Chapter 5 :Epistemology

Why Truth Matters

Truth: Does it matter?  Why? Who says?  

Lying is popular.  No doubt about that.  Lies can even easily be thought to be the truth.

"Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it." – George Costanza to Jerry Seinfeld

Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, gave a TED Talk about how to spot a liarShe presents a picture of how often people lie and how to spot many lies or liars.

But is it the case that there is no difference between the truth and a lie?    Does it matter whether people have the truth?  Does it matter?  Some think truth is not only possible but is valuable.

"What is absolutely true is always correct, everywhere, all the time, under any condition. An entity's ability to discern these things is irrelevant to that state of truth." —Steven Robiner [2][3][4]

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” —Daniel Patrick Moynihan[

 Truth has fallen victim to a proliferation of behaviors that diminish the importance of truth in popular culture.  Among the behaviors are the increase in use of what is known as "truthiness" and "Bullshit" as well as denialism and post modern ideas of relativism, denying that there is or can be truth.


Truthiness is a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.  --

American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning[2] as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd" during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse.

VIEW:  See the episode here.

Harry Frankfurt's concept of Bullshit

In his essay On Bullshit (originally written in 1986, and published as a monograph in 2005), philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University characterizes bullshit as a form of falsehood distinct from lying. The liar, Frankfurt holds, knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead instead of telling the truth. The "bullshitter", on the other hand, does not care about the truth and is only seeking to impress:[8][9] 

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Denialism is choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth.[1] Author Paul O'Shea remarks, "[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event".[2]

In science, denialism has been defined as the rejection of basic concepts that are undisputed and well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a topic in favor of ideas that are both radical and controversial.[3] It has been proposed that the various forms of denialism have the common feature of the rejection of overwhelming evidence and the generation of a controversy through attempts to deny that a consensus exists.[4][5] A common example is Young Earth creationism and its dispute with the evolutionary theory. [6]

The terms Holocaust denialism and AIDS denialism have been used,[7][8][9][10][11] and the term climate change denialists has been applied to those who argue against the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that human activity is its primary cause.[12][13][14][15] Use of the word denialism has been criticised, for example as a polemical propaganda tool to suppress non-mainstream views.[16] Similarly, in an essay discussing the general importance of skepticism, Clive James objected to the use of the word denialist to describe climate change skeptics, stating that it "calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust."[17] Celia Farber has objected to the term AIDS denialists arguing that it is unjustifiable to place this belief on the same moral level with the Nazi crimes against humanity.[18] However, Robert Gallo et al. defended this latter comparison, stating that AIDS denialism is similar to Holocaust denial as it is a form of pseudoscience that "contradicts an immense body of research."[19]

Several motivations for denialism have been proposed, including religious beliefs and self-interest, or as a psychological defense mechanism against disturbing ideas.[20][21]

Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.[1] The term is often used to refer to the context of moral principle, where in a relativistic mode of thought, principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context. There are many forms of relativism which vary in their degree of controversy.[2] The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cf. cultural relativism). Another widespread and contentious form is moral relativism.

True to Life: Why Truth Matters  By MICHAEL P. LYNCH Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004.

There is a cynicism regarding truth or objective truth.  There also exists the desire to believe what is useful to believe and to believe that what matters are the CONSEQUENCES.  In reaction to this there is not to be a promotion of truth that is conservative in advocating an allegiance to you believe.  This is not truth but DOGMA. There is not to be support for the liberal equation of truth with absolute certain truth.  This then would promote relativism.


Without it there is no support for OUTRAGE over atrocities if all reports are of equal truth value. And treated as just TEXT.

TRUTH and its pursuit are politically important!!!

1.)Need to distinguish right answers from wrong answers, true from false reports about the world

If there is no truth or if all truth is relative then

bullet CRITICISMS are not permissible
bullet DISSENT is not permissible or supportable

2.The idea of a FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT or HUMAN RIGHT is undermined as they presuppose some idea of truth. 

