Concept of Truth-Seeking in the Course of History

By Babak Rod Khadem

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #60
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 26–29, 2005
(see list of papers from #60)

    This presentation explores and compares the treatment of the problem of "truth" and the coterminous problem of "unity" amongst several ancient Greek, Neoplatonic, and Islamic thinkers, and then attempts to connect these various strands to the synthesis that is presented in the Bahá'í writings.

    In discussing these "pre-Bahá'í" concepts, this presentation advances the following:
    1. The accounts of certain Islamic thinkers partially resolve the Greek debate regarding the universality versus particularity of being by way of adopting both the criterion of uniqueness and constancy (i.e. the doctrine of the particularity of the soul) - thereby overcoming the polarization of the Greek debate.
    2. While the Greek account of unity invokes a notion of causality whereby only some beings are caused, Neoplatonism advances a rather mechanistic doctrine of creation, whereby all beings are caused through a series of steps originating in a distant, if not disinterested, God. Although earlier Islamic thinkers reiterate the Neoplatonist account, there occurs, after Al-Ghazali, a split in two directions: mystical and rational, the latter of which significantly impacts European thinking, largely due to the work of Ibn Rusht.
    3. While the ancient Greeks directly address the question of access to truth (i.e. sensible vs. intelligible), their conception of the categories of truth is quite limited: only ontic truth is conceptualized, neither logical nor ontological. Similarly, Platonism and Neoplatonism, though building upon the Greek notions of access to truth, do little in the way of conceiving its categories.
    Islamic thinking, however, while building upon the Greek and Neoplatonic notions of truth-access, elucidates the category of logical truth and, as a corollary, the need for empiricism. More specifically, Islamic thinking elaborates on the Platonic radicalization of the realms of the sensible and intelligible, resulting in the differentiation of the truth of a being (ontic) from the truth of one's disclosure (logos) about a being (logical). The questionability of the logos, in turn, results in the need to ground knowledge empirically, particularly in the finding and experiencing of religion. A related, and much debated, question is to what extent the a posteriori finding of religion must itself accord with the a priori representations of the logos (i.e. the problem of interpretation).

    This elaboration of the concept of truth anticipates the same issues that arise half a millennium later, in European thinking, namely Aquinas' stance on interpretation, Descartes' elucidation of the category of logical truth, and Kant's critique of Descartes and Leibnitz regarding the consequences of the cogito ergo sum.

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