Focus; True to Live: Why Truth Matters
Good morning this is Focus 580 our morning telephone talk show. My name is Jack Brighton. Our producers are Harry Williamson and Martha Diehl and Henry Frayne is at the controls very glad you're listening this morning as Americans grapple with another close close presidential election. We're also struggling with a number of contested ideas many of them are claimed as truths that we are safer or less safe after invading Iraq. That swift boat veterans refute or confirm John Kerry's patriotism or that a document shown on CBS is fake but the story it tells is true. We hope that somewhere in all the spin we can recover the signal from the noise but the noise itself raises an interesting question. If the election has become an exercise in brute force or rhetoric is truth still of any value in American politics. Stepping back from what could be some really fun arguments the question for this hour of focus 580 is a philosophical one. What is the nature of truth and does it matter on its own terms. Our guest for this discussion is Michael Lynch Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut
author of several books on the subject of truth including one we'll draw from today. It isn't titled true to life. Why truth matters. Recently published by the MIT Press in the book Michael Lynch raises the question why does truth matter when politicians so easily sidestep it and intellectual scorn it as irrelevant. Our guest raises a defense of truth in the book and makes a claim for truth value not simply in philosophical terms but in practical and political affairs. We all must face and I will talk about that during this hour. Let me also mention our guest Michael Lynch will be making a couple of appearances in the Chicago area so if you're listening up there you can catch him at these events. He's speaking on truth power and democracy in the Chicago area at the College of the page on October 11th and see a week from Monday 10:00 a.m. at the college page as part of a series on George Orwell's 1984 sponsored by the Middle East Committee of the college. And also he'll be doing a reading and book signing on the evening of Monday October 11th at Fifty seventh Street book 7:00 p.m.
And so you can. Look for him there as well and he joins us this morning by telephone as we talk with Michael Lynch you were invited into the conversation. Your questions and thoughts on the subject are welcome. All you need to do is pick up the telephone the number around Champaign-Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have a toll free line. Anywhere you hear us 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Mike Lynch Good morning. Good morning. Thanks so much for spending some time with us. Well thanks for having me. I wanted to ask you what got you interested in this line of inquiry you've written at least three books on the subject the nature of truth and its defense. Right. Well you know look I'm a philosopher and for the last 10 years I've been thinking about what prove this but I've been I had been for a long time just approaching it in a typical sort of egghead academic way just thinking about certain puzzles and paradoxes and those things are very important. But in a sense I began to realize that as I sort of came down out of the ivory tower so to
speak that in a wider culture a large people and I include myself among them were really confused not only about what truth is but most importantly or at least more importantly about a value. And that result as a result of that piece and I think people have become increasingly cynical about the trees value. I mean let me just give you a few examples. Sure I mean we. No wonder the war in Iraq for instance because we were told that that there were WMD as well turns out there were. But many people and it's sometimes at least I suspect and people the administration might be some of those people don't seem to think that really matters. Don't think that really the truth of the matter here is what's important what's important is what we did or that we achieve stability or that we increased our power or we made for you know we are making a more just democracy. But it's not the truth of those
claims that really was important. Another in another completely different sort of example I mean think of our intellectual culture. Many people in my field of law first have come to embrace a sort of view of truth according to which truth is relative to let's say the opinions of those in power and so people begin to think that well last words begin to think that oh well it's really the opinions of those in power that the pinions of the people in the culture that matters not the truth. And then finally I think that you know this confusion is manifested just by the simple fact that a lot of people confuse the love of truth with the love of dogma. And that too is a mistake. Well let's talk about as you do. The four points that you make. These these ideas are very they are under assault. Truth is you know in a number of its manifestations or ways of looking at it it is a very contested area and I wanted to begin by discussing the claims you make in the defenses you raise about those claims. The first of which is that truth is objective right. And that idea there has
indeed been under assault. You know especially in academia in recent decades. Absolutely. I think the idea that truth is objective has in many people's minds become problematic simply because they've misunderstood what it is to think the truth is objective is not to think anything particularly fancy fancy Its think. Look I don't know everything and neither does anyone else. There are some things that we just won't ever now and there are other things that we think we know but we don't. I think if you grant that then you've already granted that in the important sense truth is objective. I mean some of the attacks on the idea of truth being objective in the academy stem from the fact of sort of confusing the idea of a objectivity with other ideas that are really bad ideas. I mean I think a lot of people think that well if you believe the truth is objective then you've got to believe there's one truth
and that's a mistake you can believe that in a certain certain sense that there's more than one one true story in the world at least about some things. But there are certainly some stories that are absolutely mistaken. Another way that people I think sort of become confused about objectivity of truth is that they think that well if truth is objective that mess means that we've got to know what it is and then they reflect on the fact that well they're not quite sure what it is. So they become confused about the idea of the truth being objective. But obviously. The fact the truth is objective doesn't mean that we know what it is and in fact it means that we have to be open to the possibility that we're always mistaken. Well we just started to scratch the surface of the topic we already have a caller who's waiting. I'm curious what's on their mind so listen include them in a conversation. OK this is a shopping list or on line number one. Good morning.