·         TRUTH is a necessary condition asserting the existence of any human RIGHT apart from what government decrees

·         TRUTH is necessary to reject the idea that BELIEVING in claim X makes claim X true.

“It follows that a necessary condition for fundamental rights is a distinction between what the government -- in the wide sense of the term -- says is so and what is true. That is, in order for me to understand that I have fundamental rights, it must be possible for me to have the following thought: that even though everyone else in my community thinks that, for example, same-sex marriages should be outlawed, people of the same sex still have a right to be married. But I couldn't have that thought unless I was able to entertain the idea that believing doesn't make things so, that there is something that my thoughts can respond to other than the views of my fellow citizens, powerful or not. The very concept of a fundamental right presupposes the concept of truth. Take-home lesson: If you care about your rights, you had better care about truth.”

3. Governmental transparency and freedom of information are the basis of a defense against tyranny.  TRUTH is important for the INTEGRITY of the DEMOCRATIC Process. 

“But the anti-tyranny argument will be of interest to those whose government is not yet tyrannical, but who fear it is heading in that direction. In brief, the anti-tyranny argument is precisely the sort of argument that is of interest to concerned citizens of a liberal democracy like our own. Unless the government strives to tell the truth, liberal democracies are no longer liberal or democratic.”

As the philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault aptly noted in an interview in 1984, unless it would impose "the silence of slavery," no government can afford to ignore its obligation to the truth.

. On Truth (ISBN 0-307-26422-X  By Harry G. Frankfurt. 101 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $12.50. is the 2006 follow-up to Harry Frankfurt's 2005 bestselling book, On Bullshit see also  Harry Frankfurt 

Caring about truth provides a ground and a motivation for our curiosity about the facts and for our commitment to the importance of inquiry. 

Certain aspects of our experience make it apparent that they are independent of us.  That is the origin of our concept of reality, which is essentially a concept of hat limits us, of what we can not alter or control by the mere motion of our will.

We learn our powers and our vulnerabilities.

It is only through our recognition of a world of stubbornly independent reality, fact and truth that we come both to recognize ourselves as being distinct from others and to articulate the specific nature of our own identities.

 VIEW:  No right to Believe without evidence  Anti-Vaxxers, Conspiracy Theories, & Epistemic Responsibility: Crash Course Philosophy #14





Bull Shit





Pluralist Theories of Truth

Truth: Why it Matters

by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom published by Continuum Books in 2006.

  "an argument for the importance of truth, along with related values and practices of reason, inquiry, evidence, testing, peer review, and the like, and against trendy but incoherent pseudo-philosophical moves that would replace them with wishful thinking."

 Extracts from Truth: Why it Matters at  and below


Truthiness:  original use Stephen Colbert Show October 17,  2005

Huw Price on Truth –5 parts @5 minutes each  total @ 1 hour

Part 1  incl.  correspondence theory (objectivism)

Part 2  incl.  coherence theory (subjectivism), relativism (tolerance), pragmatism (subjectivism and objectivism)

Part 3    incl.,    Blackburn position that culture wars are truth wars , Blackburn position is to walk away,  Frege’s position that truth is transparent, Ramsey redundancy theory of truth,

Part 4  Conversational Game includes challenging, scoring points then promotes offering arguments with evidence and reasons to support a claim or belief and common intelligence of the community which can be brought to bear on the issue; with truth you cannot score points just based on individuals self assertion (this counters subjectivism)

Part 5  truth is a value in a conversational game, in Francis Bacon truth is a pleasure, provides an incentive in conversational game,

If truth serves a value in the conversational game, truth as a value may be a myth but if we look at the job the myth is doing for us in the game, we may need to think twice before getting rid of it, it is a myth that plays an enormously central role in how we think of ourselves

Truth is the Daughter of Time and Time rescues Truth from the cave of darkness

 The Pragmatic Theory of Truth (A Problem to be Solved)

JP Moreland on What is Truth (Correspondence Theory of Truth)

Problem with Correspondence Theory- Wittgenstein’s   beetle in the box

Timothy Williamson on Truth and Certainty


Why Truth Matters 1  From Why Truth Matters (Continuum: 2006) by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, Chapter 1, ‘The Antinomies of Truth’, pp. 18-21.

