all. This is why some people praise these things and carp at those and others often do the complete opposite.”

Οἱ πολλοὶ ἄνθρωποι ὁπόσα ἐπιτηδεύουσιν ἢ ζηλοῦσιν, οὐδὲν αὐτῶν εἰδότες ὁποῖόν ἐστιν οὐδὲ ἥντινα ἔχει ὠφέλειαν ἐπιτηδεύουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ δόξης ἢ ἡδονῆς ἢ συνηθείας ἀγόμενοι πρὸς αὐτά· οὐδ᾿ αὖ ὅσων ἀπέχονται καὶ εὐλαβοῦνται μὴ πράττειν, εἰδότες ἃ βλάπτει ἀπέχονται οὐδὲ ὁποίαν τινὰ φέρει τὴν βλάβην, ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων ὅσα ὁρῶσι τοὺς ἄλλους εὐλαβουμένους ἢ περὶ ὧν ἂν εἰς ἔθος καταστῶσιν ὥστε εὐλαβεῖσθαι, ἢ ἃ νομίζουσιν ἀηδῆ ἔσεσθαι αὐτοῖς καὶ πόνον τινὰ δοκεῖ ἔχειν, ὡς τὸ πολὺ ταῦτα ὑποπτεύουσιν.

Καὶ τὸ μὲν τῆς ἡδονῆς καὶ τὸ τοῦ πόνου πᾶσι κοινόν· ἀλλ᾿ οἱ μὲν ἧττον, οἱ δὲ1 μᾶλλον ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν δουλοῦνται· τὸ δὲ τῆς δόξης ἀνόμοιον καὶ οὐ ταὐτὸ πᾶσιν. ὅθεν οἱ μὲν ταῦτα, οἱ δὲ ταῦτα ἐπαινοῦσι καὶ ψέγουσι, πολλάκις τἀναντία.

Detail from "The Rutland Psalter", medieval (c1260), British Library Add MS 62925. f 70v
Detail from “The Rutland Psalter”, medieval (c1260), British Library Add MS 62925. f 70v

 

A Serious Saturday: Epictetus on the Beginning of Philosophy

From Dissertationes ab Arriano Digestae, 2.11

What is the Beginning of Philosophy

The beginning of philosophy for those who approach it in the right way—by the front gate—is the acknowledgement of mankind’s weakness and inability to affect the most important things. We arrive in life possessing no inborn understanding of a right-angled triangle or a half-tone musical note, but we are taught these things through a specific technical approach; for this reason, those who do not know them do not think that they do. But, in contrast, who has arrived without some pre-implanted notion of right and wrong, noble and shameful, appropriate and inappropriate, what is fitting or chanced and what it is right to do or right not to do? This is why we all use this terms and try to harmonize our preconceptions with reality at each moment? “He has done well, as is right, or as not right. He has been unlucky, or lucky. He is unjust or just.” Who of us avoids these types of judgments? Who of us postpones their use until he has learned what they mean, as those who are ignorant of letters or syllables?….

….This is the beginning of philosophy—the acknowledgment of the struggle among men and the search for its origin and a condemnation and distrust of mere belief—a search of kinds whether a belief is kept correctly with the establishment of some kind of standard, as we have made for the balancing o weights or for figuring out whether a board is straight or crooked.”

 

 

ια′. Τίς ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας.

᾿Αρχὴ φιλοσοφίας παρά γε τοῖς ὡς δεῖ καὶ κατὰ θύραν ἁπτομένοις αὐτῆς συναίσθησις τῆς αὑτοῦ ἀσθενείας καὶ ἀδυναμίας περὶ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα. ὀρθογωνίου μὲν γὰρ τριγώνου ἢ διέσεως ἡμιτονίου οὐδεμίαν φύσει ἔννοιαν ἥκομεν ἔχοντες, ἀλλ’ ἔκ τινος τεχνικῆς παραλήψεως διδασκόμεθα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ μὴ εἰδότες αὐτὰ οὐδ’ οἴονται εἰδέναι. ἀγαθοῦ δὲ καὶ κακοῦ καὶ καλοῦ καὶ αἰσχροῦ καὶ πρέποντος καὶ ἀπρεποῦς καὶ εὐδαιμονίας καὶ προσήκοντος καὶ ἐπιβάλλοντος καὶ ὅ τι δεῖ ποιῆσαι καὶ ὅ τι οὐ δεῖ ποιῆσαι τίς  οὐκ ἔχων ἔμφυτον ἔννοιαν ἐλήλυθεν; διὰ τοῦτο πάντες χρώμεθα τοῖς ὀνόμασιν καὶ ἐφαρμόζειν πειρώμεθα τὰς προλήψεις ταῖς ἐπὶ μέρους οὐσίαις. καλῶς ἐποίησεν, δεόντως, οὐ δεόντως· ἠτύχησεν, εὐτύχησεν· ἄδικός ἐστιν, δίκαιός ἐστιν. τίς ἡμῶν φείδεται τούτων τῶν ὀνομάτων; τίς ἡμῶν ἀναβάλλεται τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτῶν μέχρι μάθῃ καθάπερ τῶν περὶ τὰς γραμμὰς ἢ τοὺς φθόγγους οἱ οὐκ εἰδότες;

…..

῎Ιδ’ ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας· αἴσθησις μάχης τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ζήτησις τοῦ παρ’ ὃ γίνεται ἡ μάχη καὶ κατάγνωσις καὶ ἀπιστία πρὸς τὸ ψιλῶς δοκοῦν, ἔρευνα δέ τις περὶ τὸ δοκοῦν εἰ ὀρθῶς δοκεῖ καὶ εὕρεσις κανόνος τινός, οἷον ἐπὶ βαρῶν τὸν ζυγὸν εὕρομεν, οἷον ἐπὶ εὐθέων καὶ στρεβλῶν τὴν στάθμην.

 

 

Parmenides, fr. 1 51-53

 

“It is right that you learn all things: both the steadfast heart of well-polished truth and the opinions of men…”

 

χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι

ἠμὲν ᾿Αληθείης εὐκυκλέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ

ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας….

 

Yes, it seems that opinion (ἠδὲ) and truth (ἠμὲν) are in opposition…but it doesn’t always have to be that way, right?