Friday Morning Philosophy: An Inherent Good in the Truth

The Thinker

Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Anonymous.

We all grow up with a belief that the truth is inherently a good thing.  That while it may cause short term pain, the eventual result of being informed of the truth is to our benefit.  We accept that truth is inherently good.  The question, though, is why?  Why do we freely accept that truth is always a good thing to have?  Most of us assumed the government was able to access our messages, phone calls, and everything else about our life.  We agreed to this when our elected representatives passed the Patriot Act.  We may have disagreed on an individual basis, but our country, through the chosen system of governance, decided that security is paramount over privacy.  So what did we gain through the revelations of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning?  Anger, distrust, cynicism, and general negative feelings.  But like Pandora’s Box, a positive was revealed.  Truth.  So why do we not feel more positive?  Perhaps not enough time has passed.  Perhaps the changes in governance, culture, society have not yet come about that will create a better world.  We can rationalize our belief in the inherent good in truth, but maybe there is another reality.

For 3 years I was a student of philosophy before continuing my education in law school, which is just another form of philosophy.  While 6 years of philosophical studies does not make me an expert, it has changed the way I examine everything that I know, believe, and hear.  One such change is the blind acceptance of the truth as being inherently good.  To declare something as inherently good is to remove it from context and outcomes, and place it in a bubble.  It states that regardless of whatever happens, knowing the truth is always positive.  But the world does not exist without context or outcome.  And being “good” is more often based in subjective opinions rather than rational fact.  We all seem to declare to know what is good, but when we confront each other over the definition, we find that “good” and “bad” mean very different things.  The family stealing food for survival is “good” in the eyes of the family, but “bad” in the eyes of the worker who is fired for the missing materials.

So what is goodness based in?  Does it come from happiness?  If so, then why do we consider lies as “bad” when they prevent unhappiness.  Does it come from personal satisfaction?  Personal satisfaction varies so much that it would be impossible to find common goods.  But what if we agree that some things are inherently good?  What if we just decide that lying is bad?  Well that leads to moral relativism, which basically is morality by majority.  By determining what is “good” through agreement, we can set anything as good or bad so long as enough people agree.  Perhaps truth is “good” just because?  This may be the most believable, but when we dig deeper, we end up in the same place.  Where does this universal fact come from?  How do we know that this is a universal fact while this other thing is not?  We find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of questioning until we become a cynic and accept nothing as “good” or “bad.”

Knowing this now, can we still claim an inherent good in the truth?  Or are we reacting emotionally to the fact that we were lied to?  Do we believe in the goodness of the truth simply because we react negatively emotionally to being lied to?  Perhaps emotion determines what is “good” and “bad.”  Regardless, there is a greater discussion that must be had when a new leak emerges.  Beyond what truth have we learned, are we better off knowing it?  Is truth an inherently “good” thing?  I want to say yes, but after 6 years, I can only know one thing for certain:  the answer is never simply yes or no.

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