Well yes a lot. I'm going to take personal offense at some of the words that have already been used here egghead I read Howard Lutnick too well and I fancy. As I think one of the problems with dealing with truth is that many I'll use that word pseudo intellectuals that would be people in your field have high jacked the very complicated. Ideas of quantum mechanics and modern physics I'm a theoretical physicist and basically those concepts are in actuality not understandable in human conversational terms. And they've taken this and they've used this in the same way that they've used the word of relativity to say
well there are no values because of relativity. And I think that that physics has been hijacked by people to use it to distort what objectivity means. And what. Basically to get rid of values. And maybe you could discuss that because I don't feel bad about it but I feel when people are always coming up to me and asking me does the fact that we Hindenburg's Uncertainty Principle mean that we can't know anything. And I usually just say Go away. Because I can't really explain it a couple times when I tell them it's a physics the language of physics is mathematics and any attempt to use an analogy will fail because these things are not describable in normal English so to speak so I think you just talk about that the way physics has been used in chemistry and biology too to
support these metaphysical and ontological distortions that I think I see in the academia. OK all right great question. And let me first just start by saying I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone by referring to myself as an egghead or an intellectual In fact I think that I'm certainly proud of both of those labels but the more important question that you raise which I think is a very good question. I mean as you know I mean more than anyone it's sad. It's has long been seized upon by people for lots of different reasons and often because not because they understand it particularly well people like to seize on what they think are the results of science or and try to use them for their own ends the same and that's true both with you know from philosophers to politicians. And you're quite right to warn us about that. And I think that you're also quite right to point out that in some areas of inquiry
specifically on things and in physics but also in chemistry and biology there is a great deal of technical knowledge to grasp the theories involved and it's important I think one thing that you didn't bring up but I think as a for to sort of point out is that we need to encourage people to continue to have some familiarity with the technical language to teach science because otherwise people will continue to misunderstand the results of your discipline. Yeah it is a great question because you know we do like to cross-pollinate things in especially in the humanities we want to sound more scientific. So what better than to borrow from. Physics. That's right it's a free for all for are often wishing that they were more like physicists. You know I mean I think a lot of people their academy have of course sometimes heard it's called physics and very well very good we have another caller to talk with let's
include them some in Chicago. Online number four. Good morning good morning. Morning I think one thing we need to say is that even in science one of the biggest problems that we have is that we in the West treat theories and hypotheses and truth and fact and therefore see other people and not having the truth and not having facts when in when in reality we are working from theories and even though the theories and the hypotheses are working at least they're still only a world view. And they are not the truth and I think that's why we get so much junk science now because we're teacher treating these things as truth when they are hypotheses and theories. Well I think there are some things that I think I owe you and I agree on and perhaps some things that we won't. I take it that we all agree I think you're completely right. It's important to
remember that when we're dealing in science or in any sort of inquiry that we're always dealing with things that are less than certain. Certainty is hard to come by in life. And you know you're quite right that science deals with hypotheses and theories. I think it's also important to I wouldn't. I'm not quite sure I agree that that's you know not realizing that is the reason that we get a lot of what's what you term junk science. Because you know perhaps I'm not quite sure what you mean by junk science but I certainly think you're right that we need to remember that we need to just because we think we're right about something doesn't mean that we are. And we've got that means we've got to be open to the possibility that we're mistaken. Well use one example of junk science. The idea of race which through the development of cell biology people are in it now realizing that
