Today I want to share with you an excerpt from an absolutely amazing text which, to my knowledge, has ever been published anywhere on the English-language Internet: the book “The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters” by Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), specifically, a part of the second chapter of the book entitled “Letter two: Doubt“.
In this excerpt, Father Paul compares the Russian word Istina, the Greek word Aletheia, the Latin Veritas and the Hebrew ‘Emet from a linguistic point of you. I find most interesting the “tension” between the two groups furthest away from each other: Russian vs Latin and Greek vs Hebrew. There is so much which could be said about that, but I don’t want to bore you with my own musings – I much rather share the text with you directly. At the end, I have added a short bio of Father Pavel who was both an amazing and a controversial personality.
The first time I read this text, I was in my early twenties, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I could never forget it. I hope that you will also find it worth the (at times difficult) read.
Cheers and hugs to all,
Excerpt from the book “The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters” by Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937)
Let us now turn to the etymology. [The Russian word} Is-ti-na and its derivatives (cf. the Lettish ist-s, ist-en-s) are related to es-t’, est-e-stvo (to be, essence). They can be com-pared with the Polish istot-a [entity], istot-nie (really), istniec (to exist really). Others have the same view of the etymology of the word “istina.” According to the definition of V. Dal’, for example, “istina is all that is genuine, authentic, exact, just, that which is. All that is [estl is istina. Are not est’ and estina, istina one and the same?” Dal’ asks. Mikloshich, Mikutsky, and our specialist in old words, F. Shimkevich,11 are of the same opinion. It is clear from this that, among • the various meanings of the word “istyi,” we find “closely resembling.” According to the old explanation of a certain merchant, A. Fomin, “istyi” means similar, exact. Thus, he explains the ancient locution “istyi vo otsa” to mean “exactly like the father.” This ontologism in the Russian understanding of the truth is strengthened and deepened for us if we consider the etymology of the verb est’. Est’ comes from the root es, which in Sanskrit gives as (e.g., cismi = esmi; asti = esti). Esmj, est’ can without difficulty be related to the Old Slavic esmi; the Greek eimi (esmi}; the Latin (e)sum, est; the German ist; the Sanskrit asmi, asti, etc) But in accordance with certain hints in the Sanskrit, this root es signified—in its most ancient, concrete phase of development to breathe, hauchen, ath-men. In confirmation of this view of the root as, Curtius points to the Sanskrit words as-u-s the breath of life), asu-ras (vital, lebendig); and, equivalent to the Latin os, mouth, the words as, us-ja-m, which also signify mouth; the German atinnen is also related to this. Thus, “est”‘ originally meant to breathe. Respiration, or breath, was always considered to be the main attribute and even the very essence of life. And even today, the usual answer to the question, “Is he alive?” is “He’s breathing.” Whence the second, more abstract meaning of “est”‘: he’s alive, he has strength. Finally, “est” acquires its most abstract meaning, that of the verb that expresses existence. To breathe, to live, to be—these are the three layers in the root es in the order of their decreasing concreteness, an order that, in the opinion of linguists, corresponds to their chronological order. The root as signifies an existence as regular as breathing Beira gleichmassig fortgesetze Existenz) in contrast to the root bhu, which one finds in bye, fui, bin, phuo, etc., signifying becoming rein Werden). Pointing to the link between the notions of breathing and existence, Renan gives a parallel from the Semitic languages, namely the Hebrew verbal sub-stantive haja (to happen, to appear, to be) or hawa (to breathe, to live, to be). In these words he sees an onomatopoeia of the process of breathing. Thanks to this opposition between the roots es and bhu, they complement each other: The former is used exclusively in forms of duration, derived from the present. The latter is primarily used in those forms of time which, like the aorist and the perfect, signify an accomplished becoming. Returning now to its Russian understanding, we can say that the truth Ustinal is existence that abides, that which lives, living being, that which breathes, i.e., that which possesses the essential condition of life and exis-tence. Truth as the living being par excellence—that is the conception the Russian people have of it. To be sure, it is not difficult to see that it is precisely this conception of the truth that forms the distinctive and original feature of Russian philosophy.
The ancient Greek underscores a wholly other aspect of truth. Truth, he says, is aletheia. But what is this aletheia? The word alethe(s)ia or, in the Ionian form, aletheie, like the derivatives alethes (truthful), aletheno (I con-form to truth), and so forth, consists of the negative particle a (a privativum) and *lethos, lathos in Doric. This latter word, from the root ladho, has the same root as the verb latho, the Ionic lethO, and lantham (I pass by, I slip away, I remain unnoticed, I remain unknown). In the medium voice this verb acquires the sense of memoria labor, I let slip in memory, I lose for memory (i.e., for consciousness in general), I forget. Connected with this later nuance of the root lath are: lethe, the Doric labia, lathosuna, lesmosuna, Testis, i.e., forgetting and forgetfulness; lethedanos, i.e., compelling one to forget; lethar-gos i.e., forgetting and, therefrom, lethargos, a summons to sleep, Schlaf-suck, as the desire to immerse oneself in a stage of forgetting and uncon-sciousness, and, further, the name of a pathological sleep, lethargy.'” The ancient idea of death as a transition to an illusory existence, almost to self-forgetting and unconsciousness, and, in any case, to the forgetting of every-thing earthly, finds its symbol in the image of the shades’ drinking of water from the underground river of Forgetfulness, “Lethe.” The plastic image of the “water of Lethe,” to Lethes bud& and a whole series of expressions, such as meta lethes, i.e., in forgetfulness; lethen echein, i.e., to have forgetting, that is, to be forgetful; en lethes tinos eina, i.e., to forget something; tethers tinos poiesthai, i.e., to produce forgetting of something; lesmosunan thestai, to bring to a state of forgetting; lestin iskein ti, i.e., to forget something, and so forth—all this taken together testifies that forgetting for the Greek under-standing was not merely a state of the absence of memory, but a special act of the annihilation of a part of the consciousness, an extinguishing in the consciousness of a part of the reality of that which is forgotten, in other words, not a lack of memory but the power of forgetting. This power of forgetting is the power of all-devouring time. All is in flux. Time is the form of existence of all that is, and to say “exists” is to say “in