“It seems a completely baseless and idle undertaking to ask about the essence of truth, when the urgency of our Dasein assails us.” (Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” in: Being and Truth, 2010, p. 67) Vilém Flusser’s concept of truth largely bears the imprint of Martin Heidegger’s existential ontology. In the despair of Flusser’s early years of “no firm ground” (Bodenlosigkeit) in the diaspora in Brazil, reading Heidegger took on existential significance for him. In a 1951 letter to Alex Bloch, he outlines Heidegger’s concept of truth in Being and Time (German original 1927) as the way to “illuminate our situation, standing on the edge of a fall into nothingness” (Briefe an Alex Bloch, 2000, p. 83; translated from the German). He provides an operative definition: “The true is what is concordant and correct, meaning that the world is true when it is in tune with our mood, and correct when it lies in the direction of our Dasein.” (ibid., p. 79; translated from the German).
This definition of truth as something unconcealed by Dasein – the concordant mood – would appear in Flusser’s later work as well (see, for instance, Rötzer, Philosophen-Gespräche zur Kunst, 1991, p. 145). Astonishingly, he does not distinguish between Heidegger’s concept of truth before his “turn” (Kehre) and its much expanded form afterwards. Whereas, in Being and Time, truth was still realized solely within Dasein as a relation to the world – “Dasein is in the truth” (Heidegger, Being and Time, 1996, p. 203) – the unconcealed nature of truth in “On the Essence of Truth” (German original 1933–1934) is realized not only through Dasein, but also in a process of self-unconcealing (a letheia) that can also lie outside Dasein. Being “is set out […] into openness, unconcealment, truth” (Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” p. 92).
Declarative truth as language-world relationship lies at the center of correspondence theories of truth. The second pillar of Flusser’s concept of truth is Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophen- Gespräche zur Kunst, p. 145). In Wittgenstein’s “Blue Book”, dictated 1933–1934, the truth of a sentence is tested through analysis of its meaning in usage, in context. Flusser demonstrates Wittgensteinian language games in his allegory “Das Märchen von der Wahrheit” [The Fairy Tale of the Truth] (manuscript). In his 1963 book Língua e Realidade [Language and Reality], Flusser develops the language-world relationship in the work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein into an existential ordering of the world by means of language. In the essay “Realidade, Autenticidade, Verdade” [Reality, Authenticity, Truth] (manuscript), he presents the various existential implications of these terms in Portuguese, German, and Czech. In Portuguese, “truth” tends toward empiricism; in German, Flusser derives the term from wahren, truth as protection, and wehren, truth as struggle (see also Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” p. 92); and in Czech he describes it as a mixture of “authenticity” and “morality.”
Together with Heidegger and Wittgenstein, Flusser distances himself from the traditional concept of truth (Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant). By the 1980s, at the latest, truth has become “an unattainable borderline” (Does Writing Have a Future?, 2011, p. 82) for him: taking a post-modern stance and making reference to quantum mechanics, he replaces truth with probability (“Paradigmenwechsel,” in: Steffen, Nach der Postmoderne, 1995). The shift to probability is not surprising in view of Flusser’s “Brazilian” philosophy of science. In Bodenlos [No Firm Ground], he describes his approach via the philosophy of language as a stand against the positivistic truth of scientific sentences: science does not represent states of affairs, he says, but constructs models that are true within a system of scientific statements (Bodenlos, 1992, pp. 234–235); the influence of John Dewey, Gaston Bachelard, and Thomas Kuhn can be felt here. As early as 1957–1958, Flusser was declaring the “harmony” of scientific statements – and not the truth – to be the true goal of mathematics. We now understand, he writes, that “the truth is the geometric place of all lies” (The History of the Devil, 2014, p. 201).
Original article by Daniel Irrgang