“What is Truth?” Verity and Levity on Poetry Corner Street Fight

And now for something completely different: on Poetry Corner Street Fight we have O Society and the Spicerack doing some haiku – as in verbal kung fu – when we use our pens as sWords on you- with Daniel nailing the jisei opening and yours truly bringing up the ass in arrears.

by Daniel Spicer and O Society


Quid est veritas?

Truth is always beautiful

Where you stop looking

~ Spicerack

Chuang Tzu universe horse.jpg

bai ma fei ma 白馬非馬 white horse is not horse

a horse is not horse? of course!

name is “Mr. Ed”

~ O Society


John 18:37-38 (KJV)

37 Pilate therefore said unto him, “Art thou a king then?”

Jesus answered, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

38 Pilate saith unto him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, “I find in him no fault at all.”


Jesting Pilate

What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

~ Francis Bacon, Of Truth

Pilate was in advance of his time. For “truth” itself is an abstract noun, a camel, that is, of a logical construction, which cannot get past the eye even of a grammarian. We approach it cap and categories in hand: we ask ourselves whether Truth is a substance (the Truth, the Body of Knowledge), or a quality (something like the colour red, inhering in truths), or a relation (“correspondence”).

But philosophers should take something more nearly their own size to strain at. What needs discussing rather is the use, or certain uses, of the word “true.” In vino, possibly, “veritas,” but in a sober symposium “verum.”

~ J. L. Austin,

“Truth”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society


The question St. John, and later Lord Bacon, attributed to Pontius Pilate — the responsibility‐ducking Governor of Judea who found no fault with Jesus but who went along with the mob demanding crucifixion — concerns us again in the testimony given to Congress by President Ford as he explicated his pardon of Richard Nixon.

In the week before he became President, Gerald Ford had to ask himself what was truth, or more accurately when does a man in public life avoid telling the truth in order to be true to his conscience or true to his vision of the public interest?

Jesting Pilate: Ford on Nixon

Where else, then, can we get it? “Nowhere,” Pilate answers in his talk with Jesus.

“What is truth?” he asks, expressing in these three words his own and his contemporaries’ despair of truth, expressing also the despair of truth in millions of our contemporaries, in schools and studios, in business and professions. In all of us, open or hidden, admitted or repressed, the despair of truth is a permanent threat. We are children of our period as Pilate was. Both are periods of disintegration, of a world-wide loss of values and meanings. Nobody can separate himself completely from this reality, and nobody should even try. Let me do something unusual from a Christian standpoint, namely, to express praise of Pilate — not the unjust judge, but the cynic and sceptic; and of all those amongst us in whom Pilate’s question is alive.

For in the depth of every serious doubt and every despair of truth, the passion for truth is still at work. Don’t give in too quickly to those who want to alleviate your anxiety about truth. Don’t be seduced into a truth which is not really your truth, even if the seducer is your church, or your party, or your parental tradition. Go with Pilate, if you cannot go with Jesus; but go in seriousness with him!

There is not freedom but demonic bondage where one’s own truth is called the ultimate truth. For this is an attempt to be like God, an attempt which is made in the name of God. Distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love. The truth that liberates is the power of love, for God is love.

Paul Tillich, The New Being (1955), Ch. 8: “What Is Truth?


Jesting Pilate: An Intellectual Holiday

orion-head to toe.jpg

The mythological Greek hero Orion is the eponym of the constellation Orion, shown here, and thus indirectly of the Orion spacecraft. An eponym is a person, place, or thing after whom or after which something is named, or believed to be named. 

Adjectives derived from eponym include eponymous and eponymic. For example, Elizabeth of England is the eponym of the Elizabethan era, and “the eponymous founder of the Ford Motor Company” refers to Henry Ford. Recent usage allows eponymous to mean “named after its central character or creator.”


Who’s the First Person in History Whose Name We Know?

Cave of Forgotten Dreams


白馬論 The White Horse Dialogue (Baima Lun)

Is “白馬非馬Báimǎ fēi mǎ; literally: ‘white horse is not horse'” assertible?

Advocate: It is.

Objector: How?

Advocate: “Horse” is that by means of which one names the shape. “White” is that by means of which one names the color. What names the color is not what names the shape. Hence, one may say “white horse is not horse.”

