Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The quest for truth requires a critical edge, sharpened by lies, hedges, and evasions, truthfulness is largely a matter of deciding what to withhold... but theory of mind is also connected to another human capacity: empathy. Modern psychology strengthened this case, our ability to understand how other people feel is what makes morality possible. Emotional insight is what drives the golden rule So it is with being lied to, in that way, our ability to take up the viewpoint of another is both what makes lying possible and gives us a reason not to do it—usually, at least.
Indeed, it fits with everyone’s tendencies to want to talk more about the virtues of religion around atheists than with believers, or to question the value of philosophy with philosophers. The quest for truth requires a constant critical edge.
The question of whether or not truth always triumphs over other virtues. “Nothing but the truth” is the wrong maxim if things other than truth matter more. The most obvious examples are of courtesy and concern for people’s feelings, where kindness matters more than revealing the full, naked truth. Even here, however, we need to be careful withholding truth for someone’s own benefit is sometimes justified but often it simply diminishes their autonomy.
There is nothing more common than inconsistency and confusion over the imperative not to tell a lie. While “liar” is universally a term of opprobrium, almost everyone accepts that the social world would cease turning without a good scattering of white lies, half-truths and evasions.It might follow from the simple realisation that lying is not always wrong. The key is to recognise that lying is a problem because of what it is not: telling the truth. And if lying is a complex matter that is because truth is too. So once we get to the truth about lying, we’re already in a dizzying tangle of ideas.

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