time,” for time is the form of the flux of phenomena. “All is in flux and moving, and nothing abides,” complained Heraclitus. Everything slips away from the consciousness, flows through the consciousness, is forgotten. Time, chronos, produces phenomena, but, like its mythological image, Chronos, it devours its children. The very essence of consciousness, of life, of any reality is in their flux, i.e., in a certain metaphysical forgetting. The most original philosophy of our day, Henri Bergson’s philosophy of time,” is wholly built on this unquestionable truth, on the idea of the reality of time and its power. But despite all the unquestionableness of the latter, we cannot extinguish the demand for that which is not forgotten, for that which is not forgettable, for that which “abides” in the flux of time. It is this unfor-gettableness which is a-letheia. Truth, in the understanding of the Greeks, is a-letheia, something capable of abiding in the flux of forgetfulness, in the Lethean currents of the sensuous world. It is something that overcomes time, something that does not flow but is fixed, something eternally remembered. Truth is the eternal memory of some Consciousness. Truth is value worthy of and capable of eternal remembrance. Memory desires to stop movement; memory desires to freeze the motion of fleeting phenomena; memory desires to place a dam in front of the flux of becoming. Thus, the unforgettable existence that is sought by consciousness, this aletheia, is a fixed flux, an abiding flow, an immobile vortex of being. The very striving to remember, this “will to unforgettableness,” surpasses the rational mind. But the latter desires this self-contradiction. If, in its essence, the concept of memory transcends the rational mind, then Memory taken in its highest measure, i.e., the Truth, a fortiori transcends the rational mind. Memory-Mnemosyne is the mother of the muses, the spiritual activities of mankind, the companions of Apollo, of Spiritual Creativity. Nevertheless, the ancient Greeks demand of Truth the same quality that is indicated by Scripture, for there it is said that “the truth of the Lord endureth for ever” (Ps. 117:2) and that “Thy truth is unto all generations” (Ps. 119:90).
As is well known, the Latin word for truth, veritas, derives from the root var. In view of this, the word veritas is considered to have the same root as the Russian words Vera (faith) and verie (to believe), and the German words wahren, to preserve or protect, and wehren, to prevent, as well as to be strong. Wahl; Wahrheit, truthful, truth, are also related words, like the French verite, which directly derives from the Latin veritas. That the root var originally refers to the cultic domain is seen, as Curtius tell us, from the Sanskrit vra-ta-m, sacred rite, vow; from the Zend varena, faith; and from the Greek bretas, something revered, a wooden or stone idol; the word heorte (instead of e-For-tee, cultic worship, religious feast, also appears to be related. The cultic connection of the root var and especially the word veritas is clearly seen in a survey of Latin words of the same root. Thus, there is no doubt that the verb ver-e-or or re-vereor, which is used in classical Latin in the more general sense of I am apprehensive of, I take care, I am afraid, I am terrified, I revere, I respect, I tremble with fear, originally referred to mystical dread and to the caution that was provoked by this dread when one came too close to holy beings, places, and objects. Taboo, the sacred, the holy, is what forces a man vereri. This led to the Catholic title of spiritual persons: reverendus. Reverendus or reverendissimus pater is a person toward whom one must be-have respectfully, cautiously, fearfully. Otherwise, something bad could hap-pen. Verenda,-orumor or partes verendae are pudenda, and it is well known that antiquity had a reverent attitude toward them, treated them with fearful religious respect. Then, the noun verecundia, religious fear, modesty, the verb verecundor, I have fear, and the adjective verecundus, fearful, shameful, de-cent, modest, once again point to the cultic domain of the application of the root var. It is clear from this that, strictly speaking, vents means protected or grounded in the sense of that which is the object of a taboo or consecration. Verdictum, the verdict of a judge has, of course, the sense of the religiously obligatory judgment of persons who head a cult, for the law of antiquity is only an aspect of cult. The meanings of other words, such as veridicus, verilo-quium, etc., are clear without explanation. A. Suvorov, the author of the Latin etymological dictionary, indicates that the Russian verbs govoriu, relzu [I speak, I say] express the original sense of the root var. But, on the basis of what has been said above, it is unquestion-able that, if the root var really means “to speak,” it is precisely in the sense attributed to this word by all of antiquity, that is, in the sense of a powerful, vatic word (be it ritual consecration or prayer) which is capable of making its object not only juridically and nominally but also mystically and really a source of fear and trembling. Thus, strictly speaking, vereor means “the power of ritual consecration exerted over me.” After these preliminary considerations it is not difficult to guess the meaning of the word veritas. Let us first remark that this word, which is of late origin, had wholly belonged to the domain of law and acquired only with Cicero a philosophical and generally theoretical sense, a sense that refers to the domain of knowledge. Even in the generally moral sense of sincerity, parresia, this word is encountered before Cicero just once, in Terence, in the phrase: “obsequium amicos, veritas odium pane (obsequiousness produces friends while sincerity produces hatred). Furthermore, although in Cicero the word veritas at once acquires a wide application, this is primarily in the legal and, in part, the moral domain. Here, veritas means either the real situation of a juridical case as opposed to its false clarification by one of the parties involved, or justice, or finally the just cause of the plaintiff. It is only rarely equated with “truth” as we tend to understand it. The juridical nuance of veritas, a word religiously juridical in its root and morally juridical in its origin, was subsequently preserved and even grew more pronounced. In later Latin the word even came to have a purely juridical meaning. According to du range, veritas means depositio testis, the deposition of a witness, veridictum. Veritas then came to mean inquisitio judicaria, judicial inquest. It also came to mean right, privilege, particularly with re-spect to property, and so forth. The ancient Hebrews, and the Semites in general, captured in their language a special aspect of the idea of Truth: the historical aspect, or more precisely, the theocratic aspect. Truth for them was always the Word of God. For the Hebrew, the irrevocability, certainty, and reliability of this Divine promise is what characterized it as Truth. Truth is Reliability. “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17}. The Truth as it is represented in the Bible is precisely this absolutely irrevocable and unalterable “law.”
