An elephant was brought to a group of blind
men who had never encountered such an animal before.

One felt a leg and reported that an elephant is a great living
pillar. Another felt the trunk and reported that an elephant
is a great snake. Another felt a tusk and reported that an
elephant is like a sharp ploughshare. And so on. And then
they all quarreled together, each claiming that his own
account was the truth and therefore all the others false
(traditional parable). None of the accounts that the blind
men made about the nature of the elephant are absolute
truths, nor are the accounts false. An absolute truth, or one
that is true for all, can not be achieved because of the
constant motion of circumstances of who said it, to whom,
when, where, why, and how it was said. Instead of
absolute truths, the concepts or beliefs that the blind men
claim are viewpoints that each one clarifies the nature of the
elephant. Everybody has learned to see things from his or
her own sense of reason and logic. The many things that
people experience throughout their lifetimes, help to
determine the judgments toward the different issues and
objects that they encounter. Because individuals has his or
her own sense of reason and logic, the perceptions that
people encounter are ultimately true, and not false. Life
does not contain one truth for any idea or object, but truths
can be found in ones perception. It is difficult to determine
that anything is the absolute truth. One should not prove
that any object contains a true meaning, but should develop
conceptions surrounding the object. Attempting to prove
anything then would be difficult, if not impossible. Our
senses from smell to values to reality may differ from
person to person. What may be true to one person may be
different for another. Because everybody has different
perceptions about life, it is difficult to weigh the content of
any concept. Every account, of its own, is formed to be the
truth of the one individual who assumes it. The variety of
concepts may have the virtue of being considered. This is
how people develop a deeper sense of understanding for
all objects. Truth is achieved through the concept and not
the object itself. Because many individuals hold different
perceptions, they have many truths to consider, or not to
consider. For example, it would be impossible to
determine, whether or not, the cutting of trees is either
“good” or “bad.” One might have the conception that
cutting trees destroys homes for birds and other animals.

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Another person might have the conception that cutting trees
is necessary to satisfy the need to provide homes for
humans. Whatever concept is understood from the object,
may be the truth. Just because there may be other
viewpoints to this situation, does not mean that there has to
be false statements. The tree can be used for many uses
from medicine to paper to boats and none of these views
would be wrong. The tree remains to be a tree, but the
values of the tree can differentiate, depending on who is
using it. The conception of God, or the non-conception of
God, is another issue that many people make the mistake
of trying to prove. A well recognized philosopher, Soren
Kierkegaard states, “For if God does not exist it would of
course be impossible to prove it; and if he or she does
exist it would be folly to attempt it.” Demonstrating the
existence or non- existence of God only produces reasons
for belief, not the actual proof that God exists. Kierkegaard
also claims, “…between God and his works there exists an
absolute relationship: God is not a name but a concept”(
Kierkegaard 72). The relationship between man and God
is a concept. A person with belief in God, cannot prove its
existence through his or her own relationship with God.

Kierkegaard adds again, “The works of God are such that
only God can perform them” We have no basis of proving
Gods works, nor do we know what kind of works God
uses on different individuals. Yet, some religious groups
have made the mistake to try to enforce their own religion
upon different individuals. Some religious groups claim that
their religion is the only “true” religion, which is very untrue.

This may be a reason why religion has been a major factor
in previous wars and movements. The attempt to follow
one truth, instead of freely allowing individuals and societies
to follow their own truth, has led many people into
frustration and hostility. All concepts are so dynamic that
the truth that one believes may appear to be self-ironic. A
person may believe that television promotes violence in
kids, exposes the use of profanity, and stupidity. Another
person my believe that television may be educational
because the exposure of all these problems will form into
understanding. Although both may be perfectly true to each
other, the two issues are found to be to be contradictory.

The disagreement does not make the other statement false,
but establishes another truth. If each of the blind men spend
less time on proving his own account and spend more time
understanding the different truths that exist, they may
discover that all perceptions of the elephant can be taken
into consideration. The men may discover that the elephant
is a great living pillar, a great snake, and like a sharp
ploughshare at the same time, or at different times. The
blind men may even come to the conclusion that the
elephant may be neither of these. The opinions of the blind
men may be constantly in motion because of the
acceptance of the many viewpoints that currently exist and
may exist in the future. Although the elephant may stay the
same, opinions about it may change and adapt. Works
Cited Bowie, Lee G., Michaels, Meredith W., Solomon,
Robert C. Twenty Questions “An Introduction to
Philosophy. Harcourt Brace & Company, 3rd ed.

Kierkegaard 72- 75 Handout. Traditional Parable
Category: Philosophy


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