Context is all

Chris Richards
Mr. J. Walker
HZT 4U0
June 19, 2007

10. “Context is all” (Margaret Atwood). Does this mean that there is no such thing as truth?

“Context is all.” Pulled from the Governor General’s Award-winning novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, this quote brings a curious topic into light and presents a challenging question: Is there no such thing as truth? Not often thought about, this inquiry deserves much thought and contemplation in regards to the true — a term used loosely – definition of truth and context and how they relate to one another. When regarding information, one is surprised to know that due to context, there are no such things as truth or falsity, but varying levels of commonly accepted validity. It is the power of mass recognition and acceptance of an idea that allows the population to use the word “truth” when referring to something that appears to be to them, beyond reasonable doubt, logically correct in every instance.Before going any further, it is crucial to explore and define both context and truth to fully comprehend what follows. Etymologically speaking, context is a derivative from its Latin origin of contextus, meaning ‘a joining together’ with its true roots being com or together and texture meaning ‘to weave’. According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia online, “Context includes the circumstances and conditions that ‘surround’ an event.” Ironically, roughly twelve various definitions of the word context were provided, each depending on the circumstance in which the word is used, a great example of context in its own. Identifying an acceptable meaning of context proved to be an easy task, yet acquiring the meaning of truth requires more contemplation and critical thinking due to the theoretical value of each definition.Through time, there have been a number of diverse theories as to the definition of truth because of the open-ended nature of the word and its susceptibility to interpretation. Dictionary.com defines truth in excess of ten different definitions, notably “conformity with fact or reality” and “an obvious or accepted fact”. Though there are many theories that would support the former of the two, such as the Correspondence Theory, which ties truth to a relationship between thoughts and words in one part, and things and objects in the other, or the Constructivist Theory, which believes that truth is created by social progress, the latter of the two definitions provided by the online source is most correct. Emphasizing the “_accepted_ fact” portion of the latter definition, where fact is defined as well as “something said to be true or supposed to have happened”, the implications of accepting a concept to be true due to a conformity in opinion of a mass population perfectly coincides with the Consensus Theory. Anthropologically and sociologically speaking, defining truth by consensus gentium, or agreement of the people, is the most realistic since items to be considered “true” are left purely to the discretion of the public, the mass population of the world whose opinion forges a concept into fact, thus making it “true”. If the majority of the population disagrees with a certain concept, the concept is deemed false and is disregarded.Bearing in mind the current process in which something is considered true, it is now possible to comprehend the small and possibly unseen fault in the process of classifying concepts as true via consensus gentium. Leaving the deciding capabilities to the mass population is, though arguably the most democratic way to address the problem, the worst way to establish real facts, and thus real truth. The underlying problem with this method is the fact that humans are exactly what they are – human – and with this condition comes also the underlying fault of the fluidity of the human mind, the ability to rearrange and reclassify concepts in a matter of seconds. A person’s perception of an issue can change with new information, and should this happen on a large scale, suddenly what was previously considered to be the truth has been exiled as exploded false claims, and concepts or circumstances previously considered to be false and exploded are suddenly more realistic, and upon the concurrence of the majority of the mass population, that concept or circumstance is now considered to be fact and true. It is in this circumstance that the opinion of the masses is considered the context through which the truth is acquired; their thoughts on a topic are the situation that surrounds the event or item being considered, and thoughts are ever changing. Thoughts can also be influenced from outside sources, both intentionally or unintentionally, changing the perspective and opinion someone may carry on an issue, ultimately changing the context of the topic at hand.An example of blatant intentional influence from an outer source can be found in George Orwell’s “1984” when Winston, the protagonist, is detained before his execution and brainwashed into believing whatever falsities are presented to him if the Party, the controlling communistic form of government, says it is so. Tortured and malnourished, Winston is unable to leave until he believes, among other things, that two plus two equals five because the Party says so. Many could argue against the logic of such a statement since in our society today, as it always has been, two plus two does not indeed equal five but four, yet because the thought process is so automatic and conditioned to work in such a way as to regurgitate information and mathematical equations, one fails to think that it is highly possible that in the past, or in other cultures, the meaning of the word two could actually represent the equivalent of two and a half in our understanding.Even reason is subject to failing to maintain a common concept of an object or circumstance, as logic is very opinion and context based in itself. A child who grows to the age of ten in a closet with minimal outside contact and a meager scheduled feeding period is likely to draw sentiments from any common person one could encounter, and few would disagree and say it is not true that locking a child in a closet like that is not a form of child abuse Yet, if locking children in closets until the age of ten was commonly practiced and accepted, it would not be seen as true that the act is child abuse but simply a way to discipline and harden the mind of the child. Both circumstances are polar opposites, needless to say, yet depending on the context of the situation – the approval and agreement of the mass public on the issue present – it is either accepted or unaccepted as truly and morally correct. Others may also question if the child has done anything warranting this treatment, and base their decision on this information.When pertaining to truth, many would agree regardless that the law is, for the most part, true no matter what anyone should say. Yet where does the law really play a part in the judging and punishment of those who disobey it? It requires no statistic to say with confidence that the majority of North America, at least, feels that murder is unacceptable and often deserves the highest level of punishment; it is considered true that murder is wrong and unforgivable. Yet, should one consult someone who has killed out of self defense, to protect their family from an attacker, the mass consensus suddenly reverses, and the killing of another man becomes completely acceptable. It is solely and singularly left up to the context of the action that deems whether or not it is true that murder, or other things when it comes to the law, are actually morally wrong.Context can be observed in many forms, whether it is the thoughts of millions affecting a general piece of information, or the reasons for which someone has killed another person. Bearing in mind the definition that seems to comply with the modern ideal of the concept of truth, and the ever-changing, on-demand world, it seems irrefutable to say that truth does not exist, but merely a silent and unseen agreement that nothing is for certain, and that everything is always changing. At the most, context is the real truth, but truth as understood by most laymen does not exist. Context is all; there is no such thing as truth.

Context is all

Chris Richards

Windsor, Canada

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Artist's Description

This was an essay I had to do for my philosophy class last year in grade 11… or, year 11, I think the term is in Australia? =) Well, anyway, it was my final assignment that was being marked heavily, but for the most part, I love exploring things such as this, and would also LOVE to hear what you have to say about this. Now, as this is submitted as a final piece of work for marks, forgive me for the following disclaimer, but:

This work is the sole property and creation of myself, Chris Richards, and has been posted here purely to display the issue and open the topic to contemplation among those who read it. It is in no way available for reproduction or the personal use of anyone else due to the nature of its creation for educational assessment. In the event someone should submit this work as their own and jeopardise both my academic career and their own, I will feel no remorse in proving through original doccuments and persons who have read said doccuments that the work created is in fact my own, and has already been submitted to the IBO.

There… now that the ugly bit is out of the way, please, read, and let me know what you think. I will be MORE than welcome to discuss any of this with anyone =)

Artwork Comments

  • Melissa Park
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