Truth be told

Ontological truth is one of the core pursuits in philosophy,
particularly when it comes to ethics and virtues.


By Dr Paul Hine, Principal, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview

The word “truth” derives from the Old English (West Saxon) “triewd”, which held contemporary connotations of faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, veracity, certainty, conviction or something that was characterised by constancy and faith. These are important words as we consider the place of truth in our world.  

To consider truth in its daily vernacular and use is timely, particularly in a fast-moving world where fake news, synthetic simulation, holographic projection, AI and augmented reality can present illusions about truth that are both artificial and ephemeral. Truth – ontological truth that is – is one of the core pursuits in philosophy, particularly when it comes to ethics and virtues, which date back to the wisdom of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in the Ancient World.  

The late Poet Laureate, Harold Pinter, wrote his own compelling thoughts and insights about truth and its importance: “I believe, despite the enormous odds that exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies, is a fundamental obligation that devolves to us all. It is in fact, mandatory.” He went on to say, “If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring that which is nearly lost to us – the dignity of humankind.” 

I have pondered these words many times, for they capture the essence of truth in all its foundational meanings and modern-day applications. There is faith, fidelity, loyalty and veracity contained in these words, and they are relevant for they exhort each and all to look inwards to search for truth in our lives and our world. This bespeaks dignity, which is the first and foremost tenet of Catholic social teaching.  

Human dignity is something that, in and of itself, we are encouraged to reflect on constantly.  Each day, the dignity of millions is violated in appalling circumstances; some as a result of systemic violence through war and conflict, others through intergenerational poverty and lives of subjugation, marginalisation and powerlessness. The current epicentres of distress are Ukraine and Gaza, but the crushing and systemic poverty in countries across Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and very many more, show clearly that the dignity of many has been forsaken. Vast numbers of people are victims of circumstances not of their own making yet they, their families and their children face lives of hardship and insecurity because efforts to pursue truth and dignity have been denied or abandoned.  

The powerful but maligned Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect (equivalent to the rank if Governor) of Judea under the Emperor Tiberius, asked the question, “Truth? What is that?” At the time, he was assessing the evidence placed before him as to whether Jesus was indeed “the king of the Jews” – a messianic figure who was at odds with his own community and had caused disruption to the political climate of the day. Remember, these were heady times and the importance of stability in Roman occupied lands was central to the dominance of the Empire.  

And so, the question was left hanging and through a series of events that we are familiar with as part of the Easter story, Jesus was put to death, and through that the resurrection and salvation theology have become the basis of Christian teaching and hope. This is the faith to which we subscribe – in effect, our truth that we commemorate at Easter.  

As we begin our second term, refreshed after the break, it is my hope that amid all that has transpired – not just in Sydney but around the world – we can acknowledge that there is a fundamental and inescapable truth of hardship and suffering in our world. To focus on the inner life to the detriment of the ontological reality of the circumstances in so many countries and jurisdictions would be an indulgence that is anything but Jesuit. That phrase – “for and with others”, is an impulse to consider in its own right, as we take time to contemplate the significance of truth, life and faith in its manifold and complex forms.  

This is an adaptation of an article that was originally published in a recent edition of the ‘Viewpoint’ newsletter for Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.

Banner image by Geralt, Canva.