Absolute Understanding


An elephant was brought to a group of blind men who had never 
encountered such an animal before. One felt a leg and reported that an 
elephant is a great living pillar. Another felt the trunk and reported 
that an elephant is a great snake. Another felt a tusk and reported 
that an elephant is like a sharp ploughshare. And so on. And then they 
all quarreled together, each claiming that his own account was the 
truth and therefore all the others false (traditional parable). 

 None of the accounts that the blind men made about the nature 
of the elephant are absolute truths, nor are the accounts false. An 
absolute truth, or one that is true for all, can not be achieved 
because of the constant motion of circumstances of who said it, to 
whom, when, where, why, and how it was said. Instead of absolute 
truths, the concepts or beliefs that the blind men claim are 
viewpoints that each one clarifies the nature of the elephant. 
Everybody has learned to see things from his or her own sense of 
reason and logic. The many things that people experience throughout 
their lifetimes, help to determine the judgments toward the different 
issues and objects that they encounter. Because individuals has his or 
her own sense of reason and logic, the perceptions that people 
encounter are ultimately true, and not false. Life does not contain 
one truth for any idea or object, but truths can be found in one's 
perception. It is difficult to determine that anything is the absolute 
truth. One should not prove that any object contains a true meaning, 
but should develop conceptions surrounding the object. Attempting to 
prove anything then would be difficult, if not impossible. Our senses 
from smell to values to reality may differ from person to person. What 
may be true to one person may be different for another. Because 
everybody has different perceptions about life, it is difficult to 
weigh the content of any concept. Every account, of its own, is formed 
to be the truth of the one individual who assumes it. The variety of 
concepts may have the virtue of being considered. This is how people 
develop a deeper sense of understanding for all objects. Truth is 
achieved through the concept and not the object itself. Because many 
individuals hold different perceptions, they have many truths to 
consider, or not to consider. For example, it would be impossible to 
determine, whether or not, the cutting of trees is either "good" or 
"bad." One might have the conception that cutting trees destroys homes 
for birds and other animals. Another person might have the conception 
that cutting trees is necessary to satisfy the need to provide homes 
for humans. Whatever concept is understood from the object, may be the 
truth. Just because there may be other viewpoints to this situation, 
does not mean that there has to be false statements. The tree can be 
used for many uses from medicine to paper to boats and none of these 
views would be wrong. The tree remains to be a tree, but the values of 
the tree can differentiate, depending on who is using it. The 
conception of God, or the non-conception of God, is another issue that 
many people make the mistake of trying to prove. A well recognized 
philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard states, "For if God does not exist it 
would of course be impossible to prove it; and if he [or she] does 
exist it would be folly to attempt it." Demonstrating the existence or
non- existence of God only produces reasons for belief, not the actual 
proof that God exists. Kierkegaard also claims, "...between God and 
his works there exists an absolute relationship: God is not a name but 
a concept"( Kierkegaard 72). The relationship between man and God is a 
concept. A person with belief in God, cannot prove its existence 
through his or her own relationship with God. Kierkegaard adds again, 
"The works of God are such that only God can perform them" We have no
basis of proving God's works, nor do we know what kind of works God 
uses on different individuals. Yet, some religious groups have made 
the mistake to try to enforce their own religion upon different 
individuals. Some religious groups claim that their religion is the 
only "true" religion, which is very untrue. This may be a reason why 
religion has been a major factor in previous wars and movements. The 
attempt to follow one truth, instead of freely allowing individuals 
and societies to follow their own truth, has led many people into 
frustration and hostility. All concepts are so dynamic that the truth 
that one believes may appear to be self-ironic. A person may believe 
that television promotes violence in kids, exposes the use of 
profanity, and stupidity. Another person my believe that television 
may be educational because the exposure of all these problems will 
form into understanding. Although both may be perfectly true to each 
other, the two issues are found to be to be contradictory. The
disagreement does not make the other statement false, but establishes 
another truth.

 If each of the blind men spend less time on proving his own 
account and spend more time understanding the different truths that
exist, they may discover that all perceptions of the elephant can be 
taken into consideration. The men may discover that the elephant is a 
great living pillar, a great snake, and like a sharp ploughshare at 
the same time, or at different times. The blind men may even come to 
the conclusion that the elephant may be neither of these. The opinions 
of the blind men may be constantly in motion because of the acceptance 
of the many viewpoints that currently exist and may exist in the 
future. Although the elephant may stay the same, opinions about it may 
change and adapt. 

Works Cited

Bowie, Lee G., Michaels, Meredith W., Solomon, Robert C. Twenty 
Questions "An Introduction to Philosophy. Harcourt Brace & Company, 
3rd ed. Kierkegaard 72- 75 

Handout. Traditional Parable


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