The Hebrew word ‘emet or, in colloquial pronunciation, ones, truth, has as its basis the root ‘mn. The verb ‘aman derived therefrom means, strictly speaking, I supported, I propped up. This main meaning of the verb ‘aman is strongly indicated by nouns of the same root from the domain of architecture: jomenah, column, and ‘amore, builder, master, and, in part, by ‘omen, peda-gogue, i.e., builder of children’s souls. The intransitive middle sense of the verb ‘amore, was supported, was propped up, then serves as the point of de-parture for a whole brood of words that are fairly removed from the main meaning of the verb ‘aman, i.e., was strong, firm has supported, as propped up), and therefore was unshakable. From this we get the meanings: suitable for use as a support to lean upon without damage to it, and finally, was faithful. From this we get Amen, meaning: my word is firm, verily, of course, thus it must be, fiat. It serves as a formula to seal a union or a vow. It is also used to conclude a doxology or a prayer (here it is said twice). The meaning of the word “amen” is well clarified from Rev 3:14: “These things with the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Cf. Is. 65:16: ” ‘elohe-‘amen, the God that one should trust.” From here one can understand the whole combination of meanings of ’emet (instead of amenet). Its most immediate meanings are firmness, stability, durability, and therefore safety. Further, we get faith-faithfulness, fides, by virtue of which he who is constant in himself preserves and fulfills the promise, the concepts of Treue and Glaube. One can then also understand the connection of this latter concept with the honesty and whole-ness of the soul. As the distinguishing characteristic of a judge or a judicial sentence, ’emet therefore signifies justice, truthfulness. As the distinguishing characteristic of inner life, it is opposed to pretense and has the meaning of sincerity, primarily sincerity in the worship of God. Finally, ’emet corresponds to the Russian word istina (truth) in opposition to falsehood. This is precisely how this word is used in Gen. 42:16, Deut. 22:20, 2 Sam. 7:28. Also see 1 Kings 10:6, 22:16, Ps. 15:2, 51:6, etc. Derived from this latter nuance of the word ’emet is the term meanies, which is used by Hebrew philosophers, e.g., Maimonides, “to describe people who, not being satisfied with authority and custom, strive for intellectual knowledge of truth.” Thus, for the Hebrews, Truth really is the “reliable word,” “reliability,” “the reliable promise.” And since to “put .. . your trust in princes, . . . in the son of man” (Ps. 146:3) is vain, the sole reliable word is the Word of God; Truth is God’s unalterable promise, which is insured by the Lord’s reliability and immutability. Thus, for the Hebrews, Truth is not an ontological concept, as it is for the Slays. It is not an epistemological concept, as it is for the Greeks. And it is not a juridical concept, as it is for the Romans. Instead, it is a historical, or rather, a sacred-historical concept, a theocratic concept. The four nuances of the concept of truth observed by us can be combined in pair fashion, in the following manner: The Russian Istina and the Hebrew ’emet refer primarily to the Divine content of the Truth, while the Greek Aletheia and the Latin Veritas refer to its human form. On the other hand, the Russian and Greek terms have a philosophical character, while the Latin and Hebrew terms have a sociological character. By this I mean that, in the Russian and Greek understanding, Truth has an immediate relation to every per-son, while, for the Romans and the Hebrews, it is mediated by society. All that we have said about the division of the concept of the truth can be conveniently summarized in the following table:
|ACCORDING TO CONTENT||ACCORDING TO FORM|
|Immediate personal relation||Russian istina||Greek Aletheia|
|Social mediation||Hebrew ’emet||Latin Veritas|
“What is truth?” Pilate asked of the Truth (see John 18:38). He did not receive an answer. He did not receive an answer because the question was vain. The Living Answer stood before him, but Pilate did not see the Truth’s truthfulness. Let us suppose that the Lord answered the Roman Procurator not only with this screaming silence but also with the quiet words, “I am the Truth.” But even then the questioner would have remained without an answer, for he would not have known how to recog-nize the Truth as truth, could not have been convinced of its genuineness. The knowledge that Pilate lacked, the knowledge that all of mankind lacks above all, is knowledge of the conditions of certitude. What is certitude? It is the discovery of the proper character of truth, the recognition in truth of a certain feature that distinguishes it from un-truth. Psychologically, this recognition is expressed as untroubled bliss, the satisfied thirst for truth. “Ye shall know the Truth (ten aletheian), and the Truth (he aletheia) shall make you free” (John 8:32). Free from what? Free in general from sin (see John 8:34), from every sin, free (in the domain of knowledge) from everything that is untruthful, from everything that does not conform with the truth. “Certitude”, says Archimandrite Serapion Mashkin,27 “is the feeling of truth. Certitude appears when we pronounce a necessary judgment and consists in the exclusion of the suspicion that the judgment pronounced will change some time or somewhere. Certitude is therefore the intellectual feeling of accepting the judgment pronounced as a true one.” “By a criterion of truth,” the same phitosoplaet says in another work, we mean the state of the truth-possessing spirit, a state of com-plete satisfaction, of joy, in which there is no doubt whatever that the stated proposition conforms to genuine reality. This state is reached when a judgment about something satisfies a proposition called a measure of truth or its criterion.” The problem of the certitude of truth is reducible to the problem of finding a criterion. The entire demonstrative force of a system is focused, as it were, in the answer to this problem of finding a criterion. Truth becomes my possession through an act of my judgment. By my judgment, I receive truth into myself. Truth as truth is revealed to me by my affirmation of it.
Biography of Father Pavel from the Orthodoxwiki:
Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was born on January 21 (N.S.), 1882, in the town of Yevlakh in what is now western Azerbaijan. His father, a railroad engineer, was from a family of Russian Orthodox priests and his mother was from Armenian nobility. His education included attendance at the gymnasium in Tiflis, Georgia where he displayed unusual aptitude in science and mathematics. After graduating from the gymnasium, Pavel entered the Department of Mathematics of Moscow State University graduating in 1904 with degrees in mathematics and physics. In the meantime he developed a profound religious outlook and a desire to seek a career in the Orthodox Christian priesthood instead of science.
