Philosophy, Top Stories

On the Value of Truth

Many claim that we live in a “post-truth” era. Trust in major civic and political institutions is rapidly declining. People on all sides of the political spectrum dismiss the media as biased at best and little more than “fake news” at worst. The postmodern President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world, and according to Politifact makes statements that range from “half true” to outright lies 83 per cent of the time. In an earlier article for Canada’s The Hill Times, I invoked the philosopher Harry Frankfurt and summarized these developments as a rising “Age of Bullshit.” Concurrently, our post-truth era has been marked with lamentations across the ideological spectrum by those who provide a variety of explanations for our climate of untruth. Many progressives and liberals pin the blame on manipulative conservative politicians such as Trump and Boris Johnson, interference by foreign governments and cyber-attacks, and politically biased media. Many conservatives, meanwhile, pin the blame on progressive activists, the rise of PC culture and oversensitivity, and…politically biased media. I have already offered my own opinions on the roots of the “Age of Bullshit,” characterizing it as a natural development of postmodern culture, so I will not repeat my position here.

In this short article, I want to analyze a somewhat different question: Why do we value the truth at all? This was a major theme in Bernard Williams’ seminal 2004 book Truth and Truthfullness: An Essay in Genealogy. Inspired by the work of Nietzsche, especially his essay “On Truth and Falsity in a Nonmoral Sense” and On the Genealogy of Morality, Williams asks a different set of questions to those normally seen in standard philosophy. Most philosophers ask questions like “What is truth?” or “How can we discover truth?” These are obviously important questions and no right-minded person would be indifferent to them. But what Williams (following Nietzsche) is interested in is the “virtue” of truth; what roles does truth play in our lives, and is it valuable? How much truth are people really capable of handling? Are there circumstances where untruth might actually be valuable or even expected? These are peculiar questions, but asking them can help us get a better grip on why truth is virtuous, and why our post-truth era suffers from so many defects.

The Value of Truth

Truth has long been highly valued in Western thinking; indeed, at various points it has been considered the paramount value of human thinking and life generally. Plato famously characterized truth as something eternally beautiful for which the human soul most yearns. This characterization was influential in guiding the Christian conception of God, who was often conceived as an eternal figure who linked truth, beauty, and goodness into a complete whole.  Immanuel Kant argued that telling the truth was a categorical moral duty which could not be contravened, even when doing so might lead to better consequences for individuals overall. And Einstein echoed Plato’s arguments when he quipped that “Politics is for the moment, an equation is forever”; rejecting the subjective to-and-fro of the political sphere for the eternal truth of physics and mathematics.

The reason truth was valued so highly by these figures is that they related it to some prized conception of rationality, whether that rationality were applied to our understanding of the world, or to one’s moral obligations. Truth was considered valuable because it enables us to see the world as it is without prejudice or bias, and moreover (according to some, most importantly) it enables us to act according to true moral dictums. Of course, what the world truly “is” and what constitutes true moral dictums has always been the subject of furious debate and controversy. Plato’s conception of truth and goodness is obviously very different than Kant’s, and in turn the thinking of both men seemed highly abstract and unempirical to someone like Karl Popper. But whatever conception they adopted, all these figures agreed that truth was important because it gave us a better sense of reality and our duties within it. Looking at the matter more personally, many also valued truth because it seems to have an integral relationship to selfhood and authenticity. An individual who is truthful, both with others and with one’s self, is someone who presents who they truly are without distortion or with the aim of manipulating others. Expressing the truth to others and to oneself enabled individuals to become persons characterized by integrity; someone like Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Alongside these high evaluations of truth have come many damning accounts of why so many people are unwilling to be truthful. If truth is so valuable, as the aforementioned authors suggest, why are so many people untruthful? Early figures tended to give highly personalized answers. Plato followed Socrates in condemning many people for mindlessly adhering to doxa (loosely translated as public opinion); they accepted the opinions of the many because that was easier, without bothering to look too deeply into their truth or falsity. Kant agreed, arguing that many people are far too willing to let themselves be influenced by heteronomy—outside influence—because it is more difficult to use reason and think for themselves. In the post-Romantic era, we are more prone to giving more social explanations for the persistence of untruth. Many on the political Left claim a system of ideology, or hegemonic discourses etc, manipulate people into adopting positions and opinions which are both untrue and not consistent with their actual self-interest. On the political Right, pundits complain about citizens being “indoctrinated” by leftist academics and activists, who use shame to constrain and silence their opponents, often putting “feelings” before “facts.” Most dramatically, Hannah Arendt wrote vividly about the emergence of totalitarian societies so fundamentally dedicated to propagandizing untruth that their leaders “never [compare] the lies with reality.” Each of these positions laments that many people are unwilling or unable to access the truth, whether due to personal vice and laziness or some form of social manipulation. The implication is that a better society than ours would be one in which far more people were willing to be truthful.

This extraordinary value placed on truth—whether because it is good to be rational, or important to be authentic—pervades the Western tradition and has certainly trickled down to our everyday discourses. For instance, truth denying and/or dishonest people pervade our literature and pop culture. Perhaps the archetypal villains of Western literature are Shakespeare’s Iago and Milton’s Satan; both master manipulators happy to spin lies and dishonesty to achieve their nefarious ends. The influence of these archetypal characters is seen in figures like Littlefinger and Cersei from Game of Thrones, or Emperor Palpatine in George Lucas’s Star Wars saga. More realistically, there are a surfeit of lying politicians portrayed in fiction; from Macbeth to Voldemort and Frank Underwood. These figures reflect our vivid awareness that our leaders often are less than candid with us. Then there are other figures who also deny truth, but not just to others, but to themselves. Literature and pop culture are filled with portrayals of ideologues, fanatics, and the delusional; all individuals who consciously or unconsciously ignore the truth about the world or themselves in pursuit of their goals. These range from mundane but tragic figures like Leo Tolstoy’s pitiful Ivan Illyich, continuously trying to deny the truth of his own mortality, to monsters like Heath Ledger’s Joker, unwilling to admit or recognize the truth of his own origins. These figures vary in how they distort the truth. But their notoriety as pitiful or villainous characters demonstrates the tremendous cultural value we continue to place on truth; an inheritance from a long tradition. This perhaps explains the furor now emerging about our transition to a post-truth era.

The Deficiencies of Truth

I suspect that the discussion of truth’s value given above will be familiar to many. Indeed, as I mentioned, the value of truth is so often taken as self-evident that we are unlikely to question it.  Less often discussed are the many ways in which the persistence of untruth has often been accepted and even praised by many figures. This belies a deeper problem gestured to above: if we do actually value truth so much, why is the world so full of untruth? Why do we lie to others so often? Why do we search for arguments and facts that confirm our biases? Why are we so capable of lying to ourselves?