that is a social construct but in fact there are people in medicine still use it. I think it's because they would take so much deconstruction that they don't want to bother with it. But at the same time because they still use it most people begin to continue to feel that it's a biological fact and not a social construct. But I think that one might be one example. Right right. Well one of the things that I think that is an interesting example and it's a great example of how just what you were talking about indeed. We take certain kinds of categories as given and forget that those that sometimes new experience new information new science as you were indicating actually can show that what we thought were useful kinds of categories and concepts turn out to in fact be quite misleading. And if we don't remember I mean this is again an
example of I think. And I see what you're saying now I think I agree completely about this. There is a tendency in human beings to once they become convinced that something is true to hold on to that truth at all costs and. That unfortunately is not a sign that you're caring for the truth. That's a sign that you're caring for a dog that you're worried about being wrong. And as I said before caring about objective truth requires you know open to the possibility that you're wrong and I think the example you gave is an excellent example. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think knowing truth is very rare I believe in truth but I think we seldom know it. And that's maybe just not going to be our privilege in life I mean sometimes we do but think a lot of times we're really not sure what the truth is. And I
think that always tend to recognize when things are theory and not to be as you said dogmatic because that certainly has caused a great many problems especially when we get into the area of religion where people feel very deeply that they know the truth of it. If you can only hold and understand that you probably will never recognize the truth in there and that's why it becomes an area of religion because you have to go by faith that you have found the truth. But at the same time there has to be an appreciation that someone else has thought that he or she has found the truth. I agree I agree with you on that point to an extent. I think that there are of course issues where. It's going to be very very difficult if not impossible to know what's true. There are other issues however where I think you know I think you and I agree. From the mundane you know issues to perhaps more important issues where I think
it is possible for people to know what's true. I think what we what I'm trying to be careful of here is on the one hand we have to be open to the fact that we might be wrong. We do We don't want to also fall into the other trap which people tend to fall into which is that they they come to appreciate the point that you're making that well it's really difficult to know what's true. We have to be open to the possibility that we could be wrong and they fall into the trap of thinking that well. You know Brooke I'm never going to know what's true. So as a result who cares. Who cares what's true. I mean this is a something I think we're seeing not just in issues about science and philosophy but we also see it and that wider cultural large. Yeah I agree with you on the right. People are bombarded by all sorts of information from all different sources and yet you know people will start saying well you know I just don't now I don't know what's true so I'm just not even going to try to figure out what's true anymore. That's a mistake because on lots of things thinking critically thinking
carefully keeping your eyes open can lead you to if not certainty to a close approximation of what's true. Thank you I agree with your last point thank you. Thanks for the call. Well you know we're getting lots of callers here apparently people are concerned about truth so that's a good sign I think. Indeed and I will go on to the next. But I can't help but ask this question because just at the top of the hour as we were lining up the phone call to you to talk that lead story on the NPR news was you know a story about Tony Blair admitting finally that he was wrong about the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and he's saying that publicly but he then goes on to insist that he was right to send troops to Iraq. And it just seems like you know whatever you believe about you know this larger issue that there is this phenomena and that OK we finally will will you know drag our feet but finally will admit that we were
wrong about certain things but in the same breath we were right about so many other things and there's this phenomenon that you mentioned humans. Have had this need to be right whether they are or not. Well I think that the issue of the Blair case is a really good example of what we're talking about I mean I I think it's great that he has to provide it is great that he's he's admitted to these wrong about some things. I certainly think however that we might be a little bit more open to the possibility that we're wrong especially about that particular issue that Tony Blair has been. Well I mean I think that one thing that is worrying people right now about this is that this whole issue of being open to the possibility of mistake is connected to an issue that we want to have value a virtue that we think that politicians should have which is integrity.
