The Search for Truth
In ?Oedipus the King,? Oedipus?s relentless search for the cause of the city?s plague leads to his inevitable misery. Unknowingly, Oedipus had slain his father, married his mother, and was the cause of the city?s misfortune. Mid way through his search, Oedipus is warned that his search will only lead to his misfortune, but he decides to continue. His wife then begs him to leave the origins of his family unknown. These opposing characters represent some serious real life philosophical questions. Oedipus represents the need for a truthful life at all costs, and Jocasta believes ?Ignorance is bliss.?
?Let me go home. It will be easiest for us not to bear our destinies to the end if you will follow my advice. You?d to us of this your gift of prophecy? You talk as one who had no care, care for law, love for Thebes who reared you.? (Sophocles, p. 23) ?I will not be persuaded to let be the chance of finding, out the whole thing clearly.? (Sophocles, p.53) These two quotes basically sum up Oedipus. Although Tiresias advises Oedipus to just go home, Oedipus cannot accept this. He cares for his city and cannot live without the truth.
?With such clues I could not fail to bring my birth to light.
?I beg of you – do not hunt this out. If you have any care for your own life, what I?m suffering is enough.? (p.53) We can see from this quote just how different Jocasta is. She knows where this will lead Oedipus, and begs him to end his search to avoid the misery.
In order to really understand the severity of the real life conflicts they represent their characters must be understood. Oedipus is a very popular and noble man. He had saved the city from the Sphinx and was considered a hero to Thebes. His primary values are to serve his city and live a noble life. Part of living a noble life, he must live a truthful life. It is evident that he cares more for the city than of himself. Jocasta, on the other hand, cares more for Oedipus than for the city. She loves him, and would rather he live a lie than save the city. She is concerned more with happiness than truth.
This poses a very serious philosophical question; is it better to live a happy life or a truthful life? This happy life does not necessarily imply dishonesty, rather in this case Oedipus didn?t have to go such great lengths to discover the truth. He would have done nothing ?wrong? if he would have given up after Tiresias advised him to end his search. After all, Tiresias was a wise prophet. Or is it better to go such a great length to find a truth that will ruin your life?
To answer that question we must answer two other questions that precede it. What is the value of truth, and secondly what is more important the society or the individual? The second question may seem ridiculous, but its not. Every human has his own feelings, goals, and dreams that will make him happy. Is it so ridiculous to assume that people are selfish. Ideally speaking I think most would say that they would sacrifice for a society their personal life. But I don?t know how many would live a life of absolute misery for people who are not closer to him than he is to himself. Back to the first question, how is living a miserable truthful life better than ignorant bliss? Let?s say the city was not a factor, is it really worth misery to find out one?s origin? To take that question one step further; what?s the importance of obtaining knowledge that will take away from one?s happiness. After all, what is better than being happy. If you ask someone if they had any wish what would it be , you may get many different answers, but all these different wishes are perceived by the individual to add their happiness. Since ignorance is looked down upon in our society, it is hard for one even to ponder this question, but without that open mind you can only reach a superficial answer to these questions.
I will begin with the question of the individual and society. If someone believes that there is nothing else to life than personal happiness than Jocasta is right. Forget the city, Oedipus should have ended his search. But if there is something else to life-namely, an after life, than Oedipus is right. If this life is only something that leads you to something better, than happiness here is insignificant. It doesn?t even have to be a religious thing. It can be a belief that every one should live a moral life. Jocasta?s represents a very narrow scope on life.
In regards to the question of truth, we must weigh the meaning in our lives. If it is only to live in happiness, than how shallow are our lives. Only through the search for truth and knowledge and living with values can our life have any meaning. It may be that even then, with a moral and truthful life, it may be meaningless. If you look at how minuscule our lives are compared to the world and history, you can begin to understand, how anything we do may have no meaning. Yes, its depressing, but our only hope is through knowledge, truth, and values that we have any meaning. Even if these morals or quests for knowledge lead to unhappiness, you must believe it leads you to more meaning.
In conclusion, what these answers seem to all have in common is depressing. We cannot prove that our lives have any real meaning comparable to this huge world, we cannot prove that truth is better than happiness, or that we should care more for our society than ourselves. We can bring proofs as to why it is beneficial, but on a philosophical level, on a level of absolute ?truth? we cannot prove why this is right, but we must believe in these things because the alternative is physically and mentally destructive. If we don?t believe that Oedipus is right for sacrificing his happiness for Thebes, there would be absolute chaos. If there were no morals, we would just be a bunch of barbarians. If we didn?t believe that knowledge and truth added meaning to our lives than we would have no meaning, or hope. We can sympathize, but not justify Jocasta?s view because it would be detrimental to our world. Even though there is no absolute answer, it is not only logical, and beneficial to believe that Oedipus did the right thing.