Ironically, Plato was amongst the first to accept the necessity of telling untruths. In the Republic, the same work in which he writes with breathtaking beauty about the eternal value of truth, Plato argues that the Philosopher Kings of a city may often have to tell “noble lies” to the citizenry to keep them in line. Later, Machiavelli would claim that good rulers must know how to lie effectively if they are to maintain a stable political order. Joseph De Maistre, one of the founders of modern conservatism, argued that the citizenry must never be allowed to look too deeply into the truth of what legitimates a given political order. If they did, citizens might well decide the political order was illegitimate and resolve to overthrow it, bringing about violence and destruction.

The authors above make the interesting observation that in some respect the stability of a general political order depends on telling untruths. But one can also think of more local contexts in which the stability of inter-personal relations, even of a very intimate kind, depends on a degree of dishonesty or at least withholding the full truth. Virtually everyone can think of a situation where being fully honest with a loved one, or an employer, or a child, would generate disastrous results. Indeed, such a world would be so extremely foreign to us it has been presented as a fantasy in films like Liar Liar and The Invention of Lying. More tragically, literary works like Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot present dark parables of what happens to fully honest people in a dishonest world such as our own.

Finally, Nietzsche famously observed that the value of truth and rationality has far too often been overestimated. Nietzsche claimed that many people will never be able to get far beyond the false or banal opinions of the “herd” because they are either intellectually or psychologically incapable of facing the truth of reality as it is. There is little of interest to be said about the first kind of person, who is simply intellectually incapable of understanding the truth of the world. More interesting is Nietzsche’s observation that even the intelligent, who are capable of the thinking necessary to see the world as it is, will nonetheless find ways to delude themselves. As an atheist, Nietzsche often pointed to religious belief as a paramount example. Take Kant, for instance, who, as I mentioned earlier, preached about our moral obligation to tell the truth. Nietzsche condemns Kant for developing very powerful arguments against the existence of God, but then insisting that one must believe regardless because it is necessary to stabilize our moral beliefs. Or contrast the liberal argument that we all possess an innate dignity and worth with the scientific observation that we are just complex forms of matter in motion. These two positions seem mutually exclusive, yet many hold to both concurrently. For Nietzsche, this willingness to accept untruths about reality to preserve our moral beliefs (especially when they flattered our sense of self-importance), is a paradigmatic instance of being unwilling to face the truth that we exist within a meaningless world.

Nietzsche goes on to observe that this tells us a great deal about the human relationship to truth. Very few of us can actually deal with too much truth, so we rarely enquire too deeply into the justifications for our beliefs. And in some respects this may be socially useful. An intelligent and truly honest person would feel compelled to have true justifications for all of their myriad beliefs, and would soon find themselves staring into an abyss of questions which would never end. Take the example of trying to justify why we prefer to live rather than to not exist. Many of our moral dictums are predicated on a belief that life is preferable to death. But if asked to justify this position, many of us would likely struggle to give some uncontroversial answer as to why life has any value in and of itself. We would probably end up appealing to cultural norms, pointing to evolutionary drives built into our genetic makeup, or simply expressing a subjective preference for being alive over not existing. These are likely enough for practical human purposes, but they are hardly a “true” answer to why life has any value in and of itself.

Conclusion

I think that Nietzsche was right in his appraisal of the human capacity to face the truth of reality as it is. On an everyday basis, many of our beliefs rest on suppositions, tradition, and the fulfillment of our emotional needs. This is true even of figures who pride themselves on their rationality and willingness to face the world as it is, warts and all. Consider a scientist who is asked an unusual question. They are not asked whether or not science gives us access to the truth of reality. Instead, they are asked to given an account of the value of science. Why should we prefer true scientific explanations of reality over untrue, but potentially more gratifying narratives? Indeed, the history of scientific progress is beset by such problems. Earlier mythological conceptions of the world placed human beings at the center of the universe as God’s favored creation. With the Copernican revolution we lost of our place at the center of the cosmos. With the advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory, we were forced to recognize that we were but one more species in a long chain going back countless generations. Both of these scientific realizations stripped human beings of our narcissistic conceit about being the axis of creation, but few would say this was a pleasant acknowledgement.

So why should we value the scientific narrative with its indignities over the mythological one? This is a more complex question that it might appear. Once one moves past all the contingent explanations about the use of scientific discoveries for the satisfaction of subjective human desires, one typically sees appeals to the intrinsic value of scientific discovery and the beauty of a true conception of the world. In some respects these are powerful answers, and I largely find them convincing. But there is no doubt that appeals to the satisfaction of human desires or feelings about the intrinsic beauty of scientific truth can be further challenged. Why is it important for human desires to be satisfied? Why should we regard the sense of satisfaction we have at arriving at a true conception of the world as of any fundamental importance? What if it turned out that the meaning of everything turned out to be nothing of great interest at all?

I ask these questions not to attack the value of truth, any more than that was Nietzsche’s intention. To my mind the value of truth is exceptional. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, I am concerned our society is entering an “Age of Bullshit” where we value our biases and prejudices over rational and honest discourse aimed at arriving at truth. My hope was that this article would provoke reflection not just on whether we value the truth, but why and in what contexts.

 

Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at garion9@yorku.ca or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf

65 Comments

  1. Sttannik says

    I think it’s “to give an account “, not “to given an account”.

  2. Fickle Pickle says

    The mind is a beginningless and endless program of opposites. Therefore, the use of the mind, no matter how finely honed, never, in and of itself, results in the discovery or the expression of Truth.
    The never-ending play of the pattern of opposites is simply a play upon a culturally determined and thus pre-patterned fixed point of view. Therefore, no Truth ever comes as a result of any engagement in, or any study, quantification, or analysis of that pattern. To involve yourself in the pattern of opposites is to commit yourself to endless struggle and purposeless drama (full of sound and fury and signifying nothing but the strutting self-importance of the various benighted players).

    In the common world, especially now in the age of the internet, conflict or the confrontation of opposites is enshrined as a cultural necessity and as the chief means of stimulating oneself to remain interested in “life” or the deadly pseudo drama of politics, and the “news” which is almost always bad.

    Such conflict is made to seem irreducible, or a quality of life that is inherently the case. With the devastating, though almost entirely unrecognized consequence that Truth, or the right, true, and final resolution of any and all conflict is, in effect, held to be impossible to find. This is so because because everyone’s point of view is held to be of the ultimate “value” – and points of view are always and perpetually in opposition to each other..

    The “culture” of this dark epoch is all a play upon the most limited possible point of view: identification with the gross physical body only, and, therefore, identification with a fear-saturated natural process that inevitably leads to death. The entire human world is now bound to this “philosophy” of utter
    darkness.

