Last Updated: 04 June 2016
It would appear to be an indelible human trait that the ‘truth’ about nearly all issues goes through four distinct phases known colloquially as “the four stages of truth“. During the first stage, the issue goes unrecognised and is therefore ignored. The second stage is one of ridicule, as in “that’s ridiculous”. The third stage is characterised by a period of vehement denial. Finally, the fourth stage witnesses the truth being recognised as “self evident”. 1
Examples of this sort of thing a legion. Thus for example, five hundred years ago contemporary Western (meaning European) society believed that the Earth was flat and at the centre of the Universe and anyone who had the temerity to suggest otherwise publicly was invariably burnt at the stake. It wasn’t until the Magellan expedition’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1522 that the reality of a round Earth was finally acknowledged as being “self evident”.
The reason why ‘truth’ goes through these four stages is that humans in general are very reluctant to give up their beliefs as to the nature of reality because they have invested a lifetime of expense and effort in arriving at those beliefs. Acknowledging that their perception of reality may no longer be applicable in the light of new evidence usually presents humans with the uncomfortable choice of dispensing with a paradigm that they have become used to – and which has probably worked for them quite satisfactorily to date – in favour of a something new and yet to be properly defined. Few humans have the strength of character to pursue such a course of action as it usually results in considerable personal discomfit associated with a lack of supporting structures surrounding new ideas and a fear of the unknown, not to mention the vociferous ridicule they can expect from their contemporaries towards anything new. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that those who question society’s prevailing orthodoxy are by definition dissenters who, by “rocking the boat”, tend to threaten the very lifestyle, comfort and income of those around them who hold to the prevailing orthodox position. It is for this reason why dissenters have been relentlessly pursued and persecuted throughout history by their contemporaries.
For more on this issue see:
- ‘Dissent’ by Alex Paterson (incomplete)
The four stages of truth applies to the day to day personal life situations of humans as well as the wider questions pertaining to the nature of reality and who we are.
Contemporary Western society’s understanding as to the nature of reality is a good example of the “four stages of truth”. Western Science’s understanding of reality is based on the concept that the Universe is solely a material dimension and that all phenomena in the Universe (i.e. reality) are strictly the result of the material interactions of the separate physical ‘bits’ comprising it – all operating in accordance with ‘natural’, immutable laws of the universe and not exhibiting, or being the subject of, ‘consciousness’. However, this understanding of reality – known as Philosophical Materialism – is not supported by the scientific evidence at a ‘quantum’ (minute) scientific level. Despite the lack of scientific evidence in support of Philosophical Materialism, the theory is trenchantly defended by the Western Scientific community – not because the theory has been observed to work, or that there is some irrefutable scientific proof of the same – but rather because it is the underlying philosophy of that very science. As such, the careers of most Western Scientists are inextricably linked to that philosophy. In the eyes of most scientists, the notion that they abandon a paradigm of reality built up over a lifetime of study and effort in pursuit of something that has yet to be defined, is clearly unthinkable.
For more on this subject see:
Copyright © Alex Paterson 1999
1. The various stages of truth are more often referred to as “the three stages of truth” which has been attributed on the internet to the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), who said to have stated; “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
I have simply added an initial stage to this process in which the truth goes unrecognised and is therefore ignored; hence my assertion that there are “four stages of truth”. (Alex Paterson)
However, there is some controversy about Arthur Schopenhauer’s authorship of “the three stages of truth” which readers may like to investigate.