Chapter 8: Truth, Error, and Perception

What is truth? This question has accompanied mankind from its beginnings and has become a fundamental part of our human identity. We innately seek for truth, a reliable comprehension of the world around us. Throughout our history, this yearning has inspired many to uncover details and attributes about our existence that have enlightened our collective minds. On the other hand, others have manipulated this fundamental characteristic to strengthen their own control or narrative. Thus, to maneauver between truth and error is an essential component of our humanity. 

In an effort to make this idea a little more concrete, let's use history as a case study. Consider, for a moment, how history is made. Contrary to common misconceptions, history is not an objective collection of past facts or events. Instead, like painting, poetry, or literature, it is a medium of communication, and like an artist, poet, or author, a historian uses that medium to transmit a message. Certainly, the historian collects verifiable facts through research surrounding a particular line of inquiry. Nevertheless, the connection between these facts, the historical narrative that the historian draws from these facts, is the product of their subjective mind.

In other words, history is a kind of hybrid literary genre between non-fiction and fiction. The historian uses a historiographical method to select and reject certain facts (to consider them all would be overwhelming and endless) in order to craft a narrative that addresses a particular claim. The best historians are upfront and obvious about this procedure. They clearly outline their methodology to alert their reader of the blind spots in their historical account and to invite further inquiry and academic discussion. The worst historians attempt to hide their methods and subjectivity in an attempt to present their work as the only plausible conclusion. They make declarative and definitive statements, hoping to discourage dialogue.    

Want to Know More?

The relativism embedded in notions of truth is a favorite topic for humanists. 


  • Sir Philip Sidney, Loving in Truth (short synopsis)
  • Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
  • John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University
  • John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education
  • Sharon Dirckx, Am I Just My Brain?


Visual Art

  • René Magritte, The Treachery of Images
  • Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night
  • Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson
  • Auguste Rodin, The Thinker
  • Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery
  • Winslow Homer, The Country School
  • Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum
Republic by PlatoBeyond Good and Evil by Friedrich NietzcheTruth—Is as Old as God— by Emily DickinsonXXVIII "Truth," Said a Traveler by Stephen CraneAll is Truth by Walt WhitmanA Legend of Truth by Rudyard KiplingSonnet 138 by William ShakespeareMadonna and Child by Carlo CrivelliVexierbilder by Erhard Schön The Madison Avenue Beat by Lester Lanin

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