    Right human life is not a matter of any kind of dialogue, or really competition, between different points of view. Right human life is a matter of transcending point of view, contradiction, and conflict. Without such right understanding, humankind is merely participating in a tragic ERROR – an error that always results in perpetual conflict and death

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @Fickle Pickle

      “never, in and of itself, results in the discovery or the expression of Truth”

      2+2=4

      • Fickle Pickle says

        Things can be factually true – otherwise we could not function in the social sense.

        Unfortunately our culture reduces everything only to the practical level, the only purpose of which is to keep the entire charade going via an unconscious process of self-replication.

        All the replicated cloned or little boxes of ticky-tacky, all the same. Even the so called rebels with their unconscious pre-patterned role/function in the hive
        Not all that much different to a beehive or ant colony.
        Welcome to the human hive mind.
        Who or what really decides our individual and collective behavior?
        Is there any real difference between the presumed individual and the collective?

        And of course the unconscious replication process of both the human hive-mind and the World-Process is completely indifferent to the well-being and survival of any of the billions of human clones.

        And the beat goes on as drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain.

        But Truth as a profundity that can be Incarnated or Realized is of an entirely different order.
        It is intrinsically beyond and prior to any thinking process.

        • Andrew Roddy says

          Good stuff, Fickle Pickle. I like the cut of your philosophical jib. It occurs to me that these could be the views of an empathetic and compassionate person or a sociopathic narcissist. I prefer to hope you are more the former.

  3. Dan Love says

    One reason we value truth is because we value doing things. Doing anything implicitly involves truth. In order to do something, I must act in accord with something being true.

    When I eat, I act in accord with it being possible for me to eat being true. When I take a crap, I act in accord with the truth that the toilet bowl will catch my ass when I squat. When my wife’s annoying me and I hide in the car to play iPhone games, I act accord with the proposition that my car won’t blow up when I do so is true.

    I can’t look at porn without it being true that there’s a possibility I can look at porn. If (when) my eyes wander, they give a nice wink to truth along the way.

    If I appreciate Asa Akira’s fine ass, then I appreciate the truth that it is smooth and round. I can value things without knowing I value them.

    Second, duality. Any lie presupposes truth anyway, for if there was nothing that were true, there would be nothing that is false. If truth meant nothing, falsity would mean nothing – they gain meaning through contrast. Every time we tell a lie we pay homage to truth. Falsity gives fellatio to truth, and by duality, the reverse too. Duality is a gay sex 69 – just look at the Yin Yang.

    Third, it’s unavoidable. Is it possible for a human being to exist and not believe a single thing is true? No, it isn’t. And If you’re a postmodernist, blow me. You can’t take anything seriously, so I won’t take you seriously. Anything unavoidable is efficacious and anything efficacious has value.

    There’s three reasons I just came up with in 10 minutes. I have written pages containing dozens of other reasons.

    You’re welcome. Cite me when you’re getting your Nobel Prize in Philosophy after the Nobel Prize committee invents it after being so impressed by the arguments you stole from me.

    • Dan Love

      You’re onto something – and not just porn. No one actually exists by skepticism, everyone lives, as you articulate, by faith, all day everyday. So,why do we feel the need to even have this debate? (that’s not a rhetorical question)

      • Because of epistemic circularity.

        X is justified by Y, but what justifies Y? Well Z justifies Y, but what justifies Z?

        Explanations have an end. So you can either take some kind of common sense, “it just is” pragmatism, or you can take the radical skeptic position, or you can come up with some Uber-Z critical theoretical justification of everything in the spirit of German Idealism (but what justifies Uber-Z).

        And which is correct here? Each path regards itself as correct, and any path we might take must start in some variation of the three basic approaches.

        • Dan Love says

          @KD

          No, the radical skeptic position, by its own assertion, does not regard itself as correct. It doesn’t regard anything as correct (via the word “radical). That’s what makes it a joke, as well as impossible to believe.

        • Dan Love says

          The point is, even if you don’t want to take something as true, you literally have to in order to live. Even taking a crap becomes impossible (much less enjoyable).

          At best, anyone who believes in radical skepticism is dead. What actually seems to be the case is that it’s not possible to believe in radical skepticism even in theory because it is internally inconsistent.

          Otherwise, if you’re pointing out reasoning presupposes a proposition, then you’re simply pointing out reasoning is reasoning.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            It seems to be perfectly possible to proceed happily and effectively without belief in the absolute truth of absolutely anything. And further, to become more fully convinced that (absolutely) nothing is as it seems nor was it ever.

  4. ga gamba says

    Why does truth matter? Let’s be practical about it. Have you ever taken medicine, driven over a bridge, or flown in an aeroplane? I’d like to think the restaurant isn’t serving me spoilt food and its employee hand washing policy is adhered to. Yes, it’s likely a bit of urine in the mashed potatoes won’t harm my health, but what if the employee passes on E. coli too?

    Blatant lies that are easily revealed are one thing. Is it 300 hundred hamburgers or 1000? What concerns me is how truth is subverted by changing definitions, measures, etc. to convert untruth into truth. Want to reduce unemployment? Change the measure to increase those deemed no longer looking for work. Want to change inflation? Adjust the goods in the basket used to measure it to replace those undergoing significant price hikes with those whose prices are stable. During the Obama administration the definition of combatant was to changed to include all military-aged males in proximity to an area struck by a US-fired munition. This reduced the tally of collateral damage. It also allowed the definition of proximity to be fudged. Is it five metres or fifty? Why not 500? And what ages are “military-aged”? They would only be cleared of being combatants by explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Well, that’s convenient, isn’t it? Was the intent to convince those whose relatives were walking by area they were indeed combatants? That would be absurd. It was to bamboozle the press and deceive the American people. The government today announced fourteen combatants killed by a drone strike is a lot different from the government today announced ten combatants were killed as well as four civilians. The administration didn’t want to have the public debate to determine whether or not collateral damage is acceptable.

    Is truth determined by those most skilled at playing word games and controlling definitions?

    • Tina Rose says

      @ ga gamba

      As I read your comment, I raced you to the end. Politicians/elites have long played with the meaning of words and the metrics that are used to measure outcomes. Long before Orwell’s 1984. Your last question is the key, and the answer is yes, but only if you let them control the words. Define the terms used to frame the discussion before it starts, and you may get somewhere closer to the truth.

      Ever-changing definitions, for example the definition of racism as a singular case in one direction only, is the trick to win an argument and influence thinking, not to strive to find the truth at the bottom of it all. There’s hardly any point in talking with people who have internalized that kind of slippery thinking, other than to understand how they think and how readily willing they are to veer off the path to finding the truth.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Tina Rose

        Definitions change over time, and that is usually a good thing!

