OT: Parables (was: Re: Merlin (with spoilers) talent and not using it)

Philip.Belben at eme.co.uk Philip.Belben at eme.co.uk
Fri Jun 6 04:28:01 EDT 2003

Robyn replied to my comments on truth and fact:

>>I am not an historian or a philosopher, but it seems to me that the confusion
>>between truth and fact sprung up in the Church in the Middle Ages, when a
>>lot of classical Greek ideas were flooding in from the Arab world via Spain.
>>In the 21st century we should be able to see now that there are more (and
>>better) ways of communicating a truth than by relating facts; and that a truth
>>told by parable is no less valid than one told by facts.
> Speaking as a literary historian of the middle ages, I have to say this is
> kind of a backwards view. In the middle ages, producers of texts did not
> make the kinds of distinctions that we do now between fiction and
> non-fiction. They didn't have a confusion between truth and fact because

I don't seem to have been very clear here - I wasn't trying to disagree with
what you're saying about the ME at all!  I was trying to say much what you're
saying in this paragraph, except that I would have said "Until the Middle

I also wasn't thinking much in terms of "producers of texts", but more of the
interpretation of extant texts.

> there wasn't a distinction made between them as far as literature (and
> related areas) were concerned. So actually, people in the middle ages had
> what you have defined as a 20th century attitude - that it was quite
> possible to know that a story (like the legend of the barnacle goose, for
> example) wasn't literally true, but to understand that it still had meaning.

I was certainly not trying to present this as "a 20th century attitude" - in
fact I see exactly the opposite as the 20th century attitude.  I was saying that
now, in the 21st century, we _should_ be able to abandon the restricted notion
of truth that grew up in the Middle Ages (or just after?) and return to the more
sensible notion that was around before the renaissance(s).  There were some
philosophers who proposed this in the 20th century, but so far the Church has
been even more reluctant than the scientific world to abandon the restricted
notion of truth.

You're the mediaevalist - how do you see the 13th Century Church closing its
doors to Classical philosophy and insisting on the factual interpretation of the
Bible?  I see it as the first evidence of this truth/fact confusion that I was
talking about.  (And it wasn't even successful in keeping Aristotle out!  By the
14th century renaissance, wasn't Aristotle held almost in as high esteem as


PS Barnacle Goose??

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