Truth, Right, and Good are Mutually Defined

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Many people are interested in the definition of truth. Is it rational? Is it empirical? Is it both? Is it neither? Vedic philosophy accepts all the above answers and rejects all of them. Its answer is as follows. If you reject the truth, then you will commit bad deeds. Due to those bad deeds, you will suffer. When you suffer, then you will change what you call truth. Conversely, if you accept the truth, then you will commit good deeds. Due to those good deeds, you will enjoy. And then you don’t need to change your notion of truth. Change, instability, and oscillation are the hallmarks of falsity while eternity, stability, and constancy are the hallmarks of truth. Based on these traits, you don’t have to perform a complete and exhaustive rational and empirical analysis of the truth claims. You just look for eternity, stability, and constancy and you can conclude that it is true. If you find their opposites, you know it is false.

Hence, the truth can be known from its symptom. The symptom of truth is its eternity. It is not rational proof based on logic and axioms because axioms and logic can be changed. It is not empirical proof by instrument measurement because the measured objects and measuring instruments can be changed. As you change your axioms, logic, measured objects, and measuring instruments, you arrive at a new idea of truth. It may not be eternal. If it is not eternal, you can know that it is not true. Thereby, quite often, truth is equated to eternity. They are not the same, but eternity is the result or symptom of truth.

Hence, is truth rational? Yes, it is. But rationality is extended to moral action and happy life. Rationality based on axioms and logic is universal, but rationality for moral action is contextual and rationality for a happy life is individual. Right and wrong change from one time, place, and role to another, and happiness is different for each individual. Is truth empirical? Yes, it is. But empiricism is extended to righteous action and happy life, not limited to sense perception or merely instrument measurements. Is truth both rational and empirical? Yes, if we use the collective definition of truth, right, and good. Is truth neither rational nor empirical? Yes, if we are rejecting the notions of axioms, logic, and proofs as the sole definition of rationality, and object-instrument measurements as the sole definition of empiricism.

Since the time of the Greeks, the notions of truth, right, and good have been separated in Western philosophy. The Greeks called them logos, ethos, pathos, and sometimes truth, justice, and beauty. Vedic philosophy also accepts these three categories and calls them chit, sat, and ānanda. The difference is that Greeks tried to define truth, justice, and beauty independent of each other while Vedic philosophy defines them mutually—falsity leads to immorality which then leads to suffering; truth leads to morality which then leads to happiness. Conversely, Aristotle divided all Platonic forms into two categories—theoretical and practical. The theoretical forms include just truth, while the practical forms include justice and beauty. Hence, you use mathematical reasoning to arrive at truth; you use democracy to arrive at justice; and you are free to define your idea of beauty as you please. Truth, right, and good are thus separated.

As time passes, the personal idea of beauty is extended to a personal idea of justice leading to constant changes to social norms. Then, as even more time passes, the personal ideas of beauty and justice are also extended to truth leading to constant changes to what is true. You can still use mathematical reasoning, but your axioms and logic are no longer the same. Instead, mathematicians can define ever-new domains of mathematics based on a new set of objects and operators on those objects. Since there is no limit to how varied these theories can be, hence, there is no limit to how varied truth can be. Each believer in a different truth only needs to assert their personal belief in some axioms and logic over others. They can use a different set of observations or facts to justify or empirically prove their personal axioms and logic.

We cannot escape this relativism of truth, right, and good without defining them mutually. The escape involves the rejection of empirical and rational verification as sole measures of truth. After all, both painful and pleasurable experiences can validate a theory. But nobody wants eternal pain. Hence, only a subset of experiences that give happiness are marks of the truth. Likewise, both just and unjust experiences can validate a theory but nobody wants eternal injustice. Hence, a subset of experiences that deliver justice are marks of the truth. When suffering and injustice are rejected as valid experiences to determine the truth, then mere empirical verification cannot be called truth. Likewise, when suffering and injustice are rejected as valid rationalities, then mere rational proofs based on arbitrarily chosen axioms and logics cannot be called truth. A subset of rational proofs and empirical observations—that deliver happiness and justice—must now be designated as markers of truth. Current ideas of empirical verification and rational proof as marks of truth are replaced by a subset of theories and experiences that are also just and happy.

If we separate the definitions of truth, right, and good, then we will create a painful and unjust world. Since nobody likes suffering and injustice, therefore, they will change the truth until it leads to happiness and justice. Thereby, all empirically and rationally proven theories will keep changing because empiricism and rationality are not limited to truth; they also extend to the right and good. When the truth keeps changing, then it cannot be called truth. Whatever we call truth today will be called falsity tomorrow because nobody wants an unhappy or unjust truth. We search for a truth that is also right and good. This is the meaning of collectively defining truth, right, and good.

This search is related to the theory of consciousness comprising three aspects as noted above. These aspects are not identical, and hence, truth, right, and good are not identical considerations. These aspects are not separate from each other, and hence, the considerations of truth, right, and good cannot be separated. In the Greek separation of logos, ethos, and pathos, a single person is fragmented into three—the first that seeks the truth, the second that seeks justice, and the third that seeks beauty. Once you fragment a single person into three separate proclivities, then they keep fighting with each other.

This fight leads to an inner conflict under which the truth, right, and good is never reconciled with each other. Rather, one aspect becomes dominant for some time, while the other aspects are subordinated. Then the other aspects become dominant for some time, while the previously dominant aspect is subordinated. Thereby, the truth, right, and good notions keep changing.

