A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.
|Truth Be Told|
April 29, 2008
“To say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.” Aristotle, Metaphysics.
In Aristotle’s early definition of truth he asks that a person do not a single thing, but two things. He says that if you are to be truthful you must say what is, and say what is not. It is an important distinction. Because according to Aristotle simply saying that a dog is a dog does not accomplish an entire truth. We must also say that a dog is not a cat, to be true in the eyes of Aristotle. Thus, in today’s complex world of people, matter, spirit and divine wisdom, we are required to speak in order to be true. And in that speech we must be prepared to say that which is, and that which is not. This is the classical definition of philosophy and it makes certain assumptions that other definitions might not. But as we are comfortable with the classics and are comfortable with the idea that nature takes priority over language, culture and historical perspective - we shall use Aristotle’s definition in this discussion.
What is extraordinary about Aristotle’s philosophy is that it requires what might be called today, pro-activism. It is simply not enough to speak of what is really happening in a situation or scenario. We must also be able to say openly what is not happening. For example we might say “The cop is beating the kid.” However to be whole truthful, according to Aristotle, we should also be able to say, “The kid has not hit the cop.” Or, “The kid does not have a gun.“ Together, in combination, we are given a total picture of an event or object or situation. In this Aristotelian world it is not enough to report a single fact - we must report the entire action. Only in our ability to describe what’s happening and what’s not happening, will we be truthful.
The idea to look into these thoughts arose after watching a worthy rendition of Sidney Lumet’s 1982 film “The Verdict.” The story speaks of a fallen lawyer and a case, seemingly handed to him by divine intervention, which challenges him to rise again. Paul Newman plays the alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin, asked to represent a woman who was thrust into a coma following a botched surgery. Opposite him is the owner of the hospital the Archdiocese of Boston, two famous doctors and the most powerful law firm in town. As if these obstacles were not enough, a bag-man Judge and treasonous girlfriend are stirred into the pot. Typical of Lumet, the film asks its protagonist to choose between the mammoth power of the Archdiocese or fighting against it for truth and justice.
The truth in “The Verdict” rests upon the testimony of an admitting nurse (Lindsay Crouse) who was forced by her superiors, the negligent doctors, to falsify a record. She was threatened, as are any who oppose the Archdiocese, with loss of career, livelihood, and happiness there from. After Frank’s star witness disappears, and the Judge refuses an extension, his case is all but destroyed. As each element of truth is corrupted or suppressed, the case becomes untenable. But somewhere in the resuscitating heart of Frank Galvin, he knows a greater truth exists and he asks for help finding it. When finally he locates the nurse and calls her to the witness stand, it looks as though the truth according to Aristotle has been met. But Lumet and screenwriter David Mamet do not let us off so easily. The opposing attorney (James Mason) skilled at deception, quashes the nurse’s testimony on a technicality. The Judge instructs the jury to disregard the damning testimony. It is then up to Frank and his summation to ask that the jury become the hand of justice. And he does so humbly. For though the jury is instructed to disregard the nurse’s testimony, they have heard it. They have heard what is. And Frank argues that the Archdiocese’s version of the story, is not.
Armed with the knowledge of what is and what is not, Frank asks the jury to look into their hearts where the truth is unencumbered by instructions of the Judge. There, in the heart and soul of each juror rests Frank’s salvation. He asks that they use their internal moral compass to determine who has been damaged in the case. He asks that they, an impartial body of peers, look beyond the technicalities and monolithic wall of the Archdiocese, and offer up justice to those little people who suffer at the hands of the powerful. And, to the satisfaction of the audience and perhaps even Aristotle himself, they do.
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