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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Truth - Setting You Free?


If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

–Rudyard Kipling

Who is credible enough to deserve our attention? Who do we typically listen to when we want to find answers? Spinned content, bias content, content quoted out of context, content reported without dependence upon reliable sources, circular argumentative content, ad hominem (attacking the person, not the issue), and extreme pathos (emotional appeal over content) -- the news is a minefield of false and slanted information. Truth is more difficult to find than the idiomatic "needle in a haystack." It seems no public figure, politician, or institution is immune to using any means to cover mistakes and internal problems.

Never have we believed in truth less while being exposed to more trashy, speculative content. To some, the truth is worth little or nothing in itself. To such people, ignorance is bliss while a lie is much more pleasant. As they attempt to block out the truth or merely not accept personal responsibility for the truth, they merely cling to their personal denials, for the real truth remains, no matter what method of deception they use.

The fact of the matter is that truth, like the sun, still burns. Clouds of deceit may cover its form, but it is ever-present. Just as the sun provides life, the truth is essential to humans living together in harmony. Skeptics may doubt this, but history has proven time after time that truth is eternal and undeniable for human existence. 

Clarie Carlisle states, "Socrates, who became the hero of western philosophy, believed that truth was worth more than life itself: on his deathbed, he quite calmly told his friends that he was happy to die because his earthly, embodied existence was like a prison that barred his way to knowledge of the eternal Ideas or Forms." ("Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil," Richmond Journal of Philosophy, Summer 2003)

In his review of Michael P. Lynch's work, True To Life: Why Truth Matters (MIT Press, 2004), Eric Bain-Selbo discusses Lynch's important contribution to defending truth on the one hand and praising him for making a compelling, constructive argument for the role of truth in the good life and the good society. Of course, Lynch and Bain-Selbo reject absolute truth as a certainty in all situations; however, Lynch argues for truth to be paramount in the search for freedom, understanding, and equality.

Here are some of Michael Lynch's ideas about the importance of truth:

1. It is important that an individual know the truth about him/herself. This is the classic dictum to “know thyself.” Without a “sense of self” people are incapable of knowing what their commitments are, what projects they wish to accomplish, and what kind of people they are or want to be. An ignorance of those things that give life meaning causes no development of self. Thus, Lynch argues that self-knowledge is a part of personal happiness.

2. Just as caring about the good entails the exercise of the moral virtues, caring about the truth entails the exercise of intellectual virtues. Integrity is chief among these intellectual values. Integrity requires that 1) one care for the truth for its own sake; 2) one is willing to pursue the truth; 3) one stands up for what he/she believes is true; and 4) one is open to the truth because it is the truth, and thus one is capable of recognizing when he or she is wrong

3. Lynch also turns to the role of truth in the personal interactions that occur within any community. In particular, he focuses on the issues of lying and sincerity. While there certainly are practical reasons for why lying is problematic (How can we have a community if we cannot trust that people are telling the
truth?), Lynch wants to make the point that “lying is bad partly because believing the truth is good." 

In other words, believing the truth is good for its own sake not simply because it is a means to some other end; conversely, lying is bad not simply because it prevents the attainment of some end but because the truth is good for its own sake. Both lying and insincerity show a lack of respect for others. Lynch claims that respect for
others and self-respect are two sides of the same coin.

4. Lynch turns his attention to the issue of truth and political life. He argues that “[c]oncern for truth is a constitutive part of liberal democracy” concern for equal respect and other liberal values among the citizens of a democratic government requires a concern for truth” This body of law seems consistent with our understanding of what it means to be a human being and to form human communities. Thus, we legitimately can argue that rights are true.

In the end, Lynch concludes: “No one, and no government, is infallible. We can make mistakes, but this should not stop us from aiming at the truth; it simply reminds us that the very act of aiming at the truth requires admitting the
possibility that you may never hit the target." In short, though we never can achieve absolute or certain knowledge, truth does matter, whether we are talking about individual happiness, interpersonal relationships, or political life. 

Site for the article
Site for Lynch's book   The MIT Press

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."  -- Winston Churchill

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