        In science, definitions change as new discoveries are made–compare definitions in a genetics textbook from 2019 to those from 60 or 70 years ago, for example.

        In politics, the 14th amendment to the US constitution:

        “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…”

        took the definition of ‘US citizen’ away from the individual states, for example. That was also a good thing.

        Definitions are neither true nor false, and no one–except by law–has the power to force others to accept their definitions. Definitions in science normally represent the consensus of opinion of working scientists, but there are always contrarians and cranks. The same is roughly true of definitions in society as a whole.

        Many ‘truths’ that certain people believe in [particularly for various religions] are actually definitions–statements of opinion about reality, rather than fact:

        “God is the creator of heaven and earth” [a definition of God, but not the only possible definition]

        “Human life begins at conception” [again, a definition, but one that is empirically false]

        ……..and so on.

        • X. Citoyen says

          The irony, Jack. Tina Rose complains that people change conventional definitions to suit their political positions. You claim that “definitions are neither true nor false,” and then assert that “human life begins at conception” is a false definition—a move that contradicts your claim about the truth status of definitions. Of course, you also claim that your definition of definition is true, leading to the following paradox: “No definition is either true or false, except this one, which is true.”

          Far be for me to suggest that you changed your definition of definition midstream to suit your politics (that would be mind-reading), but I’m told that motivated reasoning leads to inconsistencies like this.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @X. Citoyen

            I said that ‘human life begins at conception’ is an empirically false claim, but you clipped my quote and changed its meaning.

            When I wrote my original post, I had thought of expanding it to list various types of truths, but thought such a list would be pedantic. In retrospect, I should have gone ahead…..

            Empirical truths–for example, scientific data, ‘laws’ and truths–are partial, incomplete and potentially subject to revision. The facts of human reproduction, as understood by scientists in 2019, just don’t support the idea that ‘human life begins at conception.’

            Logical truths are the least interesting and also the least controversial, IMO. They often take the form of “If X then Y” statements, such as if A=B then B=A.

            Philosophical primitives are truth claims that are asserted but cannot be proved. A classic example is the statement “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” This statement asserts human equality but does not prove it–except to ground equality in the notion of a creator god, which is another philosophical primitive. Descartes’ proposition “I think, therefore I am” is another classic philosophical primitive.

            Finally, but not exhaustively, religious truths are non-empirical. A good example is the doctrine in certain Christian groups of transubstantiation–no amount of chemical analysis can disprove this truth claim. Another example is the controversy in various religious traditions over the timing of ensoulment of human fetuses**, another non-empirical claim. In general, the opposite of religious truth is not FALSEHOOD but ERROR, also known as heresy or sin.

            **Khitamy BA. 2013. Divergent views on abortion and the period of ensoulment. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J 13(1):26-31.

            Regarding your charge of inconsistency, it is impossible to wrestle with these ideas and maintain complete consistency. For example, the marchers and speakers at today’s ‘March for Life’ in Washington DC, including Trump and Pence, were not bothered by the inconsistency of opposing abortion but supporting actions of the US government at the southern border and in the Middle East that are harming the lives of innocent children.

        • Dan Love says

          @Jack B. Nimble

          “Logical truths are the least interesting…”

          Be happy you’re nimble. The truth I hold to be self-evident is if I caught you my foot would logically entail your ass all the way back to Nimblestan, candlestick and all.

          (I’m a logician.)

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Dan Love

            Another quote clipper!!

            I said: “…Logical truths are the least interesting and also the least controversial, IMO…..”, which clearly indicated I was expressing a personal opinion. Like a lot of scientists, I’m much more comfortable in the world of science–tentative truths and all–than the world of mathematics and logic. And I prefer science to religion as well. So sue me.

            PS–I would love to get a more substantive, less snarky, comment about the relationship between logic and science, or between logic and religion.

        • Dan Love says

          @Jack B. Nimble

          Apologies if I came off as offensive, my comment was in jest.

          I myself was a science guy – more chemistry and physics. Then theoretical physics and pure mathematics. Then just pure mathematics. Now logic and pure mathematics.

    • William Sidney says

      Actually, there has been a further (domestic) elaboration of what constitutes combat, namely the re-definition of which veterans are eligible to apply for disability payments for ‘ptsd.’ In response to lobbying by veterans’ organizations, the requisite evidence for having been traumatized in combat has been simplified to having been in a war zone (e.g. anywhere in Afghanistan) while in the service. Thus, military-aged men have become enemy combatants by virtue of being bombed, and American service personnel anywhere in the country being bombed can now claim to suffer compensable trauma because those men were killed. A simple change in definition has certainly changed the basis for action, not only for those skilled at playing word games, but for compensation seeking veterans and the relatives of the deceased ‘combatants,’ thus demonstrating a powerful reality, if not truth.

    • Dazza says

      Why does truth matter? Let’s be practical about it. Have you ever taken medicine, driven over a bridge, or flown in an aeroplane? I’d like to think the restaurant isn’t serving me spoilt food and its employee hand washing policy is adhered to. Yes, it’s likely a bit of urine in the mashed potatoes won’t harm my health, but what if the employee passes on E. coli too?

      Is that truth or faith? Or faith in the truth?

  5. Dan Vesty says

    “These are likely enough for practical human purposes, but they are hardly a “true” answer to why life has any value in and of itself.” – assuming the author is an atheist, I’m not sure why he’s so dismissive of ‘practical human purposes’, or what he sees as the source of this higher, ‘more true’ truth about value that he seems to be appealing to here ? From an atheist point of view, surely ‘practical human truth’ IS the only kind of truth there is ever likely to be in the universe ?

  6. -A true concepcion of the world-, I wish such a thing existed and can be arrived at by strict reasoning or evidence. Truth exists, yes, but mainly on rather low stages of natural and societal reality, such as math and the chemical structure of a human hormone or vitamin. Or the structure and composition of a cell or DNA, but that’s it, and it is a very wide field altogether to encompass.
    CO2 has a formula, and helps in greening the earth, I read yesterday in my newspaper. Yes, it does, but the truth we are looking for in climate politics is not on the lower, but on the higher stages.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @dirk

      Which is why at some point we should be more concerned with goodness than with truth. There is no ‘true’ answer to social questions, there are only good answers — or at least those are the only possible answers. So there is no ‘true’ answer to climate politics either. Scientists can tell us what is true, but not what is good.

      • So true Ray (or good?). I just read in my newspaper about a report in The Lancet on the only good diet for future mankind, if we all want to keep eating healthy and enough. 14 grams of red meat daily, or about 15% of what we devore right now in the NL (in US probably much more), and also much more pulses, the food we have escaped from since the meagre years of once. There is a lot of scientific truth about necessary and healthy foodstuff (the vitamins we need ,the calories and proteins, fats, aminoacids) but the food specialist does not tell us only thruth, but also what we should eat, what’s good to do thus. Same with many other such cases. Truth is so easy, good so difficult.

