The Modern Truth on Truth
In a world of skepticism and rationalism—the movements that rove over the European continent—are supposed to be earnest about our convictions?
Does Truth only matter to us when it benefits us? Hence, does Truth only bother us as it challenges our values? This in itself is not a purely simplified issue on philosophy, but overshadows our ignorance.
Algernon, in Importance of Being Earnest, much less an earnest man than his alter ego, Ernest, asserts: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious is it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!”
Paradoxically, whether or not this assertion is in itself a pure and simple truth, non-self-evident truths are complex in nature, leaving us perplexed. Fictional inventions and relational situations are what turns life dynamic and worthwhile.
The fact that “the very essence of romance is uncertainty; if ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact,” entails that modern life is not black and white, but painted in a spectrum of mismatching colors.
Wilde teaches us, then, that preference and ignorance of truth are inevitable, partly and largely due to our human nature and human knowledge:
“As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.” Science emphasizes the intellectual minds on accuracy, whilst the arts underline the emotional flairs on creativity. Forte, as a wordplay, is a double entrende, meaning “played loud” in music, and “excels” as a verb.
I believe this reflects Algernon’s excellence in playing aloud the fictional inventions he uses to distort obligations and relational situations (as Earnest Worthing and ‘Bunburying’). In a sense, he uses both creativity to invent, and accuracy to pretend, in order to maintain false truths.
I am much reminded of the infamous Gettier’s Problem, which is a trigger towards contemporary philosophy that even what we call as true based on false evidences may be, falsely, the truth.
Kierkegaard even regards that, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
However, modernism, as a movement throughout Victorian England, made it a maelstrom. It is possible to believe anything, but impossible to know everything. As a matter of fact, “more than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”
Wilde, therefore, satirically criticizes that Truth becomes not a matter of fact, more less a matter of opinion, but greatly a matter of pluralism and pragmatism. In modern life’s culture and modern literature, sad to say… truth becomes relative to one’s subjective viewpoints, and valued on the basis of practicability and feasibility.
Truth is, without question, rarely pure and never simple.