In German playwright Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo (in later versions, simply Galileo), astronomer and professor of mathematics and physics Galileo Galilei believes that truth is a release from ignorance, a gift to mankind, and, once proven, an absolute—at least at any given moment—because Galileo also believes that truth is finite.
GALILEO: Truth is the child of time, not of authority. Our ignorance is infinite... (Scene 4)
The truth of any moment exists only until another truth is discovered which confirms, supplants, or denies the preexisting truth.
Galileo also believes that the pursuit of truth is, and should be, an end in itself.
GALILEO. I submit that as scientists we have no business asking what the truth may lead to. (Scene 4)
For Sagredo (mathematician Giovanni Francesco Sagredo), Galileo's close friend and confidante, truth is inherently dangerous and a burden. Galileo and Sagredo confirm the Copernican theory of the solar system, and Galileo is eager to share their discovery with the world. Sagredo warns Galileo that their discovery is dangerous because some people will misunderstand and misrepresent their discoveries and others will oppose them, because even if the discoveries are true, the truth will compromise their own interests which they will fight to maintain by whatever means necessary.
SAGREDO. Galileo, you're on a dangerous path. It's bad luck when a man sees the truth. ... Who do we say walks with open eyes? The man who's headed for perdition. How can the mighty leave a man at large who knows the truth, even if it's only about the remotest stars? (Scene 3)
One aspect of truth in which Galileo believes proves to be a considerable burden to him later in the play.
GALILEO Let me tell you this: Not to know the truth is just; stupid. To know the truth and call it a lie is criminal! (Scene 9)
Even though the Collegium Romanum, the research institute of the Vatican, confirms Galileo's discoveries about the solar system, the Inquisition imposes a ban on the Copernican theory. Galileo is declared a destroyer of Catholicism, and he's called before the Inquisition to answer for his theories and discoveries and for the promulgation of his proof of the Copernican theory.
In the Inquisition, Galileo is confronted with men—many highly educated, and some of whom privately accept and applaud Galileo's discoveries—for whom truth is conditional, negotiable, malleable, and essentially a commodity.
THE POPE But these star charts are based on his [Galileo's] heretical statements, on the movements of certain heavenly bodies which become impossible if his doctrine is rejected. You can't reject the doctrine and accept the star charts.
THE INQUISITOR Why not? It's the only solution. (Scene 12)
The Pope refuses to speak with Galileo personally, and he leaves it to the Inquisitors to deal with the matter. Once shown the instruments of torture—which Galileo thought might have been only a bluff, but he couldn't take the chance that it wasn't—Galileo capitulated. He recanted his theories and his discoveries regarding the Copernican theory of the solar system.
By recanting what he knew to be the truth, Galileo himself becomes the criminal he previously condemned for knowing the truth and calling it a lie.