      • Dan Love says

        @Ray Andrews

        As an insatiable logic prick, I’m forced to point out that if you believe something is good, then you presuppose it is true that it is good. Goodness presupposes truth, so you can’t (implicitly) be more concerned with goodness than with truth.

  7. I’d be curious as to the authors opinions on Willard Van Orman Quine’s The Web of Belief. Now, granted, the book is primarily concerned with scientific theory, but I think it has very important ideas for assessing the applicability of theories writ large.

    The primary idea of the Web of Belief is that no truth stands alone, but is interconnected to other truths. The example I was taught was that you could believe the earth is flat, but to be consistent you would have to begin to modify other beliefs were you to actually commit to this idea. Examples included figuring out how to modify the laws of gravity, redefining how light travels, coming up with new ways to explain the moons orbit and its subsequent effects on the tides, etc.

    With such a radical idea as the flat earth the amount of things that must be modified becomes essentially untenable since so many of the core ideas must be modified to make the belief consistent with other beliefs.

    It’s also easier to modify non-essential beliefs, especially those that are not required for very fundamental operations, engineers cannot simply choose to believe that gravity is a myth without catastrophic consequences occurring. But believing that blue is a bad color doesn’t really impact anything consequential, you’d be wrong (blue is the best), but nothing beyond that.

    I would be fascinated to see someone construct a web of belief for some social science theories, since it would be interesting to see how truly coherent they are.

  8. R Henry says

    That Bruce Jenner is now broadly viewed as a woman proves that our culture has entered the Post-Truth, Post-Reality era. It’s late stage Post-Modernism, the last stage before the whole thing implodes.

    Oh yeah, Liz Warren is an Indian too. Jim Acosta is a “journalist.” Who knew

  9. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

    Truth is difficult because it reduces entropy and entropy always prefers to increase. As our civilization winds down, its entropy increases, thus the truth becomes more rare. We easily slide into falsehood but we must work hard to reestablish truth in much the same way that our room becomes disordered not by our intention, but merely because we are careless about it. It can become so disordered eventually that we can’t find our socks. The longer we wait to clean up our room, the harder the task becomes. We need to clean up our room but there are few people willing to do the work.

    • You are a good disciple of Jordan Peterson, Ray, start with the mess in your room yes, that’s what he said, so true!

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @ dirk

        Yeah, it’s sorta funny, but ‘clean up your room’ just hits the nail on the head.

  10. I was fascinated by the concept of ‘noble lies’ or the lies we freely tell to avoid the bad consequences the truth might unleash. This is a daily occurrence in most of our lives. At times we actually feel pangs when we utter these untruths, but most of the time they roll off the tongue with out even internal comment. We lie to our kids, our spouses, our friends, our bosses, basically the most important people in our lives. Question is are we doing out of mere convenience or because we care not to hurt feelings or open cans of worms.

    Try not telling lies, even little white lies, your life will become immensely more difficult. Who’s to say truth is always the best policy? Fascinating subject.

    • Example of our minister of foreign affairs last month: in a small auditorium without hidden cameras and for some invitees, he said something about the difficulties of a multiculti society, the civil strive, the absence of cohesion. This, of course, is what he really thought, and what most people here also know, but also it is not PC. It came out, because somebody was leaking to the press. He scarcely could stay on as a minister, only after humiliating excuses for those words.
      Moral: politics in a democracy without severe lies are not possible, telling the truth is mere suicide.

  11. Matt McManus writes:

    “For Nietzsche, this willingness to accept untruths about reality to preserve our moral beliefs (especially when they flatter our sense of self-importance), is a paradigmatic instance of being unwilling to face the truth that we exist within a meaningless world.”

    I believe it is quite misleading to say that Nietzsche believed it true that “we exist within a meaningless world”. For Nietzsche, the very idea of a meaningless world is not so much a fact as it is a symptom of our times. Nietzsche addresses this quite specifically on many occasions. For example:

    “. . . the sense of truthfulness, developed highly by Christianity, is nauseated by the falseness and mendaciousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and of history; rebound from “God is truth” to the fanatical faith “All is false”.”

    Or,
    ‘”‘Everything lacks meaning’ (the untenability of one interpretation of the world, upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished, awakens the suspicion that all interpretations are false)”

    Or,
    “The time has come when we have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years: we are losing the center of gravity by virtue of which we lived; we are lost for a while. Abruptly we plunge into the opposite valuations . . .”

    For Nietzsche the very idea of “truth” is a human abstraction, but so is the “opposite valuation”, the idea of “untruth”. Likewise “meaningfulness” and “meaninglessness” are human abstractions. To overvalue an abstraction such as truth ends in the unraveling of all truth. This process is what Nietzsche calls “nihilism”. Nihilism arises from an unwarranted “faith in the categories of reason” – if the world has no inherent meaning then it must be inherently meaningless. (The history of the very idea of a “true world” is brilliantly addressed by Nietzsche in one page of Twilight of the Idols called “A History of an Error”).

    I think it is important to note that much of what has come to be called postmodernism represents what I believe to be this erroneous interpretation of Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, nihilism – symptomized as a world with no purpose or meaning – is not a fact of reality but a way of looking at reality, “a psychological state” and indeed a “pathological transitional stage”. Postmodernism posits as true the reality that there is no truth – which, as suggested above, is a conclusion drawn from logic not from experience.

    What we experience, and Nietzsche repeatedly emphasizes this, is a unified world of conflict and change of which we are always a part. Our human knowledge is always limited and understanding and embracing this “tragic world view” is for Nietzsche the highest form of wisdom. The question is not what abstractions we affirm, but how we live our lives.

    Postmodernism, in contrast, presuming an inherently meaningless universe, posits that we humans get to make up our own reality – reality is a “social construct”. Postmodernism epitomizes what Nietzsche calls a “theoretic world view” – human knowledge can “correct” reality. The logic of the pseudo-insight that there is no one big Truth ends in the dogmatic affirmation of the relativity of all truths – anyone who thinks otherwise is naive or pernicious. Today what we call progressive politics could be described as the fruit of postmodern misreadings of Nietzsche.

  12. Matthew McManus says

    CA

    I would say that it depends on the occasion. Nietzsche very rarely wrote in a systematic manner (the Genealogy of Morals is an exception). This was in part due to his medical issues, which made it difficult to write for a sustained period. One could also point to his talent for aphorism and turn of phrase.

    While it is true that he occasionally wrote as though the tendency towards nihilism was a symptom of cultural malaise, there are other periods-particularly the so called “middle period” of his writing-which treat the issue of meaninglessness as more of an existential condition. This possibility also appears in his later writings, particularly the controversial Will to Power, where he writes.