But does it really matter? Is it worth bothering about? Academic fashions come and go. Dons and professors are always coming up with some New Big Thing, and then getting old and doddering off to the great library in the sky, while new dons and professors hatch new big things, some more and some less silly than others. Casaubon had his key to all mythologies, Derrida had his, someone will have a new one tomorrow; what of it.

Yes, is our answer; it does matter. It matters for various pragmatic, instrumental reasons. Meera Nanda discusses in Prophets Facing Backward the way Hindu fundamentalists in India have drawn on postmodernist scepticism and hostility to science in “Hinduising” Indian science, education, textbooks and the like. Richard Evans argues in his book In Defense of History that postmodernist scepticism about historical evidence and truth, along with valuable insights, also has dangerous implications.

 Nazi Germany seemed to postmodernism’s critics to be the point at which an end to hyperrelativism was called for…There is in fact a massive, carefully empirical literature on the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Clearly, to regard it as fictional, or unreal, or no nearer to historical reality than, say, the work of the ‘revisionists’ who deny that Auschwitz ever happened at all is simply wrong. Here is an issue where evidence really counts, and can be used to establish the essential facts. Auschwitz was not a discourse. It trivializes mass murder to see it as a text. The gas chambers were not a piece of rhetoric. Auschwitz was indeed inherently a tragedy and cannot be seen as either a comedy or a farce. And if this is true of Auschwitz , then it must be true at least to some degree of other past happenings, events, institutions as well. [1]

 That passage is in a book published in 1997. Three years later Evans saw his point enacted in a court of law.

In the David Irving libel trial held two years ago, in which I served as an expert witness for the High Court in London , Irving was suing Penguin Books and their author Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history. It was not difficult to show that Irving had claimed on many occasions that no Jews were killed in gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He argued in the courtroom, however, that his claim was supported by the historical evidence. The defence therefore brought forward the world’s leading expert on Auschwitz , Robert Jan Van Pelt, to present the evidence that showed that hundreds of thousands of Jews were in fact killed in this way. Van Pelt examined eyewitness testimony from camp officials and inmates, he looked at photographic evidence of the physical remains of the camp, and he studied contemporary documents such as plans, blueprints, letters, equipment orders, architectural designs, reports and so on. Each of these three kinds of evidence, as the judge concluded, had its flaws and its problems. But all three converged along the same lines, creating an overwhelming probability that Irving was wrong.

 Just as important as this was the fact that it was possible to demonstrate that Irving ‘s historical works deliberately falsified the documentary evidence in order to lend plausibility to his preconceived arguments, principally his belief that Hitler was, as he said on one occasion, “probably the best friend the Jews ever had in the Third Reich”. Falsifying documents involved not just leaving words out from quotes but even putting extra words in to change the meaning. For example, quoting an order from Himmler that a “Jew-transport from Berlin” to the East should not be annihilated as if it were a general order that no Jews at all, anywhere, were to be killed, by the simple expedients of adding an “e” to the German word Transport , making it plural, and omitting the words “from Berlin”, and hoping that other researchers wouldn’t trouble to check the source, or if they did, wouldn’t be able to read the handwriting (which is actually very clear and unambiguous). Or by adding the word “All” to the note of a judge at the Nuremberg Trial in 1946 on the testimony of an Auschwitz survivor which actually said “this I do not believe”, after a small part of her testimony, to make it look as if he did not believe any of it. If we actually believed that documents could say anything we wanted them to, then none of this would actually matter, and it would not be possible to expose historical fraud for what it really is. [2]

There are also reasons beyond the pragmatic and instrumental, why truth matters, why it can be seen as an inherent good. They are not conclusive, knock-down, irrefutable reasons, they are not mathematical proofs, but they are reasons. We will discuss some in the final chapter. But for now we will content ourselves with some thoughts about what human beings are, and why, being what they are, they should consider truth a very important value, and considering it such, treat it accordingly.

