April 4, 2009


Ideas are not true because they are old, though they may be old because they are true. The paradox is that how long a given idea has been around is of no use in proving its truth, and past staying-power is not cause for something to continue to stay.

Tradition is not self-certifying evidence of truth, but a testament to those who passed along what they believe to be true. All things being equal, we ought certainly defer to timeworn truths — but the moment a persuasive argument can be made for change, the fact that something remained unchanged prior to the new argument cannot be used in its defense. New evidence always takes us back to the question itself.

That new evidence may arise not from a new fact arising, but from a new way of seeing the question — whether a social construct or a novel philosophical paradigm. And in the long run, the truth itself — the dogma or theory — may remain relatively untouched, but be understood and expressed in new ways. The best and most vital doctrines — the deepest truths — are capable of such costume changes.

But just as antiquity is no proof of truth, neither is novelty. There are bad old ideas and new ones. Each and all must be tested with the best tools we have at hand.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG



Frair John said...

Well said.

Mike in Texas said...

Tobias, along those lines, I came across the following touching on the same concept.

It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, The Path of the Law, address dedicating new hall at Boston University School of Law (January 8, 1897)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Mike, for these words from an eminent American jurist. This also echoes some thoughts from the Judicious Hooker:

If the reason why things were instituted may be known, and being known do appear manifestly to be of perpetual necessity; then are those things also perpetual, unless they cease to be effectual unto that purpose for which they were at the first instituted. Because when a thing doth cease to be available unto the end which gave it being, the continuance of it must then of necessity appear superfluous. And of this we cannot be ignorant, how sometimes that hath done great good, which afterwards, when time hath changed the ancient course of things, doth grow to be either very hurtful, or not so greatly profitable and necessary. If therefor the end for which a law provideth be perpetually necessary, and the way whereby it provideth also most apt, no doubt that every such law ought for ever to remain unchangeable. (Laws, III.X.1)

Doug Worgul said...


Thank you (for this, and all your wonderful, poetic, and insightful writing).

Grace to you, and peace.

doug worgul


Can't wait to get the book!