As the 244th annual celebration of the founding of America recedes in time’s rear-view mirror and, going forward, as I still behold the sight of a polarized United (oh, the irony!) States, I find myself continuing to contemplate that oft-recited line of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In particular, I wonder: What is or what constitutes a self-evident truth?
(I hazard a guess, which is to confess the irony of delineating truth in terms of my personal opinion! Therefore, doubtless, there are other definitions than mine.)
A self-evident truth, from the point of view of epistemology (the nature of knowledge, thus, concerned with the method and manner by which we know what we know), is a statement or proposition of reality that can be grasped by human reason and needs no external verifying proof or demonstration. In a word, a self-evident truth is something anyone and everyone can know.
However, circling back to the Declaration of Independence, it seems or rather it is clear to me that the “self-evident” truths (1) “that all men are created equal” was…is dependent on how and by whom “men” is defined and (2) that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were…are dependent on the presence (and the belief in the presence) of a “Creator.”
Therefore, inductively, from this specific example writ large, self-evidence requires (1) the employ of power, that capacity to act, and authority, that accorded right to exercise power and (2) the existence and operation of a belief system.
Therefore, it seems to me, American history has proven, has demonstrated that a truth may be self-evident to all (or, at the least, desired by all), but only those in power, whether or not they believe in a Creator, can access and share the benefits derived from the operation of that truth.
Therefore, I can make a case that either there is no (nor can there be) a self-evident truth or that, based on individuals’ points of view, derived from their reasoned reflections on their experiences of life in the world, there are manifold self-evident truths.
Therefore, in these days of polarized unrest, I can make a case that, depending on one’s perspective, America is the land (meaning the whole of society, its national mores and systems, e.g., law and governance, politics and economics) of equality or inherently racist.
What is self-evident to me is that all Americans do not benefit from the “truths” of “equality” and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Therefore, as I have written at other times and in other places, America remains an experiment for all and not yet a universal experience of all.
As this is true for me, so I borrow the words of Langston Hughes:
…O, let America be America again –
The land that never has been yet –
And yet must be – the land where every (one) is free…
© 2020 PRA