 Looked at in that light, the thought that leaps out at us is this: that humans are the only entities in the entire universe, for all we know, who have the capacity to make truth their object. The other needs and wishes, the ones that can conflict with truth, the needs and wishes for contentment, happiness, comfort, feelings of security and safety and being protected, are ones that other beings can want and strive for after a fashion But truth? No. We, by this strange provocative contingent accident of natural selection, have the kind of brain that can conceptualise reality as existing independent of us, and the possibility that we can discover what it is, along with the possibility that we can try to do that and fail, that we can think we’ve discovered it and be wrong, that we can discover part of it and be at a loss about the rest, and so on.

 So one intrinsic reason for thinking we ought to respect the truth, and try to find out what it is, which entails not fudging it whenever we don’t like what we find, which entails deciding firmly in advance that we will put it first and all other considerations second – one reason for all this is simply that we can, and that as far as we know we are the only ones who can. We can, so we ought to. It would be such a waste not to.

If only as a sort of tribute to the remarkable accident of natural selection. To the staggering amazing chain of being – from nothing to something, to life, to intelligence, to truth-seeking.

 And then, truth can be seen as a major part of the human heritage. Along with the pyramids and the Great Wall and King’s College Chapel, the cumulative gathering up of true knowledge about the world is something that belongs to all human beings across time – particularly of course into the future. It doesn’t belong to any of us in particular, to any one generation, to any mere short-lived set of humans, but to all of us. No one brief generation has the right to tamper with it for the sake of its own ephemeral satisfactions. Think of the Bamiyan Buddhas. How disgusting it was and is that a band of fundamentalist thugs should dare to destroy something that ought to have belonged to all humans across time as well as across space. The truth is a Bamiyan Buddha. It belongs to everyone, not anyone. No one has a right to destroy or distort or damage it for petty temporary political reasons.


1. Richard Evans, In Defense of History , W.W. Norton and Company 1999 pp. 106-7.

2. Richard Evans, Contribution to the ‘Great Debate on History and Postmodernism’ , University of Sydney , Australia , 27 July 2002 , published as “Postmodernism and History”, Butterflies and Wheels ,, accessed May 15, 2005.

Why Truth Matters 2: Brigham Young University and Academic Freedom

From Why Truth Matters (Continuum: 2006) by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, Chapter 7, ‘Institutions, Academe and Truth’, pp. 141-146.

 …consider also some of the events which have been played out in recent years at Brigham Young University (BYU), which has its main campus in Provo , Utah . BYU, founded in 1875 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) – that is, by Mormons – is an explicitly religious institution. Its mission statement makes it clear that it exists in order to enrich its students – as it sees it – in the Mormon faith:

The founding charge of BYU is to teach every subject with the Spirit. It is not intended “that all of the faculty should be categorically teaching religion constantly in their classes, but…that every…teacher in this institution would keep his subject matter bathed in the light and colour of the restored gospel.”

It is more than a little difficult to imagine quite what this means when it comes to subjects like accountancy and computer engineering. But it is immediately clear that BYU, and indeed other colleges and universities which are founded on religious precepts, differ significantly from their secular cousins. No doubt it is tempting to suppose that this difference necessarily undermines any claim which such institutions make that education and research are about the pursuit of truth. However, this would be to oversimplify; it is quite possible for people to carry out perfectly respectable research, in certain delimited fields, even if they believe that the moon is made of semi-skim yogurt and that a giant pumpkin is God. Religious institutions don’t throw truth out of the window altogether. Their policy is more selective; they keep the bits they like, and discard those they don’t.