Objector: If there are white horses, one cannot say that there are no horses. If one cannot say that there are no horses, doesn’t that mean that there are horses? For there to be white horses is for there to be horses. How could it be that the white ones are not horses?

Advocate: If one wants horses, that extends to yellow or black horses. But if one wants white horses, that does not extend to a yellow or black horses. Suppose that white horses were horses. Then what one wants [in the two cases] would be the same. If what one wants were the same, then ‘white’ would not differ from ‘horse.’ If what one wants does not differ, then how is it that yellow or black horses are acceptable in one case and unacceptable in the other case? It is clear that acceptable and unacceptable are mutually contrary. Hence, yellow and black horses are the same, one can respond that there are horses, but one cannot respond that there are white horses. Thus, it is evident that white horses are not horses.

~ Gongsunlongzi (translation Donald Sturgeon)


Interpreting this equivocation fallacy, A C Graham says this “white horse versus horse” paradox plays upon the ambiguity of whether the is in it conveys:

  1. “Is a member of the class x
  2. “Is identical to x

In other words, the expression “white horse is not horse” is ambiguous between “white horse is not synonymous with horse” (true, because white horse is more specific than horse), versus “a white horse is not a member of the set of horses” (obviously false).

The Advocate in the dialogue is asserting a lack of identity between horses and white horses, while the Objector is interpreting the Advocate’s statement as a claim that the category of horses does not include white ones.

~ Angus Graham Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature

Aletheia: the Girl Who Spoke the Truth

“Alatheia (Truth) is from the same city as the gods; she alone lives with the gods.”

~ Bacchylides, Fragment 57 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV c.5th BC)


Aletheia: Spirit of Truth In Disclosure

“A man was journeying in the wilderness and he found Aletheia (Truth) standing there all alone. He said to her, ‘Ancient lady, why do you dwell here in the wilderness, leaving the city behind?’ From the great depths of her wisdom, Alethia replied, ‘Among the people of old, lies were found among only a few, but now they have spread throughout all of human society!’”

~ Aesop, Fables 531 (from Babrius 126 trans. Gibbs c.6th BC):

This fable is preserved only in Latin text. Aesop’s Aletheia is translated Veritas in Latin.


“Prometheus, the potter who gave shape to our new generation, decided one day to sculpt the form of Aletheia (Truth), using all his skill so that she would be able to regulate people’s behaviour.

As he was working, an unexpected summons from mighty Zeus called him away. Prometheus left cunning Dolus (Trickery) in charge of his workshop, Dolus had recently become one of the god’s apprentices. Fired by ambition, Dolus used the time at his disposal to fashion with his sly fingers a figure of the same size and appearance as Aletheia with identical features. When he had almost completed the piece, which was truly remarkable, he ran out of clay to use for her feet.

The master returned, so Dolus quickly sat down in his seat, quaking with fear.

Prometheus was amazed at the similarity of the two statues and wanted it to seem as if all the credit were due to his own skill. Therefore, he put both statues in the kiln and when they had been thoroughly baked, he infused them both with life:

Sacred Aletheia walked with measured steps, while her unfinished twin stood stuck in her tracks. This forgery, this product of subterfuge, thus acquired the name of Mendacium (Pseudologos, Falsehood), and I readily agree with people who say she has no feet: every once in a while something false can start off successfully, but with time Aletheia is sure to prevail.”

~ Aesop, Fables 530 (from Phaedrus Appendix 5)


Aletheia Casey: Motherhood


17 Autumn Floods

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”

Hui Tzu said, “You’re not a fish – how do you know what fish enjoy?”

Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”


Hui Tzu said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish – so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”

Chuang Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy – so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”

~ Chuang Tzu (translation Burton Watson)


Night Shining White (照夜白)

2 Discussion on Making All Things Equal:

“To use an attribute to show that attributes are not attributes is not as good as using a non-attribute to show that attributes are not attributes. To use a horse to show that a horse is not a horse is not as good as using a non-horse to show that a horse is not a horse, Heaven and earth are one attribute; the ten thousand things are one horse.”

~ Chuang Tzu (translation Burton Watson)


One Hundred Horses (百駿圖)


Haiku from the Void on Poetry Corner Street Fight


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