Refusing a position teaching at the university, Pavel entered the Ecclesiastical Academy at the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra in Sergiyev Posad, north of Moscow. There, he developed for a while an interest in a radical Christian movement and created with three fellow students the society of Union of Christian Struggle. The group was based on ideas of Vladimir Solovyov that aimed revolutionarily to rebuild Russian society. In 1906, he was arrested for membership in the society, and shortly later he lost interest in the radical movement although Fr. Pavel continued exploring the ideas of Solovyov’s sophiology, Sophia (Wisdom), and through this association met and became close friends with Sergius Bulgakov, another disciple of Solovyov.
Fr. Pavel’s interests at the Moscow Academy included philosophy, religion, art, and folklore. With these interests he became prominent in the Russian Symbolism movement. Intent on becoming a cloistered monk, he was persuaded by the faculty to become a teacher and scholar instead. He also published in the magazines New Way and Libra. In 1908, having graduated from the Academy he began teaching there. During these years at the Academy he began to ponder the basis of his belief beyond the formalisms of the Church. It was through his soul-searching and inner struggle that he started his main work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. While much of The Pillar was completed by the time he graduated in 1908 the complete book was not published until 1914 and was not fully translated from the Russian for many years.
Until 1919, he continued to live at the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra after his graduation while he taught at the Academy. In 1911, he married and was ordained a priest. In 1914, he wrote a dissertation About Spiritual Truth. Fr. Pavel was the chief editor of the authoritative Orthodox publication of the time, Bogoslovskiy Vestnik. His writings included works not only on religion and theology, but on philosophy, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics.
After the Bolsheviks closed the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra in 1918 and in 1921 the church where he served as priest, Sergievo-Posad, he began working in Moscow for the State Plan for Electrification of Russia. Here Leon Trotsky believed Fr. Pavel had the ability to help the government in electrification of Russia. In this position, contemporaries noted the strange sight of Fr. Pavel in his priest’s cassock and pectoral cross working along side Soviet scientists and leaders including addressing Soviet scientific conferences and lecturing at the university. The Bolsheviks continued pressing him to renounce his priesthood, but he was considered too valuable to the Bolshevik regime and left alone.
In 1924, he published a monograph on Dielectrics as well as works on ancient Russian art. He also wrote the standard Soviet textbook on electrical engineering that was used for thirty years. Later in the decade he published his “hard Science” work Imaginary Numbers in Geometry that was devoted to the geometrical interpretation of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. In this work Fr, Pavel proclaimed that geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God.
With the ascendency of Stalin in 1927 and after Fr. Pavel objected to Metr. Sergius’ declared policy of Orthodox Church cooperation with the Soviet regime, he began to feel the sting of Bolshevik justice for his defiant actions. He was first arrested in 1927 and exiled to Nizhny Novgorod in 1928. He returned to Moscow after Maxim Gorky’s wife, Ekaterina Peshkova, interceded for him. He was arrested again in 1933 and sentenced to ten years in the labor camps for publishing the monograph about the theory of relativity. In it, his comment on the kingdom of God was considered agitation material. His sentence began at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp, building the new shortcut railroad line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and after a year he was transferred to the former monastery at Solovetski on the White Sea where he conducted research on products made from seaweed.
In 1937, he was moved to Leningrad for trial by an extrajudicial NKVD troika. The troika sentenced him to death, according to legend, for refusing to disclose the location of the head of St. Sergius Radonezhsky which the Bolsheviks wanted destroyed. Fr. Paul had been rumored to be a organizer in earlier years of a plot to save the relics of St. Sergius. In 1946, Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra was reopened and Pavel Golubtsov, later Abp. Sergius, returned St. Sergius’ relics to the Lavra.
The date of Fr. Pavel’s death was disputed. Officially, Soviet information stated he died in Siberia on December 8, 1943. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union a search of the NKVD archives showed this date to be false, and that he was shot immediately after the NKVD troika trial in December 1937. He was probably martyred at the Rzhevsky Artillery Range, near Toksovo, northeast of Leningrad and buried in a mass grave with some 30,000 others who were executed by the NKVD. In the words of Solzhenitsyn he noted Fr. Pavel Florensky as perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag.
During the last decades of the twentieth century statements had appeared noting a recognition of Fr. Pavel as a saint and new martyr. This action was often attributed to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. However, Metr. Vitaly, then First Hierarch of ROCOR, noted firmly that no such action was ever considered by ROCOR, and that no such glorification had been made. Fr Pavel’s teachings included ‘Sophiology’, a teaching condemned by the Church in Florensky’s lifetime.
Q; The troika sentenced him to death, according to legend, for refusing to disclose the location of the head of St. Sergius Radonezhsky which the Bolsheviks wanted destroyed.
R; What? No torture or ‘enhanced interrogation techniques?’
From what I understand torture was greatly used in those times (and in other countries as well).I think that was a “given” so there was no reason to mention it. One would think we had progressed from those days.But instead we have regressed back to those days in the West.Its embarrassing hearing the “excuses” and double-talk Western leaders use to not “exactly” admit to using torture.Instead of “it depends on the meaning of the word “is”.They come up with “it depends on the meaning of the word “torture”.
Pavel Florensky, a man of prodigious mind, devoured by mindless ideologues and mad tyranny.
Russian has lost so many great minds to ideological insanity. Imagine what position among nations its place would be if those crazed ideologies had not grasped the power of state.
Fortunately, this generation of national leaders are guided by the lessons taught by those losses. Putin ostracizes, punishes, banishes but has rarely obliterated opposition.
Yes, you put it very well.
It is so haunting to think of the great writers like Isaac Babel and Fyodor Sologub who disappeared into the Gulag system never to be heard from again. This is why Russia stands for freedom today. They never want a repeat of these insane persecutions.
