My definition of context will also encompass all these criteria. It is important to note that ways of knowing act only as impulses to attain truth and their dependence on context is of negligible importance. My discussion will focus on how truths in different areas of knowledge are context dependent. I start my discussion by analyzing the few truths, for example those given to us by mathematics and pure science that are considered to be absolute truths devoid of all contexts. Consider the statement, “1+1=2”. Given Peano’s axioms for arithmetic(2), this statement can easily be proven.
Does this mean it is a universal truth? I consider two ways of interpreting the statement. One interpretation is that it is a formal sequence of symbols that are provable using formal rules which means that the statement “1+1=2” doesn’t have any meaning outside that given by the formal system it is part of i. e. it derives all its truth and relation to other statements from the context of that system. The second interpretation of that statement is that it represents the world. It means to say that two objects retain their identity when considered together.Order now
This might hold true in some cases, but we know of situations where merging takes place and “1+1” actually results in “1”. For example, adding 1 unit of clay to another, results in one larger lump of clay. Thus, many mathematical statements such as these do not lose their context-dependence just because they happen to be expressible in a formal system. In the field of pure science, Newton’s Laws of Motion in Physics are considered the archetypal ‘universal truths’. But it is quite unknown that these laws hold true only for velocities that are small in relation to that of light occurring in the macroscopic world.
Philosophers such as Nancy Cartwright and Richard Giere who study the process of science have documented how the application of laws of pure science to the world is not a neat, axiomatic one but grounded in a rich scientific context. Thus although a naive picture of physics characterises it as universal, the fact is that the effectiveness of the pure sciences lies in the ability to recognise a rich set of contexts, to choose and then adapt the relevant techniques. Hence, some of the so called absolute truths in the fields of mathematics and pure science are not completely devoid of context.
But the role of context extends to many other areas of knowledge. History is defined ‘as a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events'(3) . Historiography comes into relevance because the interpretations of historical events are conditioned by its cultural and personal context. Take the example of the Indian national struggle, the policies of satyagraha and non-violence professed by Mahatma Gandhiji would seem absurd to any person who is unaware of the context under which these decisions were taken.
Gandhiji had initiated a perfect blend of the ideals of the radicals and the moderates which represented the historical context under which these policies have been created. Thus, context is vital in determining the truth behind any event of the past. Religion too is dependent on context for attainment of truth. People resort to the religion that has practices that they believe will lead them to truth. People’s attitudes and beliefs are altered by the context of the religion that they follow, which is truth to them. For example, Hinduism follows the universal law of Karma.
This states that the soul is eternal and it enters a body and the course of life of this body will be a result of the actions committed in the previous life. This concept is known as ‘reincarnation’. On the other hand, Abrhamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam follow that the soul only exists for one lifetime. This concept of ‘last judgement’ says that, “Immediately upon death each soul undergoes the particular judgment, and depending upon the state of the person’s soul, goes to heaven, purgatory, or hell.
“(4)As a result, in religion, context is all. Another area of knowledge where truth is attained through context is art. My interpretation of Mona Lisa, by Da Vinci forms the perfect example. I cannot be blamed for considering it remarkable that a painting displaying an ordinary lady achieved such world wide acclaim. But a drastic change in my thought process took place when I started thinking in the context of an art historian.
I understood that the painting’s true value lies with what information it can provide for the art historian such as the background that represents the place where Da Vinci stayed, her contradictory facial expressions, etc. Actually, I believe that there have been far more beautiful paintings created during the Renaissance, but when I analyzed the painting in the context of an art historian; I realized the vast difference between a painting which is simply nice to look at to a painting which imparts so much valuable information and demands constant research.
Now, that we have evaluated the role of context in various areas of knowledge, we can safely conclude that truth is largely context dependent. But the question arises, what do we actually mean by truth? I personally feel that Plato’s tripartite test sets an unrealistically high standard for truth, which being that for any belief to be true, it must be: 1. Public 2. Independent of all contexts and persons 3. Eternal(5) My area of interest is the 2nd point which states that truth is true when it is independent of context. This would lead to absurd results.
For example, the statement, ‘The 258 bus goes to Agra’ is not true despite the fact that it does. This is because it is possible to conceive of contexts where it is not true such as the Agra in the U. S. Thus, for me, if any knowledge that is acquired is contextual, it is still the truth and I name it as ‘relative truth’. The truth independent of all contexts that philosophy defines is according to me an ‘absolute truth’. But all the scenarios which I have taken up so far have been relative truths. So does an ‘absolute truth’ actually exist?