And a lot of people think that. Integrity means never always being consistent. That's a mistake. Now integrity means be willing to pursue the truth just because it is the truth. Being willing to stand up for what you believe your best guess of what is true and it being open to changing your mind when the facts point in a different direction. And so I mean here's a totally different example of where the sort of has manifested itself recently. You know they're in a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ironically named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in my opinion. During that issue recently you know with the interviews with the people who are part of that organization one of the things that they said was that you know what really got them motivated to participate politically in the way that they did was because they were incensed by John Kerry's testimony before Congress after the Vietnam War. And they were. What's interesting about that is that when one of the and some of the
interviews the word integrity got used a lot that they felt that showed that Kerry had no integrity. I actually think the opposite I think that if you're willing to you know sort of stand up and say well look yeah I went to this war yeah I believed in it so forth and so on but I was mistaken. That shows that to some extent at least you're open to the possibility of being wrong and that's part of integrity. That's the sort of thing that we're looking I think many of many people on the left at least are looking for from Tony Blair and George Bush and John Kerry actually hoping that they display the sort of integrity about the war in Iraq. Well you also use the case in your book of former Illinois Governor George Ryan who I suppose in some people's minds could not be accused of a high standard of integrity in other areas but in terms of the death penalty. Right. You know you're right about I think many people call it he was a strong supporter the death penalty but then when he became governor he
saw the appalling way it was was exercised. Right. I think he's actually a really interesting example precisely because of the complexity of his character. And as you say I'm careful to when I do talk about him as showing intellectual integrity I'm careful to talk about just that particular case the case of the death penalty I mean after all whether a person is a whole display's integrity through their life. Well that's a difficult issue and I can't judge because I'm no expert on on his entire political life but it does seem to me that that case when Ryan whatever you think about that whether you think it's justified or not whether you think he did the right thing or not it does seem as if the man came to change his mind because. He thought the facts bore him out. He could be mistaken but you gotta admit it does seem as if he was pursuing the truth and thinking about it critically.
Yeah we're talking this morning with Michael Lynch He's a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut author of several books including the one we're discussing this morning true to life why truth matters published by the MIT Press. We do have a couple callers waiting patiently I'll get right to them. If you'd like to join us in the time remaining We got about maybe half an hour left. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. That's around Champaign-Urbana elsewhere. Eight hundred to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Well next to us are on a cell phone line number one. Good morning. Hi. Very interesting show. I guess I'm in part going to be adding a couple me to this but I just. The physics professor I really agree physics borrowing by people in the humanities is just incredibly dangerous. I've heard so many people say all sorts of crazy stuff including some physicists I might add seem to drift into
doing philosophy and later in life from from what I've seen and it just kind of still ill reasoned things. Anyway let's see you another another point here's a little quote I will toss out from the late Sir Karl Popper which was what is needed today is rather more intellectual modesty. I'm not sure Carl would have been one of those people who actually live that life. But it's a good statement. And then and then the last little bit I will add. There was a column by Colonel a retired Colonel David Hackworth who has come. He's written a bunch of books are on the swift boat veterans veterans for truth comments and one of the things that he pointed out was that basically in most situations like what they were talking about there isn't a true interpretation of events
because and you'll just never know because everybody has only little bits of information and there's no really good way of putting it all back together again particularly as time goes on. People die people's memories change force et cetera and so in a sense. Maybe there is a truth but it's one of those things we're just going to have to get beyond uncomfortably except that we probably will never know. Well I think and. Right. And so that just speaks to things as you point out there's we have to come to that. We get we have to realize there's a lot of things that we just can't know. And you know and but the important thing here is that I mean I have a number of comments I think a lot of these things that you're saying are very valuable. The important thing as I was to reiterate is remember that just because on in some cases it will be very difficult and some perhaps in one sense impossible to know what happened in cases of history of