Very sad.Extremism and dictatorship can sometimes destroy the very people that should instead be honored in society (Ukraine and Oles Buzina,reminds me also of that).The saying from the days of the French Revolution that “the Revolution devours its children”, comes to mind. It seems Father Florensky was one more example of that.As well as of the power of the “Russian Mir”.He was an Armenian considered and considering himself as Russian.A monk in the ROC (instead of the Armenian Church,which is a different Christian faith),and born not in today’s Russia or Armenia.But instead in what at the time was one of the centers of the Armenian diaspora,Azerbaijan.We in the West can’t, I think, grasp the Russian Mir’s meaning.So like always in the West.What you can’t understand you ridicule and demean.
What a brilliant and fascinating mind.
How tragic he was ground down by paranoid fools.
And what brilliance on theological/philosophical issues is currently offered in the West?
Richard Squawkin’ Dawkins.
God help us – someone has to.
ps Saker I would absolutely love to read his take on the Theory of Relativity. Do you have a link?
Floresnkii has an interesting analysis; just a bit tweaked in the end.
Emet (truth) is not social , it is between a person and God; as well as it is spiritual version of divine (yesod – firmness, foundation). The word Emet can be seen spelled through the concluding words of Genesis.
Istina (truth, -true belief) is largely similar, – also not social, but to a larger degree personal than divine. Still that part of personal belief which is ‘really true’ (in some actual or higher sense), the one which deeply matches reality, or a divine plan.
So, not much difference, at this level. -It’s personalities and superstructures which may start to diverge.
Hi Mike 101,
Interesting point. Could you please substantiate it? Are the examples Father Paul gives mistaken?
Thanks and cheers,
Not mistaken, – examples of use in Florenskiy are of truth or falsehood type, where all four cultures should agree (communications with Pharaoh is involved in Gen. 42:16, and a physical examination in Deut. 22:20) ; he also talks about relation to “firmness” , -which is shared by other commentary. But than suddenly, and without a justification, Emet version becomes ‘social’ –which it is not, by the very nature of the text and the nature of beliefs.
(To put this in a familiar context, what’s particularly ‘social’ in the whole Old Testament? –It’s all very seriously introverted,– quite asocial in a way.- And throughout, —except for Pilates, nobody else ever raised ‘what is truth’ question. ).
As for textual justifications: -divine nature of Emet is highlighted in commentary;
e.g.well respected Rabbah, Deut: ‘God has a seal, and his seal is truth (emeth)’ .Zohar finds a spelling of Emet in Genesis. Relation to Emed with firmness (yesod, one of divine emanations) is stated by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh-and is noted by Florensky himself.
Fr. Pavel’s etymology is interesting, however his treatment of the Latin “veritas” relies on pre-Christian Roman usage. The more widespread western European intellectual understanding of “veritas” permeating western thought prior to Modernity is that given by St. Thomas Aquinas in his work The Disputed Questions, specifically in the section commonly called De Veritate, in which he defined Truth (Veritas) as ” the adversion of the mind to the thing as it is outside of the mind.” The “is” is important, as it relate Truth to Being, and is both philosophical and theological due to that relation of truth to being, as is seen what are traditionally called the Transcendentals: Unum, Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum: One, Good, True, and Beautiful–which are one in God. It is traditionally thought that the three (Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum) cannot exist even in this world alone–nothing can be good without being true and also beautiful in the way in which it is good and true.
I also wonder if Stalin’s severity toward Fr. Pavel was, in part, due to the fact that they possibly went to the same gymnasium in Tiflis.
nothing can be good without being true and also beautiful in the way in which it is good and true.
If I recall correctly, Dostoevsky and Berdaev also wrote about this except that the used the word “love” (iirc again) instead of ‘goodness” (Bonum). These concepts are closely intertwined and linked to each other. Conversely, the modern post-Christian society having lost the concept of “truth” has then become evil and ugly.
Yes, evil, ugly, and barbaric. All things need to be restored in Christ.
By the way, Aquinas also treated of the connection between the good and love, in that love is not an emotion but an act of the will in desiring the good for oneself or another. The highest love is to desire the highest good. God is pure love in that He desires the Good (Himself) for us.
In Arabic and thus Islam:
HAQQ combines the meanings of “truth” and “right.” The opposite of HAQQ in both of these senses is BATIL. Examples:
– AL-HAQQ is a divine attribute. When Muslims quote from Al-Qur’an, they often say, “AL-HAQQ said,” which is equivalent to saying “God said.” The sense of eternal, incontrovertible truth is meant here. Likewise, The Arabic translation of the Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “ANA HUWA AL-TAREEQ WAL-HAQQ WAL-HAYA,” meaning “I am the Way, the Ttruth, and the Life.” AL-Hallaj is also quoted as saying ANA AL-HAQQ (“I am the Truth”) as he was being crucified.
Truth in this sense is more than plain veracity of a statement. Truth here means “the ultimate reality.” If the intended meaning is restricted to the veracity of a statment, then the Arabic equivalent is SIDQ.
– HAQQ also carries the sense of “right,” “righteousness,” and “being right.” For example, “rights of man” or “human rights” are referred to as HUQOOQ AL-INSAN. An action taken unrightfully is described as being taken DOONA WAJHI HAQQ. And when you want to tell someone, “You are right,” you say, ANTA ALA HAQQ.
HAQQ in this sense is related to the sense of “justice” in the absolute sense. The word for justice in the legal sense is `ADL (In modern times, following the Turkish style, the Word ADALA has become popular).
The adjectival form of HAQQ is also HAQQ. For example, we say, AL-WA`D AL-HAQQ, meaning “the true promise.” Another adjectival form is HAQEEQ, which is not very commonly used, except in the colloquial Egyptian expression HAQQ WA HAQEEQ, which is an instance of redundancy for the sake of emphasis.
