One of the persisting problems of philosophy is how to bring together the idea of universal truth with the idea of personal truth. At their extremes, each idea tries to eliminate any room for the other.
At one extreme, the idea of universal truth excludes those who do not accept a particular doctrine. The intolerant, linear, controlling intellect operates in isolation from a broad scientific base and spiritual horizon.
At the other extreme, the idea of relativism asserts that, in effect, truth is just a matter of individual opinion; whatever I believe is true for me, and that’s the end of the matter. For one person to “presume” to criticize anyone else is “cramming their beliefs down someone’s throat.” No discipline, no higher standard, no adventure of inquiry distinguishes truth from opinion.
In theory, the problem is solved by acknowledging that we can indeed recognize truth, although what we can realize is limited to the length, breadth, and depth of our experience.
In practice, our greatest concepts unite personal and universal dimensions. Our greatest concepts, central to our lives, are the product of struggle, perhaps years of struggle. The struggle focuses on a problem that we experience as a person in our particular circumstances. Universal elements come into the picture since other people share our circumstances in some important respects. Some of our particulars are shared by all humanity; for example, our basic dignity, capacities, and needs are universally shared.
During the struggle we grow new virtues. Those virtues are ingredients in our concept. Socrates’ life of adhering to his highest concept of what is right was an ingredient in his concept of justice.
Do you have an example of a concept that you have birthed through struggle? Is there a concept that you can see emerging in your struggle with a problem? Can you identify virtues that you need to develop as you ascend the challenge that faces you?
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