course are excellent examples of that. Right. We shouldn't call it I'm not suggesting that you were but I think it's important to point out we shouldn't fall into the trap that well in that case you know it's not important to try to figure out to try to get closer to the truth because even if in some cases we can't we can't know every last detail about something we might you know be able to all proximate. If that were the perfect truth about some particular event. Oh I totally I totally agree I mean I don't mean to I don't mean didn't say history is impossible and I don't and I'm sure that's not what he meant either. Oh no no I mean I was pointing out that in those kinds of circumstances there's going to be a lot of dramatically conflicting and there have been and probably can't ever be sorted out. Because if you're if you're if you're in one on one side of the river and your heat on the other side of the river you don't necessarily know what's going on and you might think X is going on but really it's why. And
but because you just have no way of knowing. Well just to add here the goal of the recollection may not be the truth anyway it may be a political goal. Oh sure of course I'm not I mean I'm not even I'm not even going near he was basically saying let's not even go there let's just say can we find a consistency of events and the chances are pretty good the answer is No. I call that particular issue and I'm not so sure it seems to me like a lot of reporting that has come out recently has provided and so the evidence is that that we do know that Kerry's version of events if were not perfectly sure it's the right one seem to be substantiated. But you know you're right that's a judgment call. And a lot of these people who are criticizing Kerry based on what happened are no doubt some of them are being very sincere about what they reported as you pointed out at a certain point of course it is going to be difficult to know who's interpretations of events are there which is the right one.
OK well we have another caller waiting on line number two in Champaign. They're up next. Good morning. Hi I have had a couple of questions when it and I guess you know what just if you could discuss. Issues around science but also maybe having to do with media or power in terms of determining you know do we have global warming going on. What are the issues that you know prevent us from being sure about knowing the truth about that. Or another issue would be around cultural truths or cultural differences. It seems to be a really marked difference in a lot of European views of what's going on in the world right now or about John Kerry or whatever. And I'm wondering if it doesn't have something to do well it might have to do with the educational system but also widespread exposure to Marxist theory so their view of colonialism or imperialism or economics may be different. And then. Well for example on the issue of health care what kind of
assumptions they might make about economics or the role of government or the role of the individual or the role of the community. So in a way. Well there are a lot of barriers. Mary Okay I probably won't be able to address all of that but I think one of the just picking up on one thing and generalize in a bit. William Blake has this remark that you know it's maybe impossible to throw off the mind made manacles of culture and to a certain respect of course he's he's right about this. And this is illustrated by the what you point out that people around the world and certainly Europeans on the presidential election is a good example of that. Look at events through the eyes of their culture. And we do too. We look at our we our opinions of course are fashioned in affected by all sorts of things that we don't even have much
control over you know. That fact has led a lot of folks to believe that well at the end of the day there really isn't such a thing as objective truth. They're just competing truths. And one of the things I think that's a reasonable point of view I think that you know that philosophers have made that sort of view but made that sort of claim are you are making important point. I just I don't agree because I think it in part that just because one of the reasons I don't agree is just because it's the case that we see the world through different lenses doesn't mean that we can't all focus on the same object. We see it through different perspectives but that doesn't mean that those perspectives are always incommensurable. And let's hope that might be the case in that some of the situations that you or the examples that you mentioned. But I certainly hope that the type of perspective that the Europeans are bringing is the sort of perspective that at some point some Americans I think some