    “Every belief, every considering something-true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world”

    This is also reflected in his later works which are more overtly philosophical and less genealogical. He consistently condemns all efforts to try and give ontological structure to the world, particularly since this invariably entails smuggling in moral pretensions.

    • Matt

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      You are correct that Nietzsche seems to articulate conflicting views of nihilism. As you well know his writings are highly unsystematic, he is continually conducting all kinds of thought experiments and he’ll use the same word such as “truth” in different ways in different contexts. I’m not claiming you’re saying this, but I think it would be a mistake (commonly made) to deduce that his thinking lacks coherence.

      Regarding nihilism Nietzsche wrote this in a notebook in 1887:

      “It is only late that one musters the courage for what one really knows. That I have hitherto been a thorough going nihilist, I have admitted to myself only recently: the energy and radicalism with which I have advanced as a nihilist decieved me about this basic fact”

      Nietzsche is the greatest of all modern skeptics which means he spends an inordinate amount of time taking apart all kinds of ideas and presumptions. Admittedly, he even revels in “the joy of the knife”.. Nihilism for Nietzsche is not simply a state of mind but an historical process of deconstruction and Nietzsche fully participates in this process. But, at no point in his writings does he in any way rebuke his tragic unified vision of reality which he profoundly articulates in his early Birth of Tragedy and explicitly reaffirms in his final Ecce Homo. Nietzsche repeatedly affirms the need to create as well as destroy.

      Truth therefore for Nietzsche is not a proposition but an experience or an embodiment. The last part of the above quote is:

      “When one moves toward a goal it seems impossible that “goal-lessness as such”
      is the principle of our faith.”

      I believe Nietzsche’s “goal” is to sweep away all kinds false presumptions about reality. What he finds is not “nothing” or “nothingness” which is an abstraction but a universe which is a “monster of energy . . . eternally self creating, eternally self destroying” of which we are always a part. Nietzsche in effect is dismissing any static conception of truth – likewise he is dismissing any static conception of no-truth. This applies to your quote:

      “Every belief, every considering something true, is necessarily false as there is no true world.”

      To assert that there is no truth or that reality is meaningless are themselves beliefs which are as “false” as any traditional theological beliefs. Inevitably we, believers and non believers, affirm some kind of reality, some set of values, some hierarchy of discriminations. What concerns Nietzsche is how this is done and what kind of human beings are affirmed. That anyone can live by “being open” or by “avoiding discriminations” is an manifest absurdity. As Nietzsche says, we live by some kind of illusion even the notion that reality has no meaning is a kind of illusion which we take on faith and which implies a particular structure to reality. So we are either aware and articulate the nature of many of our presumptions (as does a traditional religion) or we “make believe” this is not necessary (this is why Nietzsche ridicules “the educated” and repeatedly uses the word “modern” as a term of ridicule).

      I’m not sure then what you mean when you say Nietzsche “condemns all efforts to give ontological structure to the world”. Why would he praise the highly structured Law of Manu, why would he praise the Jews over the Christians, why does he praise Aeschylus over Euripides, in general, why does he praise one way of being over another? To exists, to breathe, to eat food, to talk etc. is to give ontological structure to the world. I’m not sure how we can not give ontological structure to the world.

      I know Nietzsche makes some disparaging remarks about “metaphysics” (i.e. ontology) but I think there is an elemental metaphysical distinction which Nietzsche ultimately affirms. It seems to me that the most elemental of metaphysical questions is whether reality is unified or not. Nietzsche repeatedly, explicitly (e.g. the Eternal Return, will to power etc.) and implicitly (tragic world view), affirms a unified universe. And it also seems to me that what distinquishes the modern (and postmodern) is the assumption of a fragmented universe – to declare the end of metaphysics is itself a kind of metaphysics.

      To conclude, I believe it is most fruitful to understand Nietzsche as he understood himself. Not so much as a source of ideas, but as a force of nature.

  13. Todd Stoddard says

    Interesting twist on the importance of truth, but I think you miss the most critical aspects of truth. Truth works because its true. Doing things that work is essential for one’s survival and success.

    The importance of the real-world impact of truth is best illustrated by way of an example. I’ll present a thought experiment on Climate Change.

    Climate Change is a potentially existential issue for civilization. Doomsday scenarios claiming that failure to reduce carbon emissions will result in untold deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. Many interventions, such as the Paris Climate Accord or AOC’s Green New Deal promise to reduce this risk at substantial cost. Those who disagree are shouted down as heretical ‘deniers.’

    Suppose those interested in truth back down and consent to these costly interventions to reduce carbon but, the truth is that methane is responsible for Climate Change and we incur the cost or reducing CO2 only to suffer the ill effects of climate change Or, worse yet, perhaps climate change is a result of natural causes and nothing we do will change it one way or the other.

    Understanding the truth of Climate Change has a profound impact on millions of lives. I don’t have the answer, and this is just a thought experiment to emphasize real world costs of understanding the truth.

    • The truth (socially spoken) about climate change is: there are climate change deniers (people saying anthropogenic effects aren.t that serious, not worth the trouble to react on) and climate change conscious people, the opposite thus. And there are people that don’t know exactly, or have no opinion on it, the majority. For journalists, the first category is the one they have to follow and report on, that’s what people want to read and to know about. The hot category.

  14. Abombinabowl says

    I think we humans value truth because of our remarkable ability toward deception contrasted with other species for which this capacity is relatively undeveloped. It might even be argued that, for us, lying is the default – our instinct to deceive and keen (if imperfect) ability to detect deception seem unique in the animal kingdom. In addition to our ambivalent relationship with truth, humans uniquely aspire to be something more than we are. If we recognize that our lives are saturated with falsity we may come to desire truth both because knowledge connects our lives with objective reality as well as due to the value we place on scarce resources. Thus, honor and nobility may come to be perceived as characteristics of truth and we may become inclined to strive for an existence in which we have greater control over the influence of untruth in our lives.

  15. Sneed Urn says

    The question seems ill-formed and too broad to be answerable. It is worth distinguishing here between the value of truth as our functional apprehension of reality and the value of truth in its expression in a social context. How the second influences the first is the subject of investigation. The second can have temporary influence on the first, but the first will ultimately overrule any of the second that contradicts it. Hunger, pain, and death are very convincing arguments against the beliefs that lead to them.

  16. The author states:

    “The postmodern President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world, and according to Politifact makes statements that range from “half true” to outright lies 83 per cent of the time.”

    This information supposedly justifies the assumption we are in a post-truth world. But then he acknowledges historic references to the value of telling untruths:

    “. . . Plato argues that the Philosopher Kings of a city may often have to tell “noble lies” to the citizenry to keep them in line. Later, Machiavelli would claim that good rulers must know how to lie effectively if they are to maintain a stable political order.”