Faculty at BYU are aware that their academic freedom is limited in quite specific ways. The BYU policy on academic freedom is set out in a document which was approved by the university’s trustees in September 1992. It is based on a distinction between “Individual Academic Freedom”, which refers to the “freedom of the individual faculty member ‘to teach and research without interference,’ to ask hard questions, to subject answers to rigorous examination, and to engage in scholarship and creative work”; and “Institutional Academic Freedom”, which holds that it is “the privilege of universities to pursue their distinctive missions”. Bringing these two things together leads BYU to its policy on academic freedom:

It follows that the exercise of individual and institutional academic freedom must be a matter of reasonable limitations. In general, at BYU a limitation is reasonable when the faculty behaviour or expression seriously and adversely affects the university mission or the Church.

The policy document offers three examples of the kinds of things which staff aren’t permitted to say to students or in public: (a) something which contradicts or opposes LDS Church doctrine or policy; (b) something which deliberately derides or attacks the LDS Church or its leaders; and (c) something which violates the “Honor Code”. [1]

It’s obvious that such a policy is bound to result in problems. Scholars working in the humanities or the social sciences are very likely to be inquiring into subjects that could bring them into conflict with the specified limitations on academic freedom. This is especially the case since the limitations are vague enough so that what the BYU authorities consider to be a violation might vary over time, and from case to case, and that faculty might not be clear anyway that particular views or activities are unacceptable.

It is important to make it clear here that there is no evidence that BYU staff are dissatisfied either with the university’s strongly religious nature, or with the fact that their academic freedom is necessarily limited. This is not surprising; some ninety-five per cent of faculty are members of the LDS Church, and also, as a condition of their employment, “temple worthy”, a status attained by only about one in five Mormons. The problems have arisen rather because of the perception that the specified limitations on academic freedom are applied with too much zeal; in particular, there is the suspicion that the policy on academic freedom is used in order to silence viewpoints which are unorthodox only on the strictest interpretation of Church doctrine, even though this is not justified by the letter of the policy. This point is perhaps best illustrated by the case of Gail Hurley Houston, who between 1990 and 1996 was an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at BYU.

Professor Houston’s story is quite complicated. Indeed, it is the subject of a sixty-two page report by BYU administrators, which itself was the result of an investigation by the American Association of University Professors, which for its part culminated in an eighteen page report.[2] The essence of the story, though, is that Professor Houston’s application for tenure (which went forward, as is standard, as she approached her sixth year of employment at BYU) was denied, despite its being supported by her departmental colleagues, her departmental chair, and two of the three requisite tenure committees. It was rejected at the last stage in the tenure process by the University Faculty Council on Rank and Status; the decision to deny tenure was then confirmed by an Appeal Panel hearing in August 1996.

Houston ‘s application for tenure was not denied on the grounds of the quality of her scholarship. It was denied because in the eyes of the BYU administration she had engaged in “a pattern of publicly contradicting fundamental Church doctrine and deliberately attacking the Church.”[3] Thus, she was informed that the negative recommendation was because of the number and severity of occasions when your actions and words on and off campus…were perceived as harmful to the tenets held by the Church and the university. We feel that not only have these activities failed to strengthen the moral vigour of the university, they have enervated its very fibre.[4]

The BYU administration identified a number of specific occasions where they thought her behaviour had transgressed the boundaries set out in the policy on academic freedom. Perhaps most significant were two instances where she suggested that it is appropriate for Mormons to pray to the “Heavenly Mother” as well as to the “Heavenly Father”. The BYU authorities pointed out that she had previously had a warning that such conduct was a clear violation of Church doctrine, and therefore, that it was unacceptable, but that she had subsequently repeated the offence. There were also concerns that she had publicly advocated extending the priesthood to women, again in clear violation of Church doctrine.

It would be easy to dismiss these worries on the grounds that they are a function of a deeply ingrained sexism which is characteristic of the Mormon religion. However, whilst this is probably true, it nevertheless isn’t clear that the BYU administrators behaved in quite the arbitrary manner that some commentators have supposed. In other words, there is at least an argument that both the following things are true: Professor Houston was the victim of religious intolerance rooted in a sexist theology; and the BYU administrators correctly applied the terms of their policy on academic freedom.