Americans are are listening to the sorts of concerns that they have about our present government's actions in the world and their motivations. So I think that you know there is in a sense hope that despite the fact that we see the world through different cultural lenses that we can reconcile some of these perspectives. Well we're getting lots of calls and I want to include as many people as we can but I also want to make sure to cover some of the basic concepts that you describe in the in the book. Before going to the next call I want to just raise this one point that I think is really interesting that you make the notion that truth is good and basically no way saying it is good to believe what is true. It's something that we value and that this is sort of an intrinsic you know human element about how we perceive the world and you know there's a really interesting example you raise about that. And it's sort of illustrated in movies like The Matrix when someone is given the option to take one pill and you
will you will never know what reality is but you will be happy and you will you know exist in this fantasy and you'll be happy but if you take this other pill then you will know the truth but the truth is really going to be bad. And so you know the court take course takes the truth pill right. And I think in many ways all of us would do that or maybe most of us. Yeah right. Well yeah I think that is an important point and it reveals something as you said that's an incredibly fundamental in in in our thinking which is that we do at the end of the day value truth for more than its consequences and that little thought experiment that you quite rightly point out is found in movies like The Matrix. Reveal that in a certain sense. Now of course it's true that you know some people I mean depending on the circumstances. I mean if you're if you're in a lot of pain and your life is really bad it might not sound too bad to opt for
the fantasy world. Right. Step into the machine of course. Even for that person if you gave them the option between just having the fantasy of their troubles being fixed and having them really being fixed I think clearly people would opt for actuality rather than just complete fantasy. And that's again revealing that there's something about believing in the truth just for its own sake that's important to us as a human being and it's something that we've got to remember we've it's something that it seems to me that a lot of us have forgot. Well we've got several callers waiting let's go next to in our band a listener line number one. Good morning Mr. Wrench. Yes hello. Do you believe in fact that you can discover the truth by just discovering the facts and appealing to them. And what is implied in calling something a fact other than you have
my word for it. Right. OK. Yeah I think that you can learn about all sorts of things by searching for and discovering and reflecting on the facts. I can for instance realize. That there's coffee in this mug that I'm holding. Because I look into the mug and I see it's a fact that there's coffee in the mouth. Now that's a Monday an example. And of course in lots of things political things legal things and moral issues and religious issues. It's much harder as we've been talking about to know what the facts are. Now to your second question as to what is a fact. Well I think you know that the meaning of the word fact as I understand it is not that complicated. The meaning of the word fact is to talk about a pact is to talk about something that's the case the way the world lives. It's difficult the difficult question of course is how you figure out what the
facts are. And that of course is going to depend on what sort of fact you're interested in and what sorts of issues you're concerned with. Yeah well the theory of the common man seems to be a kind of naive realism that the truth. It's what corresponds to the facts do you see any promise in the correspondence theory. Yeah I think that's a well that's a that's a good question. I think just the idea that Truth is correspondence with facts all by itself is a perfectly ok notion in a sense it's a sort of truism a platitude. The philosophically speaking I think the trouble with that theory insofar as there is trouble with it comes to trying to understand what correspondence is in detail that is in great technical philosophical detail and understanding what the facts are and more than the touristic sense that I defined now as a matter of fact I'm inclined to think
nowadays anyway that in some domains of our thought that is when we're thinking about things like coffee cups and trees and mountains and so forth the middle sized Ah goods of our everyday life some sort of version of the correspondence truth theory of truth and again now we're talking about philosophical theories what truth is some version of that theory could end up being right now in other domains I think it's possible that there are other sorts of theories of truth that people have developed such as certain versions of the coherence theory that might be more appropriate. Does your book deal with a correspondence coherence and pragmatic theories. Yes. Does I mean number of my books do. In this book one of the things that I think falls out of examining the truth as a value I mean when you think about truth being a value. One of the things that I think falls out of that and it just sort of is developed in the book is the
