Honors Program Council, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society
Roman mythology locates Veritas (Truth), the daughter of Chronos (Time), at the bottom of a dark, deep well, usually clothed in a virginal white gown but now and then wearing nothing at all. In other words, Truth is seldom naked, usually out of reach, and always the daughter of time.
In one of Aesop’s Fables, a man journeying through the wilderness encounters the goddess of truth and questions why she lives so far from the cities. She replies, “Among the people of old, lies were found among only a few, but now they have spread throughout all of human society!” Do “the city” and “modernity” send the truth into exile, so much so that the traveler encounters truth only by accident?
In a world of “alternative facts,” Orwell’s 1984, and ever-changing revisionist stories, how do these ancient tales confirm or confront understandings of present-day expressions of “truth”? What compelling stories are we
telling? What do they owe to the past, and how will they leave something of value upon which future generations could build?
History is replete with expressions of truth we have inherited. In 213 B.C.E., Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered fenshu kengru, the burning of the Confucian scholars’ books, in order to legitimize his mandate to obliterate the works of people with whom he did not agree. That behavior sealed his legacy of destruction. Qin was also said to have scholars buried alive, though new evidence suggests that charge may be apocryphal. Copernicus discovered the truth about the solar system but feared publishing it during his lifetime. In 1521, the Diet of Worms convened to determine the fate of Martin Luther. Luther warned that it was unsafe to go against one’s conscience. His truth led to his condemnation as an outlaw. Thomas Jefferson based his ideas about self-evident truths, such as the right to pursue happiness, from John Locke’s trilogy of rights: life, liberty, and property. Abigail Adams pressed her husband as he and fellow Congressmen considered the extension of rights in the United States to be more generous than their ancestors had been to women.
At great personal risk, Harriet Ann Jacobs left us her memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. How have authors such as Maryse Condé, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison been enriched by Jacobs’ legacy? How have they taken that inheritance and left a legacy for generations of writers who will follow them?
Not all truths have been expressed in written form. Protestors in Tiananmen Square and the photographers who captured their non-violent acts inspired the world. Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” supported
the contemporary truth that innovation and progress can help humans achieve seemingly impossible tasks.
The activist Banksy expresses his truth through his distinctive art meant to “snatch away” power from well-equipped enemies. Banksy’s work has satirized oppression in Palestine, hypocrisy in politics, and capitalistic greed in England. The late Tupac Shakur expressed his truth through song, and his work continues to outsell other artists in his music genre.
In what ways do constructed “divides” such as rural, urban, past-present, female-male, gay-straight affect our loyalties and influence our perceptions of others’ expressions of truth? How much—and what—do we
owe to those who have gone before us? What do we owe to the future? How best can we impart lasting legacies through our own expressions of truth?
Adichie, C. N. (2009, Oct.). The danger of a single story [Video file]. Retrieved from
Adichie defined a “single story” as a single data point of information that distorts understanding of cultures, people, or history. She called for people to embrace multiple perspectives so as to avoid being trapped in cognitive distortions.
Originally a series of talks, Austin’s seminal work developed what is now known as speech act theory.
Ayunerak, P., Alstrom, D., Moses, C., James, Sr., C., & Rasmus, S. M. (2014). Yup’ik culture and context in southwest Alaska: Community member perspectives of tradition, social change, and prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 54(1-2), 91-99. Retrieved from
The authors presented an ethnographic account of Alaskan Yup’ik communities, illustrating how people in indigenous communities have reacted to the transformation of their language ecology in the tide of global language endangerment.
Baldwin, J. (Ed.). (2018). Navigating post truth and alternative facts: Religion and science as political theology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Baldwin edited a series of essays by scholars whose work investigated how science, religion, and political theory intersect and influence each other.
The Pentagon Papers, a report issued by David Ellsberg in 1971 on the role of the U.S. government in the Vietnam War, proved that the U.S. government lied to the public about the nature and scope of the Vietnam conflict. The authors placed the deception within the tradition of political environments. The Papers are now
declassified and available to the public.
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