Previously I discussed the difference between truth claims and truth values. This post considers a related matter: What is the difference between a regular truth claim and one that is absolute (or better, ultimate)?
Perhaps we need to start with a more fundamental question: What are the components of a truth claim? A few that come to mind are:
a) contents (on a scale of importance),
b) scope (on numeric, geographic, and temporal scales),
d) likelihood of error / exposure to critique,
e) consequences or import,
f) degree of access,
g) degree of immanence between claim and value,
h) nature of the claimant.
In order to be ultimate truth claims would need to meet these criteria in particular ways.
For instance, they would need necessarily to be true in all regards, for all people, across all circumstance, for all time. Moreover, neither self-evident nor logically necessary claims could be considered as “ultimate.” So the reality that “water is wet” is self-evident and the fact that “mortals die” is logically necessary. Thus while both could be called universal truths, I would consider neither of them to be ultimate.
In addition, I would say that ultimate truth claims must also originate from (or be under-written by) an ultimate source. This is because an ultimate truth claim has or implies complete immanence (i.e., no distance) between the truth claim and its corresponding value, based on the nature and capacities of the claimant. This conjunction of claim and value is equivalent to saying that the claimant causes—or is the source of—the thing claimed.
Further, for this source actually to be “ultimate” it must not only be capable of having a completely immanent relationship between any given truth claim and its corresponding truth values but between all truth claims and all of their (corresponding) truth values. The notion here is that ultimacy begets ultimacy. Stated philosophically, the only claims that may rightly be termed “ultimate” are those claims made by an ultimate being—by one capable of turning the claim into reality, or validating the claim, each and every time.
Moreover, as stated initially such claims must not be contingent to place, time, or recipient but must themselves be ultimate in scope (or where in a given case they are not, this would not reflect or imply a limitation in terms of that being’s capacity to “ultimatize” the scope of any given truth claim). Finally, such ultimate truth claims not only could not be contradicted but would in fact be beyond all contradiction: they are irrefutably true and universally applicable in that they efface all other options.
So my definition of “ultimate truth claims” are universal claims to ultimacy (claims to universal scope and application that are neither self-evident nor logically necessary) by an ultimate source (a source having a completely immanent relationship between the truth claim and its value) that are necessarily beyond refutation. Let’s consider some examples.
For instance, was Jesus promoting ultimate truth while on earth?
Yes and No.
Yes in a “latent,” or restricted sense. So Jesus made many claims (about who /what God is, who / what human beings are, and how the two are best to relate) that reflected—and directly quoted—biblical texts (purportedly) originating from divine inspiration. Yet their “latency” resides in the fact that these claims await a future moment in order to be shown to be truly ultimate. Further, in this case the gap between truth claim and its truth value does not diminish the claims’ ultimacy because the delay is prescribed within the claim).1
Yes in an unrestricted sense. So Jesus sometimes acted to fulfill certain claims made by / about him (Matt 11:1-5, Lk 7:18-23) by doing just what was claimed or expected: by healing, giving sight, bringing justice, etc. In these cases Jesus’ own actions at that time offered the proof necessary to validate the ultimacy of such claims.
No in the sense that Jesus was not acting, and indeed is recorded as expressing no intention, to fulfill all of the biblical claims all the time. So Jesus never claimed or acted as though he was the entirety of God / that he and God the father were identical—he always pointed objectors back to God the father, via himself and the Scriptures (noting that he was “the way, the truth, and the life” and yet he had not come “to abolish the Scriptures but to fulfill them” and that his authority had been “given” him by God the Father).
In this way we could say that Jesus presented himself as the “ultimate interpreter” of Scripture by offering himself as its true hermeneutical key, so that those who believe in Jesus have the possibility to understand the Bible’s claims (to ultimate truth and ultimate reality: to presenting the “really real”) correctly.
Yet while the full truth value of the Bible’s ultimate claims must await a future moment (or must rely on testimony to past events, such Jesus’ acts of power in first century Palestine) there is the possibility and indeed, the necessity, that partial truth values are realized in and through human lives now: individually and corporately. Thus the importance of experience and above all, being a “competent reader” of oneself, is relevant to this discussion.2
My next post builds on this working definition to examine how / whether the Bible is (or is claiming / offering) ultimate truth, and how ultimate truth claims and human truth claims integrate (or not).
- This of course raises the issue that a simple but effective strategy for obscuring a false claim is to prescribe just such a delay. As a result all and any claim to faith in such claims necessarily takes the form of a wager. ↩
- However, the fact that such truth claims support belief rather than knowledge (or better, an interplay of knowledge and belief) in no way falsifies such claims. Indeed belief, grounded in relevant knowledge derived from sufficient and appropriate evidence, is the only appropriate mode of responding to an ultimate truth claim a) whose personal implications require at least partial realization in the lives of those that engage with it and yet b) that awaits future verification of its full ultimacy. This confirms (and specifies) the nature of belief and disbelief in such claims as amounting to a wager that requires faith in both claims and claimant (or faith against them): faith and belief are thus unavoidable regardless of the position taken. ↩