Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin
Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Aletheia was a Greek Goddess. The word is often translated into English as truth – and Aletheia’s Roman counterpart is called Veritas. However, as Heidegger and others say, truth is really insufficient as a translation. Truth is a noun in Latin, but in Greek aletheia is an activity.  This is not just an exercise in semantics. Heidegger understood the importance of language: it shapes our understanding of our world and constrains what we can say.

Etymologically aletheia means un-forgetting or un-concealing (a- lethe). In Greek mythology the river Lethe was one of the five rivers in Hades, and all those who drank from it forgot everything they knew.  In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger tells is that art opens up a clearing to disclose meaning – it helps us to un-forget. And further – art is not just a way that we can find out about ourselves and our world – it also creates meanings for us as a community. I might prefer to conceptualise this slightly differently and talk about art as opening up possibilities for different meanings, interpretations or understandings, but the idea is thought provoking.

Wittgenstein makes a similar point in his Tractatus (5.6) when he says that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” – if we can’t describe something in words then in a very real sense it does not exist for us (I am aware that Wittgenstein would have gone further with this thought at the time than I am doing now).  And further, in a later work:

“A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” Philosophical Investigations, 115

Art helps us to give us the concepts that we need to understand our world in new ways – it reminds us that there is more than one way of looking at things. Aletheia is stronger than just remembering, it is making a conscious effort to act in a certain way – it is an attitude towards the world. I think that this might well describe the demeanour of a bricoleur. Our ‘what if?’ and ‘yes, and?’ attitudes to life help us to open up the world to ourselves in new ways and discover new ways of being in the world.

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