truth like a lot of values is something that comes in more than one form. And by that I don't mean anything about truth being relative or anything like that. I just mean that truth can be as I put it. Mo probably realized it's the sort of property that a belief has that can manifest a different form to put it somewhat loosely in different domains so that in more ality and ethics what truth the metaphysically amounts to might be quite different than what it is in physics. Thank you very much. I have to thank you. Thanks for the call. And I actually followed that that was great with great research. Finally we have we have several callers left in just about 13 14 minutes left with our guests and reintroduce real quickly Michael Lynche Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut author of a number of books including the one we're discussing true to life why truth matters published by the MIT Press will be appearing in Chicago a couple of events next week. Monday October 11th at 10:00 a.m. part of a
series on George Orwell's 1984 at the College of Du Page I should say 10 a.m. on Monday of the 11th of October culture of the page. He'll be speaking there also that evening at 7:00 p.m. speaking at the 57 Street Books on 13 0 1 East Fifty seventh Street in Chicago. So if you're up there you can attend those. And meanwhile we'll go on and talk with more callers Next up someone in Bloomington Indiana. Number four. Good morning. Hi. Hi Professor Lynch. You're a philosopher and not a lawyer but may I may I comment about determining truth from personal testimony such as the testimony of John Kerry versus the testimony of the Swift Boat Veterans. Sure we have. We have very well developed criteria for determining the accuracy of personal testimony. The legal profession depends largely on personal testimony and in some of the criteria is just is just anybody in just a matter of judgment and eye
witness testimony is the very best testimony if you have a number of eyewitnesses such as the Swift Boat guys. They're better than just one eyewitness. If you have eyewitnesses that were in a good position to observe the events and be accurate that that makes them even better witnesses. And then also do they have a personal interest in the outcome of their testimony if they're disinterested that is good if they are if they're testifying against their own interest. In favor in favor of their opposition. That's the best testimony of all and them and the swift boat guys they went to a whole lot of trouble to testify against John Kerry and apparently. I mean they raised a whole lot of money and there they put themselves a whole lot of trouble. Those people testifying in favor of John Kerry are interested in the outcome of the. They want to get him elected.
Well you know I think we take your point in you know certainly we've talked about that. As as an example of the kind of conundrum we have with the truth and I'm not sure you know based on what you said that we can really take it much further but I'll leave it up to the guests to you know answer if you would like to do that. I think just a short comment. Certainly you're right. Eyewitness testimony is an important way of that we use in the lawn and also in science and all sorts of things for helping us detect what's true and of course on this issue. Now there's as we're talking about a lot of disagreement about who was where when and what their motivations are. And in a certain sense I suppose we can agree that that's the case and I also agree that you're right of course eyewitness testimony is important. OK we'll go next to a listener in Mahomet online number three. Good morning.
Hi. I called the beginning of the show. I wanted to ask you a question. Eggheads I'd like to have an interest in the truth in a way for its own sake. But that's something in the field of science. We have a question of morals and the question is this. If one knows something is true what does that require of a person. Why are them modeled on that. Excellent question. In physics the law of gravity whatever that might need tells you don't jump out of a window unless you are intending to injure yourself. But if you believe in. There are certain moral imperatives. Most religions would tell you the reason we do this is that you'll be punished if you run the usually in the afterlife. But what if you just accept that man
has evolved and has certain moral instincts and sociopath comes along and says I don't care. Let me. Let me take you let me just take us first and let me just take the first question you raised which I think is a really really important question. OK suppose we have the truth about something. Does that about some issue doesn't always mean that we need to continue pursuing the truth about some issue if we haven't yet got the complete truth. And B does it mean that we should be always with some truth sharing the stress. The answer actually is no and I think that you know just to give you some examples about why this is the case before what. OK so here are some examples. We won one in World War Two For instance certain Nazi scientists.
