Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek

 M - Myth


Myth: Fable, fantasy, fiction, story or theory that is taken to explain something, if only metaphorically, but in fact involves assumptions of things that do not exist.

It is important to note at least three things about myths:

1. One man's myth is another man's truth and yet another man's superstition or madness. Put otherwise: There have been many myths, in religion, politics, superstitions, popular thinking, literature and what the media produce, while the value of a myth differs between those who believe in it and those who don't, and also between those who recognize it as a myth but support it as a useful fiction, and those who oppose it.

Two examples of myths of great human importance are the myths of nations and the myths of racism.

2. Most men, very probably all men, however rational and careful, believe some myths, simply because social education, religious education and the ideologies of groups and societies are fundamentally oriented around myths to the effect that the society, the religion, the political party or ideal, or the leaders or originators of these groups, are good, important, superior, or else that the opponents of these groups are bad, evil, inferior or otherwise undesirable. 

It should be noted that around every prominent public personality there soon is evolved at least a kind of mythology, of stories that are widely diffused, and even if partially true also partially false because they are told for emotional effect, and manufactured to be striking or to support the interests or claims of a particular group, religion or ideology.

Thus, there are myths of religious founders, like Jezus and Mohammed; of political leaders or originators, like Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin; myths of nations, generally to the effect that Our Nation and Our People are in diverse ways obviously Better than any other Nation or People; myths of races, generally to the effect that human beings of other races are inferior, morally and intellectually, not to be trusted, and less capable of feeling pain (and so more easily destroyed); and also myths of gender, to the effect that Males (Females) are clearly superior to Females (Males), or intrinsically incapable of real mutual understanding.

3. The attraction of myths is that they are manufactured for emotional effect, and not for factual truth, but usually told as if they are true or self-evident, and something "everybody knows". The danger of myths is that many millions of men have believed in them and have either murdered or been murdered because of them.


See: Evidence, Ideology, Religion, Science, Wishful thinking


 Original: Dec 17, 2004                                                Last edited: 12 September 2005.   Top