On Truth by Harry G Frankfurt came out in 2006. Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect.
Bullshit, he says, come from those “who are attempting by what they say to manipulate the opinions and the attitudes of those to whom they speak.” This follow-up, which is an equally thin volume, is incisive and insightful. It is another extended essay on a topic closely related to the first.
He states that we cannot live without the truth. “When I was a child, I often felt oppressed by the chaotic jumble of implausible notions and beliefs I felt various adults were attempting to force on me. My own dedication to truth originated, so far as I am able to recall, in the liberating conviction that once I grasped the truth, I would no longer be distracted or disturbed by anyone’s (including my own) speculations, hunches or hopes.”
Our culture’s devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. But that can be dangerous. Lies isolate the liar. Loneliness is unutterable. So when we lie we have no real intimacy and we feel very much alone in the world.
The mindless groping toward the truth may work well enough for awhile. Inevitably, however, it will lead us to finally blunder into trouble. We do not know enough to avoid or to overcome the obstacles and dangers that we are bound to encounter. Indeed, we are doomed to remain entirely unaware of them until it is too late and we’ve already been defeated. So we often need help finding our truths.
Facts belong to the objective reality. The truth is NOT facts. Truth is in our sense of identity. It is in our sense of self and our perception of said facts.
If we devalued the truth then society would be making a huge mistake. The truth must remain important Frankfurt concludes. “A society that is recklessly and persistently remiss in [supporting and encouraging truth] is bound to decline.”
Harry G. Frankfurt is a professor of philosophy emeritus at Princeton University. His books include The Reasons of Love; Necessity, Volition, and Love; and The Importance of What We Care About. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.