Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Truth is Important

Truth is important.

It may sound obvious. That's what we've been taught since childhood. Lying is bad; honesty is good. But our parents and teachers are not infallible. They could have been wrong. Lying and bullshitting certainly seems quite prevalent in the behavior of those at the top.

Also, a major component of philosophy is to check your assumptions. Wrong assumptions lead to wrong conclusions, which is bad philosophy. So, are we sure that the truth is a good thing?

My answer is yes. First for practicality. If you're pursuing another goal, the truth will only help you get there. If you're trying to make people happy, you need to know what will actually make them happy. If you do something that you believe will make people happy, but are mistaken, you will achieve the exact opposite of your goal. And this is true of any goal. Even if your goal is to dissemble and mislead, you'll be able to do it better if you know the truth.

But beyond that, I feel that truth is good in and of itself. I can't really articulate why. It's a non-rational preference, the same way preferring pleasure to pain or happiness to unhappiness is non-rational. And I feel it's a very important preference, of the magnitude of pleasure or happiness.


  1. Truth being important and truth being good are very different ideas. Truth is not necessarily good or evil, it's just the truth. Truth is also somewhat mailable based on the way you understand or see truth. Truth is vital and important however because it creates the standards on which we understand and gauge the world around us. If we thought we knew no truth we could not make any rational decisions. Truth, or at least the idea of truth is important to any system of thought. Maybe that's why we have preference to it. However, how can we ever know anything to be ultimately true?

  2. You're right that truth being important and truth being good are distinct concepts. I admit, I blurred the line between the two, because I think it's both, and because I think they both have similar lines of reasoning.

    I disagree that truth is malleable. Certainly interpretation is, but truth is independent of any personal interpretations.

    We can't ever know something to be ultimately true. Just as 1/x will never get to 0, we can never reach 0 uncertainty. But through careful examination of evidence, we can continually reduce our uncertainty more and more.

  3. "I disagree that truth is malleable. Certainly interpretation is, but truth is independent of any personal interpretations."
    I agree that if there are any certain truths that they must be independent of and personal interpretations. However, people try to apply "truth" to interpersonal and societal questions. They try to say that something is always truly evil or good. Any those "truths" are all subjective to point of view.

    I think favorably about the analogy to 1/x. I started The Pig that Wants to Be Eaten and that we can never reach 0 uncertainty ties in with the idea that is in the beginning of the book that even the reality of the world can be doubted and is uncertain. All we really can do is carefully examine and have faith in our ability to rationally analyze our perceptions.