    With the president consistently delivering results he promised during the campaign, why do media outlets track lies about the height of cheeseburger stacks? I notice his supporters watch his actions while detractors listen to his words. Is someone telling the truth if they deliver promised actions, but accomplishes it with deceptive words?

  17. Constantin says

    How about the notion that truth (defined as empirically verifiable) is an intelligible universal measure that offers the greatest likelihood of useful predictability (just like science does – exactly because it is axiomatically based on verifiable/replicable truth)? It is really hard to conceive anything else we truly share in any meaningful way. If there is an “us” it is because there is a “truth” and a “reality”. Otherwise we would be merely colliding hopelessly and aimlessly in something approximating chaos. Utilitarian arguments for lies are easy to invent and play with, but a world entirely based on lies is inconceivable. Even universally accepted false beliefs can not survive a confrontation with the empirical reality and endure only as long as their false assumptions are exempted and protected from testing. Would a lie universally accepted and impossible to test be distinguishable from truth? Yes. The lie never survives a real contest and vanishes without a trace. There is, therefore something solid and reliable about a truth that makes it a desirable foundation for building anything (from an airplane to a social order).

  18. rickoxo says

    Thinking from an evolutionary biology perspective, if one equates truth with environmental reality (i.e. reality outside our self, primarily physical) there is almost never a benefit from believing in a false reality. All creatures need to simplify and represent reality, but that is importantly different from lying and believing in falsehood.

    Even in more complex, social mammals (e.g. chimps, meerkats, ravens), these species benefit from knowing the truth. But these species also introduce the value of lying. If you have a task you’re supposed to do for your community (meerkat guarding a burrow entrance) and you “cheat” by deserting your post to go look for food, an individual creature can benefit from lying but the broader community benefits from knowing the truth. Ravens will frequently “fake hide” extra food to try to avoid it being taken by other ravens. But choosing to lie is not the same as benefiting from false information.

    With humans, I’m sure there are philosophical or social science names for this distinction, but there’s an important difference between environmental or external, physical reality and social reality. I still think it’s almost never advantageous to believe in a false environmental reality, but it doesn’t take too much work to imagine situations and contexts where believing in a false social reality could provide a cultural advantage (e.g. the leader is divine and should be followed).

    • Dan Love says

      @rickoxo

      Excellent point.

      One way lying pays homage to truth is that if we know we’re lying, then we know what the truth is.

  19. Noble lies be damned, regardless of famous quotes. Here are some more from prominent proponents of climate alarm in the UN and its associates:

    “The models are convenient fictions that provide something very useful.”

    “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.”

    “We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination… So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

    “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.”

    “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony … climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.”

    Nothing noble here if we are starting to descend into another Little Ice Age. Millions will die.

    I’ve no reason to believe that people lie more now than in the past, but we are inured to them from an early age by a barrage of advertisements that we know to be exaggerations, at best. Something new to me is people saying, “Oh. I lied.” when they meant, “Oh. I was wrong about that.” Are we losing the distinction?

    • Great example…
      This climate change hysteria may easily go down in history as the biggest lie ever. The climate is going to change irrespective of anything mankind does or doesn’t do. That is fact. Therefore they must focus like a laser on something mankind does do so as to pin it on human activity. That’s why they’ve labeled an element essential to life itself a pollutant – CO2.

      Emissions of CO2 is the byproduct of advanced civilization. The world’s population growth traces the same line on a graph as humanity’s increase in CO2 emissions. That’s the correlation that matters to the AGW crowd.

      When everything else is stripped away the powers behind the Climate Change hysteria are striving for one thing: less people, billions less. They won’t come right out and declare their real goal, so they lie.

  20. ccscientist says

    I would like to make a distinction between the value of truth about the world and telling the truth. Truth about the world is important for our survival. I want to know the true rape statistics for the college I may send my daughter, not the narrative value. I want the true crime statistic where I want to buy a house, not the “feelings” someone has about it or the censored value. When I am being manipulated constantly (calling most guns “assault weapons” on TV) I cannot trust the information I am getting about the world.

    For interpersonal lying, we have a different problem. If your wife asks if this dress makes her look fat, you can only get in trouble by being brutally honest. We may feel that our minor failings are no one’s business, and thus lie about them. The truth about ourselves may be too hard to face, so we lie to ourselves. This all results because we need approval and love and friends, but people can be very critical. There is a gap between what is socially acceptable and who we are.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Indeed, truth about reality is important, while truth about opinions rarely is.

    • anon666 says

      If you can’t be honest with your spouse about what they are wearing then you married the wrong person. I won’t let my spouse out of the house if what he’s wearing makes him look like a schlub. And I’m brutally honest about it. Knit shirts that cling to his fat middle and chest? No way. Woven fabric shirts that skim is the answer. The idea is to help him look good. Why wouldn’t you put an effort into preventing your spouse from committing an embarrassing action? You’d let her go out as is and have countless strangers or even acquaintances/friends pass judgement?

      • But, 666, don’t you know the enormous gap between men and women where it comes to comments and judging about exterior and clothing? Imagine, I, as a man, saying to the lady next to me in a bar (and this happened even once to me)
        – Hey, a diet program might suit you very well, with that figure of yours-. Her friend came to rescue her, and I was ousted from the bar for being aggressive. Now, imagine somebody would say that to me (I’m skinny, but just imagine I was fat). Most probably I would say, thanks, indeed, you are right, I also thought about it, but, until now, I didn’t start with it, maybe next month or so. Thanks anyhow!

  21. C. Satwell says

    “Those attached to perception and views roam the world offending people.” Attributed to the Buddha.

  22. “Truth” as such is a concept. Further, examining how this concept, at least in philosophy, has changed over centuries really maps how a people’s ontological frameworks have shifted across time. Plato’s “truth” is not Bacon’s “truth”.

    Going back to Aristotle, you had material causes (what something was made from), efficient causes (how), formal causes (what), and final causes (for what purpose). The modernists abandoned the last two causes, and viola, the world was divested of meaning (or rather, it was subjectivized into a Cartesian subject).

    This was really probably necessary for creating the “instrumental society” where one can answer the question of how things can be dissected almost ad infinitum in parts, and where one can utilize efficient causes to do amazing feats, but at the same time, beauty (form) and good (telos) were divested from the order of things.

    The paradox is that this modern conception of truth essentially subjectivizes or relativizes value, so you have these techniques of engineering, and these techniques of dissection, but which exist for no identifiable purpose or end. In fact, the idea of a purpose is itself suspect, perhaps even an illusion or an orientation of a particular subjectivity at very best. The modern concept of “truth” sets itself up against a meaningful concept of “value” (at least in terms of ancient philosophy).