There is an interesting point here, linked to some of the themes we explored in chapter 5, about how tempting it is to assess this kind of dispute in terms of viewpoints which are rooted in prior political and ideological commitments. Thus, for example, it would be easy for the authors of this book, in line with their atheism, to declare an anathema on BYU, its arguments and works; that is, to decide in advance that the justification it offered for denying tenure to a feminist scholar was necessarily going to be flawed. But if you look closely at the arguments involved in the issue, the matter is not as straightforward as that.

 Consider, for example, the issue of Houston ‘s prayers to a “Heavenly Mother”. The report of AAUP found that BYU had not made their case on this issue, because Professor Houston’s statements about her visions of a Mother in Heaven were a “description of a personal vision,” and did not constitute public advocacy of belief as the administration charged.[5]

This is pure sophistry. BYU’s addendum to the AAUP document was right when it said:

The AAUP’s argument that Professor Houston did not “advocate” praying to Heavenly Mother is specious. She publicly announced that she engages in the practice of praying to Heavenly Mother and described what a wonderful experience it is. She even described what Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother say to her in such prayers…The clear message of her public statements was that it is appropriate to pray to Heavenly Mother, that it is a wonderful experience, and that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother accept and respond to such prayers.[6]

However, and it is an important however, the fact that it is at least arguable that BYU acted within the terms of its own policy on academic freedom in the case of Professor Houston, albeit on the basis of the strictest interpretation of that policy, does not mean that there is no institutional pressure at BYU on faculty. The evidence is that there is institutional pressure; that a significant minority of academics fear precisely that they will fall foul of a strict interpretation of the policy on academic freedom; and, in particular, that feminist scholars tend to attract the often unwelcome attention of the BYU authorities.

Thus, for example, the AAUP described a visit to the BYU campus at Provo as follows:

Many faculty members shared in some detail the narratives of their problems with academic freedom, reappointment, promotion, and tenure, frequently producing documents but asking that their names and identifying circumstances not be included in this report. At least two cases are in litigation against the university. Some cases involve issues of personal conduct that are under investigation and others focus on academic research that raises concern with the administration. Several creative artists in different fields told of pressures to alter works to meet unclear administrative agendas…Numerous women, some in groups and some alone, spoke to the investigating committee about the hostile climate for women on campus.[7]

Reading this, though, one is led to wonder quite what they expected. Religious doctrine is always contested; therefore, disputes about academic freedom are inevitable given the existence of a policy which prohibits overt doctrinal heterodoxy. But it must be said that for a professor at a religious university to complain about this situation is a little bizarre. It comes with the territory. If you’re working within the confines of a revealed truth, then there’s a lot you can’t say. Indeed, with regard to BYU’s antipathy towards certain kinds of feminism, it is not unreasonable to ask, though it certainly isn’t politic, what exactly feminist scholars think they are doing working there in the first place? After all, the LDS Church is hardly covered in glory when it comes to its record on the rights of women.

 1., accessed May 21 2005 .
2. See, accessed May 21 2005 .
3. “Academic Freedom and Tenure: Brigham Young University ”, Academe , Sept-Oct 1997, pp. 52-71.
4. ‘The Issue of Academic Freedom: An Interview with Jim Gordon”, Brigham Young Magazine , Winter 1997.
5. Cited in “Academic Freedom and Tenure: Brigham Young University ”, Academe , Sept-Oct 1997, p. 52.
6. Ibid., p. 65.
7. Ibid., p. 70.
8. Ibid., p. 67.

Why Truth Matters 3 From Why Truth Matters (Continuum: 2006) by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, Chapter 8, ‘Why Truth Matters’, pp. 178-181.

In the end, this boils down to preferences. Even the preference for a world where the lies of genocidal tyrannies are eventually corrected is still ultimately a preference. A highly reasonable, well-grounded preference, but still a preference. If we didn’t have minds, and emotions, and the moral thoughts that go with them, mass slaughters would just be something that happened, like rain.