The feminine form of HAQEEQ is HAQEEQA, a word that acquired the sense of “a single instance of truth,” or simply “a fact.” In Arabic, many words take the masculine form as the name of the species and the feminine form for a singular countable instance of the species. For instance, SHA`R is “hair,” while SHA`RA is “a single hair.” Likewise, NAKHL is the species of palm trees, while NAKHLA is a single palm tree.
Through careless usage, HAQEEQA expanded its meaning from “a fact” to “factualness” or “truth.” It is certainly used in that sense, but it has reached that meaning in a roundabout way. The original term is HAQQ.
I do love the connections between words of different languages as Father Florensky has examined them here. It was what most excited me in high school long ago. And his exploration of the Russian word for truth reminded me of a passage from Martin Buber’s book, “Moses – the Revelation and the Covenant.”
He’s speaking of the first encounter between Moses and God when Moses asks God’s name:
. . .As reply to his question about the name, Moses is told: “ehyeh asher ehyeh”. This is usually understood to mean “I am that I am” in the sense that YHVH describes himself as the Being One or even the Everlasting One, the one unalterably persisting in his being. But that would be abstraction of a kind which does not usually come about in periods of increasing religious vitality; while in addition the verb in the Biblical language does not carry this particular shade of meaning of pure existence. It means: happening, coming into being, being there, being present, being thus and thus; but not being in an abstract sense. . .
Buber makes then the translation read: “I shall be present as that I shall be present”. . .” he who is present here; not merely some time and some where but in every now and in every here. . .”
In the context of the revelation by means of the burning bush, this vivid explanation still fills me with awe.
Thank you, Saker. As frequently, you’ve given us something worth pondering. There’s a lot more here than I got on a first reading. I’ll study on it.
To seek after truth is to wish to save something from the flux of time. The thought is new to me.
I have often thought that to seek divine or immutable truth is to wish to escape human fallibility. But the courage to face fallibility and to act in spite of it has always seemed to me the essence of being human. We live and must act although knowledge is never complete or infallible. Judgements must be made always within knowledge which is only contextual, can never be complete. When I hear a claim to rigid truth or dogmatic truth or even religious truth always it seems to me that person desires to escape his own human nature, which seems to me a kind of glory.
But for Father Pavel the joy of truth is precisely in an affirmation of immutable knowledge, and its source an act of faith:
“The problem of the certitude of truth is reducible to the problem of finding a criterion. The entire demonstrative force of a system is focused, as it were, in the answer to this problem of finding a criterion. Truth becomes my possession through an act of my judgment. By my judgment, I receive truth into myself. Truth as truth is revealed to me by my affirmation of it.”
How different people are: I finding a pleasurable tragi-courage in the necessity to judge & act within the perpetual uncertainty of human knowledge. And he finding joy in affirming immutable knowledge through faith– as befits a religious. (Although it is faith in his JUDGEMENT, which makes sense given his non-religious accomplishments. What a very interesting person he must have been.)
This is one of the more interesting texts I’ve seen here. I feel a lot of understanding for the Slavic and Greek definitions (different though they are), and not much for the Latin and Hebrew ones (at least as he explains them).
I must say, I can’t follow Florensky’s categorization at the end, at all. The Greek “aletheia” seems to me BOTH personal and social, because cultures and families die and forget just as much as individuals do. There’s also a link between the Greek “aletheia” and Hebrew “emet”, inasmuch as both rest on the concept of solidity, of something lasting and eternal.
Also, while Florensky writes that “the Russian Istina and the Hebrew ‘emet refer primarily to the Divine content of the Truth”, I don’t see how this is true for “istina” at all, from what he wrote earlier. In fact, these concepts of the truth seem the most fundamentally opposed to each other – the Russian truth is “that which lives and breathes”, which implies vitality and constant adaptation, while the Hebrew truth is unchangeable, unassailable, eternal, the very opposite of life.
It’s also worth noting that “pravda” seems to be much more common than “istina” in Russian these days, whose root concept is probably the same as the English “right” – that is, “pravda=rightfulness”. And this seems not too far from the concepts behind the Latin “veritas”…
Finally, I can’t figure out how “truth” is related to the Latin “veritas”, as he says. A quick glance on Wikipedia seems to say that the etymology of “truth” doesn’t come from Latin at all: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth#Definition_and_etymology
This really is a very fascinating matter because it can be seen how the different layers of a word meaning among different languages create a different “view of the world”. A different set of associations that are similar among the speakers of a certain language, but can often diverge from a set of associations someone brought up in different language might have.
For example, in my native language, Serbo-Croatian we have this constant feeling of bring helplessly oppressed by the Government. We feel that we cannot ever truly change it by any means, so we are trying to undermine it as much as we can – building without a permit, bribing police officers and various other bureaucrats that we essentially despise, envisioning new ideas of tax evasion… We are more or less proud of our ethnic groups but not at all of our States. We were living, for generations under the foreign governments – Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian so this feeling definitely has the historic foundation.
And how this relates to language? In serbocroatian we have the word “Vlada” which means “the Government”. But, when we examine the origin of these words the difference becomes very clear. Word “vlada” comes from the word “vladar” which means “The ruler” – and that is exactly the idea of our “Government” – person(s) with the power to oppress the helpless bunch of “serfs” who in turn hate them and try to cheat them but rarely/never openly confront the “rotten system”.
See how that differs from the English meaning of the word “to govern”. The exact translation of that word into my language is “upravljati” and that word does have I think the same meaning – in a sense that governing over something/somebody doesn’t necessarily bring you to the position of the ruler or the owner.
Sorry for the digression, but I just wanted to show how the language affects one’s perception of reality. And how words that superficially have the same meaning in different languages actually bear many connotations that remain hidden most of the time. And in relation to geopolitics: how those deep hidden conceptions can sometimes be a “mind-trap” for the whole nations.
We should investigate this deep meanings of many often used words such as “liberty, freedom, truth, peace, war, fair, right, wrong, good, bad, progress, backwardness, state, power, life, love, dignity, happiness…” to see how those ideas differ from nation to nation and to which extent that differences shaped their history.