    Can we be surprised that truth itself becomes a kind of hot dog machine of persuasion, subjected to endless dissection to test appeal to focus groups, and the production of “truth” equated with industrialized techniques of persuasion, with an accompanying argument about who controls the “truth machine” and to what end?

  23. Fickle Pickle says

    Who or what is Truth?
    Truth is not a person, or a thing, or a knowable object, or thought.
    Truth is a Process.
    Who or what is “I”?
    “I” is not a person, or a thing, or a knowable entity, or a thought.
    “I” is a Process.
    The Process that is Truth and the Process that is “I” are one and the same.
    What is the Process that is “I” and that is Truth?
    It is positive or self-transcending bodily surrender in to the Radiant, All-Pervading Life-Principle.
    It is the bodily love of Life, done to the absolute degree, until there is only Life.
    This is the Divine Law, and it is all you need to know.
    Do this, be this, and you will Realize Happiness, Enjoyment, Health, Longevity, Wisdom, Joy, Freedom, Humour, Ecstasy, and the Radiant Way that leads beyond Man and beyond the Earth.

    Mindless embodiment.
    Consciousness without inwardness.
    Thus It becomes Obvious.

    Every object is only Light, the Energy of
    Consciousness.
    Even so, there is no mind.
    Only this stark embodiment, without inwardness.

    First transcend the mind, not the body.
    Inwardness is flight from Life and Love.
    Only the body is Full of Consciousness.

    Therefore, be the body-only, feeling into Life.
    Surrender the mind into Love, until the body
    dissolves in Light.
    Dare this Ecstasy, and never be made thoughtful by
    birth and experience and death.

  24. Alexander Allan says

    The article started promising but then descended into banal scientific fundamentalism: The belief that truth and reason can only be distilled through science is as absurd and irrational as any claims of Christian or Islamic fundamentalists: It is the donning of an intellectual straight-jacket which narrows the minds and institutes the abandonment of reason and search for the truth.

    Science can only deal with the material and is totally lost with abstract ideas: It cannot explain beauty, consciousness, the mind or reason itself. All these fall outside the field of science and any attempt to shoe-horn them into science becomes a philosophical pursuit contradicting the claimants original premise that the only truths are scientific truths. Lastly science itself stands of philosophical axioms, which are necessary for us to have any belief it the scientific process itself.

    As a result scientific fundamentlists like Matt McManus end up professing some illogical ideas. If he had an opened mind to reason he would have noticed that “the truth that we exist within a meaningless world” doesn’t logically work with “the beauty of a true conception of the world”. What is the beauty of a meaningless world? We see beauty as an intrinsic good, which is why we are attractive to the beautiful over the ugly. Since a meaningless world has no goodness by its very nature, as why does something meaningless need to be good, there is no beauty in it.

    • Alex Russell says

      Why can’t science explain “beauty, consciousness, the mind or reason itself.”?

      Science is well on its way to explaining how the mind and consciousness arise from the functioning of the material brain. Not there yet, but it seems to be just a matter of time and effort.

      Once we’ve done that then it will take some more work to explain why that same material brain sees some things as beautiful. I’d guess our perception of beauty (and conversely disgust) evolved to increase our chances of survival by drawing us to things ‘good’ for us and repelling us from the ‘bad’. I’m quite pleased that a side affect is I can appreciate art, sunsets, and forest meadows.

      Will beauty be less wonderful when fully explained by science?

      As for reason, that is a very useful tool for discovering truths. I think both philosophy and science already have a good handle on what it is and how it works. Or did you mean something more metaphysical?

      • david of Kirkland says

        Beauty is taught; and beauty is relative. A vast mountain range on a hike may appear as pure beauty, but if you’re lost, it may appear as a tormenting beast.

  25. Allen Zeesman says

    Great read! I was waiting for the part about how human reason evolved and for what purpose, It seems to me that following the line from Kahneman and Twersky, to Haidt and to Sperber and Mercier, our social minds do not seem to be constructed to know what is true, except as a contingent and secondary condition. This seems central to the question of why we value truth if in fact we actually only value it instrumentally.

  26. David of Kirkland says

    The truth about reality is key to advancement.
    The truth about opinions tends to divide, hurt and oppress.
    Marketing was the first “good lie” concept, allowing us to be exposed to lies and irrelevant ideas as they related to products and services some company used to take your money and power in exchange for it. Soon, politicians learned that marketing was more important than policies that reflect actual goals and interests. Now fragmented identity-based groups use them to lure people to join the cause (enslave yourself to the ideas and hope it works out for you in the end), all done with advertising.
    Advertising drove most of media, which is therefore most of our daily communications. It’s no surprise that marketing (lies that make things appear better and more valuable than they are).
    Humans have reason, but are rarely reasonable, preferring the status quo or joining en masse to some “out group” where they can all behave the same again.

  27. A good one David, marketing as the school for politics. Again and again, I am stupefied that people feel misled by marketing tricks,
    – our cheese is made from milk, given by happy cows on flower-rich meadows in sunny valleys (the cows have never seen the sun or been outside the stable)- and more of that. I understand immediately the lies, and think it is OK, marketing is a job, to mislead people, as is politics. We have now leftish parties gaining votes with promises about 95% reduction of CO2 pollution of the atmosphere, you won’t believe it, but it is the truth, it,s too ridiculous, maybe yes, the machine behind the policy parties is thorougly trained by marketing specialists.

    • Today, a TV program on the issue, about the so called handmade, wooden stove, stone plastered oven, a pizza made by the 100.000s, simply factory made of course. The pizza chef, asked about it, explained that the pizza tastes better, with that text on the pizza box. Why tell the truth then? The truth is “too dark to bear”, he added. True enough! Same thing in politics??

  28. Great article Matt, I’m going to spend some time with it.

    Just a quick, alternative angle: In point of fact, everywhere people talk about ‘the truth’ or ‘a truth’ as if they know it’s true, they came to that opinion (that they ‘know the truth’) by taking the same step, and it’s crucial:

    They *agreed* it was true.

    It really doesn’t matter what ‘it’ refers to.

    Short of that agreement, there is no undisputed ‘truth’. Once that agreement happens, there is.

    That has led me to a definition of ‘truth’ that almost no one seems happy with:

    Truth is whatever we agree is true.

    With that definition, Nietzsche and every other philosopher I’ve read would not have had 1/10th the amount of work to do, because most of the ‘problems’ philosophers wrangle over concerning truth amount to problem they create themselves in their assumptions about truth. Once we’ve abstracted truth and alienated it from ourselves (objectified it), of course we’re going to have all kinds of problems reconnecting it to ourselves in order to create meaning. Maybe there were Eastern philosophers who recognized this, I dunno.

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