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According to Marcus Aurelius Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. I found the quote here.

  • What does this mean?
  • How this relate to what we are taught as being truths?
  • When is it a lie then?
  • What is a lie?
  • It sounds like a statement of radical Relativism. See also in Wikiquote : "Remember that all is opinion." (Meditations, II,15). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 4 '14 at 7:03
  • I take it to be radical epistemological relativism -- rather than metaphysical relativism. It's about the limitations of humans. – virmaior Sep 5 '14 at 11:47
  • Although philosophical the statement certainly is, it does not necessarily have to be exactly what Marcus Aurelius has written. See here – helcim Apr 5 '16 at 13:21
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I think the difficulty in answering this question both validates the question and negates it at the same time.

To even begin, we must ascertain what we mean by truth. Can anything actually be seen as a permanent infallible truth?

Try as we might, we can only get perspectives; points of view; opinions.

Even something trivial like "You need water to live", is just a highly probable assumption based upon considerable evidence and experience. It is not possible to know with certainty whether or not we have considered all points; whether there is something not yet understood or considered.

Also trueness or truth ignores the passage of time as a contingency. Whether something is or is not true right now and whether or not it will be true tomorrow, are two different - even at times contradictory - assessments.

From a philosophical standpoint, it is impossible to speak of truth or untruth without contradicting your own logic. Like Alan Watts said, "It's like trying to bite your own teeth or look at your eyes without a mirror."

But...only from a philosophical standpoint. I have found the following way of thinking to serve me well. I think it is critical to question and pull apart my own assumptions. The more radically, I can disrupt my own habitual patterns of static assumption and certainty, the more space I have to consider and to see my own erroneous views. It is the same principal as solving a Koan.

However, that said, John Stuart Mill stated (the only useful thing he ever said), "There is not certainty, but there is certainty sufficient for human life". And that's about right.

If you don't pull apart the illusions that blind you, you will never know what's possible beyond "truth" - but if you try and walk on water before you can clearly see that it's not true that you can't, then you will drown quickly.

That there is nothing true should become common sense if you think on it, but the way in which you use that thought or that thought uses you is what is critical.

  • You mention he more radically, I can disrupt my own habitual patterns of static assumption and certainty, the more space I have to consider and to see my own erroneous views. How do you cause disruption? How do you know what are illusions? – Motivated Sep 9 '14 at 18:36
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    Thats a great question - and there isn't space for a proper answer. A short answer: Given that there is no TRUTH, the opposite of illusions are still illusions. If you ever notice how difficult it is to look at something from another viewpoint, particularly when you have an emotional investment to your view, you can imagine how the sheer will required to look at the situation from an opposing point of view can be beneficial in and of itself. I'm always challenging myself by questioning whether I see the whole picture, and what I might see looking at it differently. That's part of it. – dgo Sep 9 '14 at 19:47
  • Thanks. Do you mind if i dropped you an email? Mine is handle[at]gmail DOT com – Motivated Sep 9 '14 at 22:56
  • Feel free.. theoutflows [at] gmail – dgo Sep 10 '14 at 17:03
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EDIT: A comment made me realize that I should probably mention I'm approaching this from an angle of their being a singular legitimate truth and that consensus reality is our best working model of that truth.

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Necessarily everything we perceive must pass through our senses in one way or another. Likewise, any learning must also necessarily come from a source that is similar compromised but also has taken certain stances on uncertain issues or has taken no stances for the purposes of education at all.

Is it possible to be truly unbiased?

So this means:

In some way, all our thoughts and perceptions differ at least slightly from consensus reality.

About truth:

We can never take anything as truth with absolutele certainty and should make every effort to be aware of possible biases in consideration of truth.

When is it a lie:

It is a lie if some failure on the part of the sharer results in a greater deviance from truth than absolutely necessary. Under some models, this failure must be intentionally.

