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
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
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. 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.
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