What is meant by truth? Is it simply a synonym for reality, or a concept much more profound? Generally a dictionary would denote truth as something approximating to an established fact that corroborates with actuality. But does this definition interpret differently with context? Does “truth” refer to the same thing in a mathematical perspective as it does in arts or ethics? When attempting to answer, or at least approach, this question, an important issue to consider is the idea of subjectivity; while truth should correspond with reality, does that reality itself hold regardless of individual outlook? And if it does not, are the facts that are held to be true really so?
In that regard, the areas of mathematics, arts, and ethics are of particular interest. This is due to the variety in the methods (or “ways of knowing”) applied to acquire knowledge in them. The way of knowing most commonly associated with mathematics is reason, which makes sense since knowledge in mathematics is acquired through calculation and deliberate thought, where given facts are juxtaposed to reveal more implied realities. For arts, on the other hand, an individual uses their sense perceptions to absorb a given piece of art, and use their emotions to reflect upon and interpret it. The third and last region of study, ethics, is defined as the study of rules and values that determine what is right and what is wrong.
Mathematics is defined as the study of the logic within quantity, shape, and arrangement. As such the knowledge in mathematics is acquired through calculation and deliberate thought, where given facts are juxtaposed to reveal more implied realities. With a given mathematical problem, there exists a definite solution that does not vary with the approach. Due to the very nature of the subject, every arithmetic approach to a problem would amount to the same thing as logic dictates it to be so when it comes to concrete numbers and values. Hence, the solutions to one such problem cannot vary between the individuals who pursue it, regardless of the difference in their respective train of thought.
This means that different people with vastly different experiences or ideas will all attain an identical conclusion, given of course that they all accurately carry out the corresponding calculations. Knowing this, it can be said that the reality of mathematics is therefore constant for each equation or statement. And since the reality does not vary with individual perspective, it is also not subjective. This being established, it can then also be said that the truth within mathematics is, itself, objective and concrete, and cannot be shaped or held from any angle to convey a given picture.
Art, on the other hand, is all about pictures and angles. Art has proven itself to be difficult to define over the years, with people proclaiming what appear to most as random acts to be art. Art is meant to be a medium of expression where the artist conveys certain emotions or ideas by stimulating one or more of the senses. The viewer, critic, or any other part of the appreciative audience would then interpret the work of art, allowing the picture painted (so to speak) to trigger sentiments appropriate to the colors, sounds, or even smells to that individual. But a source of controversy arises from the fact that art is often unintentional, meaning that a given work may be taken to be a work of art by a given audience even without corresponding intent from the artist. A car, for example, is for most people a very useful and convenient device.
However, for some it can be a work of art, one that sparks thoughts and emotions through the aesthetics of its shape and design. Of course, this means that the interpretation of the audience can differ from the intention (if any) of the artist. Hence, a single piece of art has as many potential interpretations as it does critics, making its reality highly subjective. Thus the truth pertaining to a piece of art can also differ from individual to individual. However the intent of the artist cannot be denied as the purpose of a creation is determined by the creator himself; how well it does in that end is then dependent on the perspective, or taste, of the audience.
But the aforementioned point about subjectivity would imply that it is virtually impossible for the artist’s intent to match the critique – a problem that is somewhat extinguished by the establishment of styles within various forms of art. These styles are basically systematic forms of bias that act somewhat as a “language” for a particular work of art: different styles have different common traditions, such as abstract painting as opposed to a portrait, or modernist as opposed to feminist literature.
If a critic knows the style employed by the artist, he or she can then evaluate the use of the principles and the limitations of that style and understand the meaning behind the work, almost like using an accepted mathematical equation to solve a complex problem. While this analogy sounds too mechanical to be altogether associated with artistic values, the fact remains that even within the traditions of art an artist has a vast amount of freedom due to the sheer number of possible stimuli for each of the senses. As such it can then be said that truth in art is only objective with consideration to the artist’s intent in making it, beyond which it has an unlimited scope. And even within the artists rationale, there exists an undeniable aspect of imagination and creativity that adds a dimension of ambiguity.
A more complex case study is the area of ethics, which is defined as a philosophical study of moral values and rules, along with the very standards that distinguish between right and wrong. It is no surprise that ethics is a particularly difficult subject to analyse, for after all, the majority of the human population still struggles with questions of right and wrong, and will probably continue to do so. The general moral dilemma of mankind us caused by the very diversity that we cherish. The variety of cultures and beliefs on our planet lead to lifestyles that are vastly different on numerous levels. As a result, social norms and traditions vary drastically over physical or geographic distances.
And the world itself is testimony to the fact that such differences inevitably give rise to misunderstandings which, more often than not, give people an excuse for war. But despite the presence of misconceptions, the fact remains that every society has a slightly different perspective on morals. Inevitably, this makes it extremely difficult to establish concrete truths, as an act deemed morally benign in one culture could easily be held as the equivalent of a sin in another. The most commonly debated example of this would the difference in various cultures` outlooks towards sex before marriage. In the general south-east asian region for example, any young man or woman engaging in sexual activity before marriage is nothing short of scandalous. Of course in the Western world, social reaction towards such a thing is negligible by comparison.
But for something like casual violence on children the binary of reactions is reversed. However, despite these obvious differences, some notions are perceived by all cultures to be equally heinous, such as murder, proving that the majority of the world`s population holds the value of a human life in more or less equal regard. Knowing this, it can also be said that the truth in ethics is highly subjective with the exception of some fundamental values inherent in all human beings, allowing in us all a common sense of right and wrong.
It is clear from previous statements that the definition of truth, despite common habits, cannot be taken for granted. It has been established that mathematics as a science consists of concrete, indisputable facts that are realized through reason. The logically grounded nature of math ensures that all truths in it are objective and cannot differ with perspective as there is simple no room for bias. Truth in arts, on the other hand, is highly dependent on the sensory intake and the emotional reasoning of the artist and, to lesser extent, that of the audience. The ambiguous nature of art results in a correspondingly vague definition of truth as there are no concrete facts available for corroboration.
Moral values hand found themselves to vary from culture to culture, from continent to continent, with various communities having dramatically different ideas with respect to right and wrong. This leads to the truth in ethics being highly but not completely subjective so as most cultures agree on the atrocious nature of murder and the immeasurable value of a human life. Taking these factors into consideration, it can be concluded that truth does indeed largely differ between the areas of mathematics, arts, and ethics.