What is a lie:

A lie is something presented as truth that, for whatever reason (under some models necessarily malice) presents either more bias or less decisiveness than the minimum. Under some models, lies may be acceptable within a range of the minimum rather than at a hard minimum.

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Let's do an example:

I perceive the universe from a monotheistic viewpoint. While in my presentation to others I attempt to be clear about my biases, necessarily I cannot present them completely.

Perhaps I am speaking with a polytheist.

A polytheist speaking with me may place unreasonable credibility on my beliefs as I will necessarily present them as less biased than they are. However, this is as close to truth as myself and the polytheist may come. However, we must both understand that there will necessarily some deviation from truth.

A lie would be me positing my opinions (or any opinions really) as truth without making clear my biases.

This would be a lie because it presents an unfairly high degree of accuracy and does not have certainty in its adherence to truth.

I hope that helps.

  • Thanks Calvin. Does consensus reality represent truth especially if there are multiple parties with varying consensus? For example one group may say A is true while another may say B is true. Is this what we see everyday? Clearly these are opinions and perceptions. Does these not mean there multiple truths? – Motivated Sep 3 '14 at 22:18
  • @Motivated Consensus reality doesn't necessarily equate with truth but for this question (especially about perception) it seemed reasonable for purposes of discussion to use consensus reality. I don't believe there is any compelling reason to accept a model with multiple truths but others may be able to better speak on that. – Calvin Sep 3 '14 at 22:24
  • Does that mean that there is singular truth and varying perceptions of that truth? – Motivated Sep 3 '14 at 22:41
  • @Motivated That is my understanding. – Calvin Sep 3 '14 at 22:42
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    @Motivated You don't. Sometimes you can make reasonable assumptions about the validity of various perceptions but all these assumptions come through your own judgment and perception. Certainty isn't really achievable as far as I'm aware. – Calvin Sep 4 '14 at 14:25
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  • What does this mean?

It takes minutes for sunlight to travel from the sun to a beholder's eye on earth. The sensation of seeing the sun actually takes place in the beholder's head. The sensation is not the sun. The beholder utters "the sun!" This is only her or his opinion which expresses what she or he perceives. The cause of her or his sensation of seeing the sun could be either the sun itself or just a mirage, none of which is the same as what the beholder sees and utters.

  • How this relate to what we are taught as being truths?

If you are a scout, you will be repeatedly told to "report what you see, not what you think you see." In other words, be mindful of the differences between facts and inferences.

  • When is it a lie then?
  • What is a lie?

"This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Polonius, Hamlet Act 1, scene 3*

*I honestly believe there are circumstances under which lies are desirable, or, at least, forgiveable ;-)

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As already mentioned, what we mean or refer to as "truth" is central to the answer. This has not yet been fully probed here. Philosophical, metaphysical views of truth have been mentioned. But far more relevant to Stoic philosophical attitude would be the Pragmatist approach to the nature of truth. Pragmatism (or American Pragmatism) arose from such discussions as here. I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned and why I add here so late. Refer the classic Pragmatist illustration of William James - the squirrel. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/james.htm The salient paragraph is this: "I tell this trivial anecdote because it is a peculiarly simple example of what I wish now to speak of as the pragmatic method. The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. Is the world one or many? – fated or free? – material or spiritual? – here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other’s being right."

I feel the good Emperor would agree most with this approach. For the Stoic we have the concepts of impressions and assent (or not) to same, and the issue of what is under one's control. It is also quite methodological in tone. What is under my control? Philosophical schema and opinions of many, of whatever, including the nature of truth are not. How I should react and respond to a current impression is. Do I assent to the interminable discussion about the squirrel? I may choose to do so for awhile for some mild entertainment but it is not central to my life of well-being. What is? A Stoic would say, my holding to the very practical issue of maintaining my character and strength of virtue. Our "hegemonikon", our controlling faculty was to be centrally focused on that, for in that we had control over what would ultimately (in Stoic understanding) give us the greatest well-being or "eudaimonia.

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