And also try to find out are there any ideas that encompass the entire humanity, some universal truths about our existence which can be used as a basis for envisioning the “brighter future of a mankind” – in whatever form it may come?
Very well said. It’s why the work of translation is ever ongoing, and distortions of the truths contained in great works ever possible. The riches are there, always waiting to be discovered by discerning minds and hearts.
Thank you for raising the question of the etymology of the English word “truth”. That was a question which immediately arose for me, in comparing the four languages discussed above.
From your link to wikipedia:
“. . . ‘truth’ involves both the quality of “faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, sincerity, veracity”, and that of “agreement with fact or reality”, in Anglo-Saxon expressed by sōþ (Modern English sooth).”
I like this description, because it separates the etymology of the English word ‘truth’ into the two aspects of “faith” and “agreement with fact”. That’s a powerful statement at the heart of the English language itself.
I’m not sure Father Florensky expresses this in his final paragraphs. He relates ‘certitude’ to ‘judgement’ – a critical, intellectual faculty, but in this he does not return to his examination of ‘istina’ as related to life itself, breathing, being. For in the Orthodoxy from which he expresses himself, it is the heart that is the seat into which the intellect must be drawn, and the heart is the seat of faith. As Pascal would say, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not understand.”
A modern understanding of the concept ‘truth’ takes a scientific approach to say only the second part, agreement with fact, is real truth. That which is ‘provable’. This is a very limited approach and does disservice to the very word itself, whose origins are far richer. And I am not sure but that each of the great languages presented by Father Florensky does ‘in truth’ present this same wonderful dichotomy between the living, breathing heart, and the eternally occupied mind.
Truth in Fiction..
What Does a Major 21st Century War Look Like? Read ‘Ghost Fleet’ by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
Ghost Fleet, a new novel by P. W. Singer and August Cole, is about that scenario. Having read the book, it’s one of the more plausible depictions of a major 21st century war — and one of the more realistic portrayals of cyberwar — I’ve seen in fiction.
In a discursive and wide-ranging interview, we talked with Singer about the book’s themes, science fiction and the future of conflict. According to him, we need to get used to the idea that our technology won’t save us — and that we should reconsider some older methods of warfare that are anything but antiquated.
Another important definition of Truth from a US President, Bill Clinton, when speaking to a Grand Jury:
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.:
ha ha, Slick Willy!
Marvellous contribution –thank you, Saker. Father Florensky’s research into language reminded me somewhat of his contemporary Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973) who taught that grammar could become the basis for a new sociology. All human beings possess grammatical language and the different grammatical structures order and dispose fundamental social relations. According to Rosenstock-Huessy, war is what happens when people stop speaking to one another. Father Florensky’s meditations on truth are complementary to the study of grammar in that his focus is on the meanings of words. This research could become the basis for a new study of the corruption of language–which we are seeing today massively in the Western society.
The late Russian healer Nikolai Levashov supports the Russian definition of truth in this sentence from his autobiography:
“There is no life in a lie, while truth is alive because the real events and processes, which it reflects, are behind it.”( p. 236) http://bookmanas.blogspot.com/search/label/Levashov
Thank you Saker–much here to reflect on. God bless.
This is way too long, complicated, and abstract for me.
For me, truth is just what conforms to the criteria and axioms of the model or system of reality being used, and seems to work out, with consistency, over time. It’s not words but a concept, and a radial category.
You got your true, your false, your ambiguous or undetermined, and your unknown or unknowable. But the map is not the territory.
WOW this hit me right away
[The Russian word} Is-ti-na and its derivatives (cf. the Lettish ist-s, ist-en-s)
The Hungarian word for God is ISTEN (pronounced ishten).
Checking where that comes from, Slavic is not considered at all, and Turkic is quickly rejected. It is believed to be related to the indo-Iranian yaztan, or yazdan, the root of which is found in today in numerous later indo-iranian words relating to worship, veneration, sacredness. This may go back as far as 2nd Century contacts with Scythians in Siberia (a place we found too cold to stick around in). By the 7th Century we got west enough to be part of the Khazar Confederation. Magyars were moving west about the same time the Varangians (eventual Kievan Rus’) were moving south. They never met in any meaningful way, the Magyars moving into present day Hungary in 895 through southern route through present day Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania.
Can’t find where the Russian word originated from; the Lettish mentioned above is a cognate, not an origin. Still I was just amazed by the word. Probably not related at all.
Words and their roots are interesting and do have consequences. Ishtar is but one example. And what of Gnossis as it relates to this thread? Is Truth supposed to be verifiable, or is it just supposition? I could hold a semester long graduate seminar on the subject and conclude close to its beginning.
One of the modern oddities is a person can be presented with a PhD without having taken one course in philosophy.
The Saker added a link to this article recently (02/2020), and here I am, making a comment! I completely agree with you when you say that today “person can be presented with a PhD without having taken one course in philosophy.” Our education in the west has been totally destroyed – students are preparing now to be technicians. They are no more allowed to think. Thinking people are dangerous for the establishment. In Brazil, th first measure taken after the US sponsored coup d’etat of 1964 was to reform education according to the rules of the USAID.
BTW — here are links to more on truth and the other topics at the site:
That site was started by
Valentin Fyodorovich Turchin (Russian: Валенти́н Фёдорович Турчи́н, 1931 – 7 April 2010) was a Soviet and American cybernetician and computer scientist. He developed the Refal programming language, the theory of metasystem transitions and the notion of supercompilation. He was as a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence and a proponent of the global brain hypothesis.
Match, computer science and cyberneitcs, philosophy, and did some political things too ( [wikipedia:]
By 1973, Turchin had founded the Moscow chapter of Amnesty International with Andrey Tverdokhlebov and was working closely with the well-known physicist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. In 1974 he lost his position at the Institute, and was persecuted by the KGB. Facing almost certain imprisonment, he and his family were forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1977.).
(Starting to download material from and about him).
