ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN writing this blog for awhile, I haven’t really made a habit of writing about my opinions. I mean, I write philosophical interpretations of movies and TV and music and stuff based on some other philosopher‘s philosophy, but rarely (I think) have I ever said, “Y’all know what I think?” about anything, much less on a topic that may not be (at least at first glance) philosophical.
After all, who wants to hear opinions?
You know what they say about opinions?
And most of them stink…
That was then.
This is post-November 9th 2016.
Now, a big part of, dare I say, the allure of philosophy is that it’s all about thinking.
Thinking about stuff; thinking about anything, everything.
Philosophers do a great deal of it. Thinking. In fact, philosophers are often accused of over thinking.
Unfortunately, I may been doing way too much overthinking these days.
Some of it has to do with this guy
The President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.
62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump.
I was not one of them.
Since the election of Donald Trump on November 9th, 2016 (or maybe because of the election of Donald Trump), things have been a little weird for those of us who “think” too much.
And I mean weird as in President Trump and his administration have a lot of people thinking and talking about not telling the truth.
Specifically, that the President and his administration have some difficulty saying it.
There’s so much non-truth telling going on that the experts are now saying that President Trump and his administration are proof that we living in a “post-truth” world.
Post-truth is defined as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief
So far as politics goes, appealing to emotions isn’t new. Politicians have appealed to how we feel over what we think for, well… since there have been politicians.
And it’s not as if politicians have suddenly become not truthful.
It’s just that I can’t quite remember when the truth was so… unimportant.
Folks on t.v. and on the internet are conjuring up images of the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; painting images of a world where facts are not objective but are, well, whatever they say that they are.
At least that’s the way the truth goes down in Oceania .
The president doesn’t lie, he’s merely “misspoken”.
That’s not a lie coming from the administration. It’s a “alternative fact”.
Although it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to think, there are some people out there who believe that telling the truth isn’t as important as people say it is.
Truth is kind of funny, though.
The funny thing about the truth is that the truth, despite what we may believe, really is important.
You see, those of us who are into
over thinking philosophically about things place a high value on truth. Truth is a very important thing to philosophers. Truth gets us to wisdom.
Philosophers love wisdom.
Philosophy literally means love of wisdom.
Truth is an essential part of how we accurately describe reality, how the world really is.
How we know things.
It is easy to come up with two conditions for knowledge: truth and belief. It’s clear that knowledge requires truth. That is, you cannot know something unless it is true. – Richard Feldman, Epistemology.
We know things because our beliefs about things in the world are true.
As Plato said,
And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are
Truth may not be a valued commodity in politics, as Machiavelli wrote:
Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.
And like Machiavelli suggested, lying may get you far in politics… and sometimes quite far in life.
But there’s a very important reason truth matters.
Not telling the truth (aka lying) isn’t just a matter of disseminating bad information or misspeaking. Not telling the truth is pernicious deception and manipulation that makes us incapable of making correct choices.
If we are indifferent to truth or we don’t know what the truth is – if someone is lying to us and we believe them – we’re unable to navigate in the world. We see reality how it really isn’t.
Imagine that you are planning to take a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
No need to say why. You got your reasons.
You’ve been told by the ship’s owner that the ship you are sailing on is safe and that there is absolutely no chance of the ship sinking. You believe the ship owner’s assurances (because you have no reason not to) and believe that the ship is sea worthy. You decide to take the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the ship owner is not telling you the truth. He knows that the ship shouldn’t be anywhere near water, let alone sailing upon a whole ocean full of water. He knows the ship will not complete its voyage.
While at sea, the ship begins to take on water and eventually (and inevitably) capsizes, killing all aboard. Including you.
Now, you made a choice based on the word of someone who did not tell you the truth.
And it cost you your life.
Possible death wishes aside, had you known the true state of things (i.e. reality) you probably would have decided to not take the trip.
Truth is important. And not just in dealing with issues of metaphysics.
We must know what the facts are if we want to make the right decision, not just on practical matters but also when we act morally.
Truth is an absolute necessity when assigning moral culpability.
Lying, withholding truth or otherwise not being truthful are generally considered to be immoral acts.
The reason why you shouldn’t maintain your own set of “alternative facts” in the face of objective reality is because when we act, our actions have consequences.
And consequences, unless you’re a deontologist, can be judged morally.
Remember that ship owner I was talking about? Well, because the owner withheld the truth from the ship’s passengers and misrepresented the safety of the vessel, the passengers couldn’t make the correct choice – to take the trip or not.
The ship owner’s deception led to the loss of lives. People died because the ship owner didn’t tell the truth.
Causing other people’s deaths is bad and if people die because of you, your are morally responsible for their deaths.
We really don’t need to go to an extreme of people dying to demonstrate that truth is a good thing – and not just because philosophers say so.
Without the truth, claims are unreliable. Truth cannot be “alternative” or “relative” or “its true for me.” Without the belief that what we’re told is true, we cant place our trust in the individuals (or institutions) that make claims or tell us anything about the way the world is. When we don’t trust people; when we don’t trust institutions (that they run), and the lack of trust undermines the legitimacy of institutions (like government). We need to be mindful that truth is an essential for good government
If you know your Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, government necessarily depends on legitimacy.
Legitimacy relies on the consent of the governed.
Consent is based on trust.
Trust requires truth.
And this is kinda why we have to believe that truth is important.
We need truth to point out those who, by not telling the truth, corrupt government and undermine our ability to trust what others want us to believe.
In the end, we all know that seeking and preserving truth isn’t just about the right now. Presidents come and go; there will always be ship builders who’ll lie about the seaworthiness of their ship.
And that’s the honest truth.
Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. 12.
Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. 1532.