The Dethronement of Truth

by Dietrich von Hildebrand.

Although the dethronement of truth manifests itself in the most drastic and radical way in Nazism and Bolshevism, unfortunately many symptoms of this spiritual disease are also to be found in democratic countries. In discussions we sometimes hear the following argument:

“Why should your opinion be more valid than mine? We are equal and have the same rights. It is to pretend that your opinion is preferable.” This attitude is extremely significant because it reveals the complete absence of the notion of truth, the tacit elimination of truth as the norm for the value of an opinion. In ignoring the fact that the very essence of every opinion involves a thesis that affirms or denies some fact, such people deal with opinions as if they were mere attitudes of a subject, such as a subjective mood.

The immanent theme of every opinion is truth; the only thing that matters here is whether or not it is in conformity with reality. The question of who proffers an opinion, on the contrary, has as such no importance whatever for its validity.

We must realize that this argument should not be interpreted as if it meant: Your opinion has no greater chance than mine to hit upon the truth. Such an argument would not ignore truth or tacitly eliminate it. It would, on the contrary, presuppose the existence of objective truth if only by denying that our adversary has a greater capacity for finding truth.

Patently, this argument could have meaning only if our opponent, in proffering an opinion, claimed its acceptance because he proffered it; or, in other words, because his authority should guarantee the truth of his opinion.

Without raising here the question whether or not such a claim can be justified, there is no doubt that the equality of the intellectual capacity to grasp truth cannot be correctly inferred from the ontological equality of men or from the equality of their rights as men. Yet, this argument is generally meant not as a refutation of an opponent’s pretension to a greater competence to find truth but as a plea for the equal value or validity of both opinions. Thus it simply ignores the fact that the validity or value of an opinion depends exclusively upon its conformity to reality; that is, it no longer questions whether a statement is true or false.

This argument deals with an opinion as if value depended exclusively on the person uttering it. Therefore, this modern type of man does not examine the arguments of the adversary; he is not interested in the correctness of his conclusions, the evidence of his premises, but in completely turning away from the fact that the opinion confirms or denies, he only proclaims:

My opinion is as good as yours because we are all equal.”

Whereas in the totalitarian systems the true function of a proposition—namely, that of stating truth—has been replaced by the merely instrumental character of being a weapon destined to create a certain effect in the mind and soul of the public, a means of propaganda, in the democratic countries there is a trend to regard an opinion as merely an expression of the mind of an individual. In both cases the essential function of any proposition and opinion that purport to conform with being is ignored and eliminated.

The argument, “My opinion is as good as yours,” does not imply the tacit presupposition, “We are both unable to find truth, or at least we cannot know whether we are able to do so, and thus both our opinions are wrong or doubtful.” Rather, it implies that both opinions are equally good, valid, though contrarily opposed to each other. And this brings us to another slogan disclosing the dethronement of truth.

It is the often repeated “It is true for me, but it may not be true for you.” The truth of a proposition is essentially objective; a truth that as such would be valid for one person only is a contradiction in terms. A proposition is true or false, but it can never be true for one person and false for another.

Alice and Dietrich von Hildebrand

The statement that a certain action is morally good may be true or false; but if it is true, it can never be false for any other person. The suffix “for,” implying a relation to an individual, is essentially excluded in truth.”

— from “The Dethronement of Truth” by Dietrich von Hildebrand

Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), born in Florence, was the son of renowned German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand. A leading student of the philosophers Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, he took up the “great questions” – about truth, freedom, conscience, community, love, beauty – with a freshness that allowed him to break new ground, especially in ethics, but also in epistemology, social philosophy, and aesthetics.

His conversion to Catholicism in 1914 was the decisive turning point of his life and the impetus for important religious works. His opposition to Hitler and Nazism was so outspoken that he was forced to flee Germany in 1933, and later across Europe, finally settling in New York City in 1940, where he taught at Fordham University until 1960. — The Hildebrand Project

Teilhard de Chardin False Prophet by Dietrich von Hildebrand