Some people do prefer to live in a thought-world where priests and mullahs claim to decide what is true. Others prefer to live in a thought-world where ideas about what is true are lenient, flexible, fuzzy around the edges; where it is possible to sort-of-believe, half-believe and half-hope, believe in an as if or storytelling or daydreaming way. Others prefer – genuinely prefer, not merely think they’re supposed to – to try to figure out what really is true, as opposed to what might be, or appears to be, or should be. This is a preference. One can adduce moral and psychological reasons for both preferences. The reasons we’ve given for thinking truth matters rest on preferences, and there’s no final definitive knock-down case for them, at least not that we’ve been able to think up or find. But reasons can be good reasons without being final ones.

And one last good reason for thinking that truth matters, it seems to us, is all about preferences, in the largest and most humanly important sense. It’s about happiness, flourishing, enthusiasm, about what makes life worth living, why we prefer being awake to being asleep, why it’s a privilege to be human. It’s about why truth matters . Really matters. Not in a dull perfunctory dutiful sense, but in a real, lived, felt sense – “on the pulses,” as Keats put it.

This is the kind of mattering we’re talking about here – personal but also public, subjective but also communicable and sharable, immediate but also permanent, cognitive but also emotional. In a way it’s just as much about community and solidarity as Rorty’s vision is, but it’s a community that thinks truth matters rather than one that prefers solidarity to truth. Truth is perhaps the capital city on that mattering map.

This reason is based on the thought that inquiry, curiosity, interest, investigation, explanation-seeking, are hugely important components of human happiness. This doesn’t seem to be a terribly popular thought right now. Public rhetoric tends to aim much lower, for some reason. It seems to see us all as hunkered down, and settling. Settling for minimal, parochial, almost biological satisfactions – family, safety, money. But that underestimates us. We want more than that. We want to ask questions, we want to learn, we want to understand. That’s a very human taste and pleasure. Again, as we said in Chapter 1, it seems a waste not to use human capacities and abilities. Anyone can settle for just survival and reproduction and comfort, but we can do more. It’s a privilege, that is – it seems a kind of sacrilege not to use it.

And real inquiry presupposes that truth matters. That it is true that there is a truth of the matter we’re investigating, even if it turns out that we can’t find it. Maybe the next generation can, or two or three or ten after that, or maybe just someone more skilled than we are. But we have to think there is something to find in order for inquiry to be genuine inquiry and not just an arbitrary game that doesn’t go anywhere. We like games, but we also like genuine inquiry. That’s why truth matters.

Postmodern (and postmodern-aided traditional) attacks on science and truth of the sort quoted above tend to frame science and inquiry as impoverished in various ways: arid, cold, unfeeling, mechanical, dull, empty of poetry and colour and life, devoid of wonder. This is an old Romantic trope – Blake’s “single vision and Newton ‘s sleep,” Keats’ “cold philosophy would clip an angel’s wings,” Wordsworth’s “they murder to dissect.” But scientists with real experience of inquiry and discovery think that Blake, Keats and Wordsworth were simply wrong, and that so are their contemporary avatars. Richard Dawkins for example:

To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposed to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected…The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. [1]

And Matt Ridley:

 The one thing I would try to teach the world about science is that science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries . Science increases the store of wonder and mystery in the world; it does not erode it.

The myth, started by the Romantic poets, that science gets rid of mysteries was well nailed by Albert Einstein – whose thought experiments about relativity are far more otherworldly, elusive, thrilling and baffling than anything dreamt up by poets. Isaac Newton showed us the mysteries of deep space, Charles Darwin showed us the mysteries of deep time, and Francis Crick and James D Watson showed us the mysteries of deep encoding. To get rid of those insights would be to reduce the world’s stock of awe. [2]

 That’s why truth matters. 


1. Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow , Houghton Mifflin Company 1998, p. x.

2. Spiked science survey, “If you could teach the world just one thing”,, accessed May 21 2005.

- See more at: 

Why Truth Matters 4

There is a documentary that you might want to watch. After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (2020) "A look at the ongoing threat caused by the phenomenon of "fake news" in the U.S., focusing on the real-life consequences that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen. "


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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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