Pursue the truth in a certain respect quite vigorously about how whether you know about let's say in one case how long people human beings could survive in frigid water and they pursue this by taking Jews and throwing them into frigid water and seeing how long it took them to die. No in that case pursuing the truth about this topic was barbaric in the way that it was pursued. Yeah it is actually would be nice to know more information about how to survive in frigid water but not at the cost of innocent people's lives as you would of course agree. So sometimes of moral considerations often frequently moral considerations should be weighed against our desire to know certain truths. I mean we think that the Nazi scientists were barbaric wrong. Absolutely wicked because they didn't take moral considerations into
it and it didn't hold them up against their supposed a legit desire to know the truth. And so that's one sort of example where moral considerations actually are extremely important but also of course in more mundane cases about when you talk about speaking the truth. I mean obviously sometimes we all will refrain from speaking the truth about certain issues not just necessarily for moral reasons I mean somebody ask you how do I look and you might you know still refrain from saying what you actually think and that might be in certain cases entirely permissible. What this shows is not that truth isn't a value but like other values it's a prima fascia value it's a value that can be overridden by others. But that's not to say that when it comes to something really important if you have an objective that if you tell the truth you will not meet that you simply lie about it. Right absolutely it's not to say that I think that
you know obviously lots of accts ere the other re where they think that well OK you know this accomplishing this goal political or otherwise is extremely important. And even though I know that I'm only going to accomplish a goal this goal if if I tell some falsehood I go ahead and do that anyway. That's completely wrong. Nonetheless as I was saying truth is a value but it's not the only value that's worthy of respect but not worship us or our wonderful. Let's go. Want to talk to another caller So in Chicago only number two. Good morning and I don't know if I know you well enough to tell you the truth definition hour extended out of the administration the newspapers are those are controlled by the singular motos and so forth that we can hammer tooth and denying a perspective on all sides of the question and the
answers that people could come forth more and the way of answers. You know and actually you would think that the Americans are the people in the part of world where censorship and other things are still necessary for controlling the public could have something to be feared. And just excellent. OK well you know there is this question sometimes that people get the impression that the media is thinks that we can't handle the truth. And certainly it does seem as if the media side often times the one gets the feeling that when you're living in day to day life you're not getting the whole truth and that people are protecting you they think for your interests. And that is that's unfortunate I think that in fact
it's extremely important for the media to try to present all sides of a particular issue I think this you know the Swift Boat Veterans case is actually an interesting case for that because at first it seemed like there wasn't much reporting going on on all sides of the issue about that particular set of allegations. Then the Washington Post The New York Times the Los Angeles Times dug into the facts of the matter or what they thought were the facts of the matter and try to substantiate various claims. That actually is an example of that. I think the sort of reporting that needs to be done and hopefully will continue to be done as the election continues to unfold. OK we'll go next to it or ban a listener line number one. Good morning. Hello sir caller. Yes that's you. Just in the matter of us with thoughts the caller raised the question of disinterest Well the fifth vote. The founders of that group were closely associated to the Bush's.
Several of the people who reported having seen the incidents in fact all of them were more than a quarter mile away somewhere in Vietnam at the time the instance occurred but not present after the incident and others either were present in Vietnam before or after but not at the time. Yeah well the Kerry virgin is backed up with the Navy documentation. Yeah yeah we take your point again I you know I don't want to spend all the time talking about this particular story although it's an illustration of I think that you know the issue that we're going to talk about during this hour again competing values here. The truth is is one but also what a political objective is another value of someone who isn't engaged in this is a diversion in that we have more important issues to argue about the truth. But thank you anyway. Thank you thank you. OK. We have literally about two minutes left and I want to squeeze in one last call or someone online number four in Indiana. We'll try to be quick please. Hello. Oh color there
and hear me. Yeah I thought this whole thing about Carrie and the boat it's been laid to rest by the editor of the truth you know when he published his answer to the situation on the front page. Yeah. There were there were three boats there at that time and one of the captains is dead and the two remaining people are for Kerry and of this fellow who's an editor at The Chicago Tribune and he laid it out pretty straight away that Kerry deserved his. It stars in the purple hearts and all that stuff you write. And I find it just incredible having the people on the right like that they don't a slightest idea what the truth is. Well I think I think of course I agree with you on this particular issue but I think as Jack pointed out most of. One thing I think to take away from this conversation is that whatever your view on the Swift Boat incident or any other pressing issue and the so-called truth wars that are going on right now the important thing to remember is that you've got to try to look past your own
- True to Live: Why Truth Matters
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- APA: Focus; True to Live: Why Truth Matters. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-dj58c9rj27