I’ve learned he had a son, and a new word and filed of study:
Peter Turchin (Russian: Пётр Валенти́нович Турчи́н; born 1957) is a Russian-American scientist, specializing in population biology and “cliodynamics” — mathematical modeling and statistical analysis of the dynamics of historical societies.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cliometrics[pronunciation?], sometimes called new economic history, or econometric history, is the systematic application of economic theory, econometric techniques, and other formal or mathematical methods to the study of history (especially, social and economic history). It is a quantitative (as opposed to qualitative or ethnographic) approach to economic history. The term cliometrics comes from Clio, who was the muse of history, and was originally coined by the mathematical economist Stanley Reiter in 1960.
Cliometrics has had sharp critics. Boldizzoni summarized a common critique by arguing that cliometrics is based on the false assumption that the laws of neo-classical economics always apply to human activity. Those laws, he says, are based on rational choice and maximization as they operate in well-developed markets, and do not apply to economies other than those of the capitalist West in the modern era. Instead, Boldizzoni argues that the workings of economies are determined by social, political and cultural conditions specific to each society and time period.
OK — has it’s problems, but maybe useful or can be extended or modified.
On the other hand, Diebolt argued that cliometrics is mature and well accepted by scholars as an “indispensable tool” in economic history. He says most scholars agree that economic theory, combined with new data as well as historical and statistical methods are necessary to formulate problems precisely, to draw conclusions from postulates and to gain insight into complicated processes. At the applied level, cliometrics is accepted as the way to measure variables and estimate parameters.
Worth looking into, it seems, and historians and cultural analysts should be aware of it.
Thank you for a treat, Saker.
The truth ?
But nevertheless it’s interesting to see that everybody thinks they have it.
It is interesting that the etymology conflates life with truth. Indeed it is even surprising that nonliving existents should be conflated with truth. A rock is an existent, but is it truth? Is a child truth? Ordinarily it is propositions that we link to truth or error. Truth doesn’t apply to an entity since entities exist by definition. (Nouns of course may be without a referrent.)
For me, truth is what results from correct epistemological technique– the application of logic, etc. So long as it isn’t overthrown by sensory evidence. But there– I’ve revealed my empirical, materialistic training with its exclusion of faith. Can’t seem to help myself. I suspect circular reasoning somewhere.
But how can mere being be described as truth; surely it applies only to propositions and arguments and theorems, etc.
And truth can’t be certain unless it’s divorced from reality, like mathematics. But I repeat myself, about human knowledge being contextual rather than infallible. I think I give up.
Etymology aside, truth and life are not equatable.
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
Truth is an expression of what is true, and true is meeting the criteria of what is ‘real’ with a logical system or context. If people want to talk about something equatable to life they need another word — even ‘life’ might do. words are supposed to mean things — have specific referents.
Semiotics for Beginners
Thank you, Blue. Semiotics was interesting. The article quoted Peirce as saying that we think only in words. I can tell you anecdotally that that’s untrue. I once had an untoward reaction from a pharmaceutical wherein words were absent for a period. Under this circumstance one thinks in pictures– video actually– and the speed of it slows just a tad.
It’s probably just subjective, but I find I make a distinction between knowledge and truth– truth being formal and entailing epistemological rigor. But by “knowledge” I mean something far broader. Knowledge has so many more sources, mysterious sources, than the logical rules used to verify “rational” truth. All of knowledge is simply not subject to the rules or methods of logic or even of rational thought.
I’ve cause to know that because of memories from before I was three. For some unknown reason I regarded certain experiences which were only partly captured in words as important, and told myself “Nowdon’tyouforgetit.” Even a few years later looking back I was amazed at what very small children already know, and some of it not in words– as if certain categories are built in. Certainly not tabula rasa.
I’ve heard this about people thinking only in words — didn’t remember Peirce said it. It should be obviously wrong to anyone who has played chess, made art, played music, designed a building or machine, or has done hundreds of other things non-verbally.
And yes, knowledge is different from truth, and largely based on experience, and on intuition or ‘thin slicing’ which is are not evaluated in terms of true or false, or any formal system of thought. There are many modes of thinking and dealing with information. Again, art is a good example: a great painter, writer, or story teller, will be extremely knowledgeable about his craft and yet not deal with ‘truth’ at all.
Stunning man, wondrous mind and soul. Did he and his un-named wife have children? What is known of her? Her name? More about him? Enough to know Solshenitsin honoured him.
I do not know if you are aware of this but in the early chapters of Bulgakov’s 20th Century masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, these two words appear during Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of the accused terrorist Yeshua Ga Nozri.
Pilate is incensed not so much by the idea that a vagabond may have something to say about Truth but that he dares to speak of Istina. For me Istina seems to be related to the word ‘reality’ as a sacred, all-encompassing objective absolute. Reality is derived from Royalty or perhaps, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Anyway, when I saw this article I immediately mailed it to a friend with whom I had first started this discussion based on the book. Crickets.
If anything brought me to joining the Sakerists, it was this article. Now I have had an article (Are the Olympics Dead Yet) posted and I am a volunteer mod on the daily forums.
There are no coincidences.
I wonder if Fr. Pavels execution was authorized by the government. The chief of the NKVD, Nikolaj Jezhov, was arrested as a traitor in 1938 and executed 1940. He was found guilty of the executions of tens of thousands innocent people in order of compromice the gouvernment and incite an rebellion. He had worked on behalf of the German military Secret Service. According to the historian J. Arch Getty where as much as an half of the executions 1937 never authorized by the government.
Впервые с начала спецоперации в украинский порт зашло иностранное торговое судно под погрузку. По словам министра, уже через две недели планируется приползти на уровень по меньшей мере 3-5 судов в сутки. Наша функция – выход на месячный объем перевалки в портах Большой Одессы в 3 млн тонн сельскохозяйственной продукции. По его словам, на симпозиуме в Сочи президенты обсуждали поставки российского газа в Турцию. В больнице актрисе рассказали о работе медицинского центра во время военного положения и послали подарки от малышей. Благодаря этому мир еще лучше будет слышать, знать и понимать правду о том, что происходит в нашей стране.