Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Rediscovering truth in a post-truth world

  • 03 February 2022
  As if the Covid-19 pandemic has not been testing enough, modern life has never seemed more difficult than it does at present. We are bombarded on all sides by masses of information, misinformation, expert opinions, and the relentless, strident voices of social media browbeating us into accepting the dogmatic conclusions of leading influencers. 

Amongst the cacophony of voices striving to be heard, contending for attention and recognition, truth is the first casualty since, in contemporary Western society, it is no longer important. Echoing Pilate (John 18:38), the modern world asks, ‘What is truth?’ It is subjective feelings that rule.

The genesis of the contemporary estrangement from truth is the post-modern rejection of Modernity and the Enlightenment project in which the hope of humanity was taken to lie in reason and science alone. Theology, once the queen of sciences, was quarantined from the Enlightenment project, and banished to the private sphere of individual religious belief. The Enlightenment project expressed confidence in the power of human reason and the natural sciences alone to uncover the secrets of nature, replacing superstition and credulity with knowledge. Faith in human progress through the discoveries of science replaced belief in God. Religion, along with theology, became a private matter, an individual pursuit with little relevance in the public arena.

In reaction to the Enlightenment elevation of reason and its faith in an objective discoverable scientific reality, the nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of the turn to the subject. German idealism, represented by such figures as Hegel, Schiller and Goethe, later by Brentano and Husserl, sought to re-introduce the human subject into discourse about the nature of the world. Taking his lead from Descartes, at the beginning of the twentieth century Husserl developed phenomenology as the study of experience from the first-person point of view, that is, the study of the nature of perception, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, bodily awareness, embodied action, social activity and language activity from the perspective of the self-conscious individual.

'The pursuit of wisdom and truth is not exclusive to particular traditions but is the common heritage of all human beings.'

In another development of the nineteenth century Marx and Engels introduce historical materialism to theorise the relationship between capital and labour as one of conflict. In the hands of Lenin, it becomes a class struggle, a war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. What emerges from these great currents of thought is firstly the marginalisation of religion,