In India, this triad is sometimes called satyam-shivam-sundaram. Satya is the truth; Shiva is justice; and Sundaram is beauty. This triad constitutes reality, which means that if we reject the truth, then we will be forced to face “injustice” and “ugliness”, to compel us to change our notions of truth. That “injustice” and “ugliness” is not truly injustice and ugliness because it forces a correction on us. It is like a bitter medicine or a painful surgery mandated by nature to correct our false conceptions of reality. Doctors, surgeons, medicines, and treatments are not considered evil because they cure illnesses. The ugliness and injustices that we see superficially are well-intentioned and morally justified.

Aristotle called these three modes of persuasion, which means that there are three ways to convince a person. But he could never integrate them. In fact, he separated them into theoretical and practical forms, and the practical forms were divided into a subjective notion of beauty and an intersubjective idea of justice while objectivity was restricted to the truth. Thereafter, the epistemology of truth was separated from the epistemology of beauty and justice. Immanuel Kant, for instance, claimed that justice is non-ontological (his theory of morality is called deontology). Thereby, nature has no justice. If you escape a ruler’s justice, you escaped justice. Shakespeare similarly wrote: “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Thus, science evolved independent of the considerations of right and good. Some people complain that science is devoid of value judgments; they are talking about the inability to define right and good based on scientific considerations. But the problem is not limited to science. It is as old as Western civilization itself, going back to Aristotle if not much before.

When Christianity adopted Aristotle’s fragmented system to construct “apologetics”, the truth, right, and good were never reconciled. Christianity axiomatized God as good, which led to the problem of evil when it should merely have been called God’s justice. Then, justice was axiomatized as commandments and dictates of messiahs, but since there was no way to reason about them, all these religious dictates were constantly manipulated by empires and emperors. During Enlightenment, the considerations of right and good were relegated to contracts and private opinions, while the study of nature through the use of reason and observation was deemed “scientific truth”. By definition, this fragmented “science” is incapable of dealing with questions of justice and beauty because justice is defined to be something intersubjective while beauty is defined to be subjective, while science is called objectivity.

We cannot neglect or ignore objectivity, subjectivity, or intersubjectivity. We cannot reduce or equate one to the other. And we cannot reconcile them in a system of reasoning restricted to the truth. This is why the separation of these three leads to cycling dualities and never-resolving contradictions.

There is a new focus on studying consciousness at present. But in this study, consciousness is the study of the objective truth, rather than right and good. Objective truth is itself reduced to the existence of physical properties rather than to the perception of qualities, the assimilation of meaning, and the attribution of truth to the meaning. Thereby, truth is equated to existence. If you can measure something’s existence, then it is true. By that measure, the existence of a fictional book and the false propagandas on television must also mean that they are true. After all, you can measure their existence, the world has no meaning, therefore, their existence itself implies their truth.

These problems are so old in Western thinking that people have forgotten about the time when they started. Since they started at least 2,500 years ago, and everything since then has been a progressive compounding of one mistake by another, it is impossible for people to accept that their thinking has been flawed from the very beginning. Everything in religion, philosophy, and science has been fragmented over and over due to the original fragmentation of truth, right, and good. When every subject has become so fragmented over time, it is impossible to find the complete truth unless we go back to the origin of the problem and rethink the unsolved problems from the beginning.

That rethink is not very hard to understand. It simply means that truth, right, and good are mutually defined. They are not identical, and they are not separable. This is the Bhedābheda principle. It changes epistemology because all experiences and rationalities are not true—that which leads to suffering and injustice will be rejected over time. It changes our conception of reality as something in three modes. They are described in various ways as modes of nature, modes of consciousness, and modes of God. They are aspects of the whole, parts of the whole, but not separable from each other and the whole.

If anyone understands the basics of Vedic philosophy, namely, that truth, justice, and beauty are mutually defined then they will easily reject all forms of scientific epistemology as flawed ideas. If they further understand that truth, right, and good are judgments applied to some meaning, then they will easily reject a conception of reality devoid of meaning. To understand why these flawed notions exist today, we can trace all the problems of modern thinking back to Aristotle’s separation between truth, right, and good, and show how everything else follows from it, just as a corollary of that separation.

The course correction involves conceiving reality in terms of three modes that are distinct and yet inseparable. It involves a different epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. It involves a reformulation of reasoning as something that involves truth, right, and good. It involves a reformulation of experience as something truthful, just, and happy as opposed to false, unjust, and unhappy. The false, unjust, and unhappy also exists, but only as a rational and empirical method to lead a person to the truth. Hence, if you cherry-pick axioms, logic, and data to concoct your truth, then nature will force injustice and suffering on you. Then you will naturally say: This unhappy and unjust truth must be false.

The modern scientific method of reason and observation is known to be incomplete because (a) an observation can be described by various axioms and logics, and (b) all the observations that could validate or invalidate a theory are not accessible for all places, times, situations, and persons. Nobody can guarantee that the scientific method converges. Scientists just claim that it is better than faith and belief. That is because of the separation of truth, right, and good. When they are combined, then the reformulated rational and empirical process converges because it pushes a person away from falsity toward the truth by forcing “injustice” and “misery” on them. The reformulated rationality and observation make the reasoning and observing process convergent.

These reformulated rationalities and observations constitute a science. But they are not modern science. These reformulated rationalities and experiences constitute a religion. But they are not what most people call religion, namely, something based on blind faith, separated from the study of reality, devoid of reason and experience, and endlessly manipulated over the ages by empires and emperors. Ideally, we must not use the words “science” and “religion” to describe Vedic philosophy because these words are culturally contaminated by the problems of religion, science, and philosophy as practiced for 2,500 years in the West. But we use them only because the alternative words do not exist.