Critical Reflections on True to Life: Why Truth Matters by Michael P. Lynch
[Part 3 of 3]
Critical Reflections on True to Life: Why Truth Matters by Michael P. Lynch
Part 3: Why Truth Matters
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
― Mark Twain
As previously stated in class, truth matters because we care about people being honest with us, and all healthy relationships require trust, which requires honesty. As Lynch points out throughout the third section, truth among people in society is important to get things done and to maintain levels of trust (152). Truth is an important ingredient in achieving common goals and sharing information, and lack of truth – lies – are a violation of communication, which is damaging to society. Truth is a central aspect of many parts of life and things would be very bad if everyone lied all the time. Without truth, things would fall apart, both in society and in interpersonal relationships.
If this is not enough to convince the reader they should care about truth, Lynch presents agreeable alternative reasons, aside from simply caring about truth for its own sake. He highlights the intrinsic value of truth to self. Caring about truth in general, Lynch says, is a path towards authenticity, self-awareness, self-regard, and self-respect, and knowing the truth about what you care about is part of intellectual integrity. (35) People who care about the truth, and acknowledge what they care for it, therefore have a good sense of the degrees of self and have increased self-respect, according to Lynch. It would be nice to think most people care about self-respect, however, often times it seems the opposite.
Lynch says that caring about truth and honesty leads to authenticity and integrity, and that “our lives go better when they are lived authentically and with integrity”. (20) Additionally, caring about truth is essential in knowing ourselves and being self-aware. “What we can know – or not know - about ourselves runs the gamut”, says Lynch (121), but we can know and understand ourselves better through truth. Therefore, truth becomes a building block in self-understanding and identity construction.
Further, caring about truth leads to the knowledge of what matters to us and promotes self-reflection; a lack of which he attributes to internal traits such as laziness, lack of discipline, but also external factors such as, poverty, hunger, lack of education, cultural discouragement of reflection (Lynch, 122). Additionally, not caring about truth or what we think leads to self-deception and when “we don’t really care about what we think we care about and we live our lives with bad faith” (Lynch, 122).
People who approach truth with ambivalence experience instability. While Lynch claims that sometimes this is inevitable due to “overpowering and contradictory pressures of outer circumstances” (123), I would like to assume he means ambivalence about specific truths (i.e. religion), and not truth overall, because to not care about any and all truth just seems, to be frank, dumb.
Logically, caring about truth requires “being open-minded and tolerant of others’ opinions, being careful and sensitive to detail, being curious, and paying attention to evidence […] being willing to question assumptions, giving and asking reasons, being impartial, and being intellectually courageous” (Lynch, 129-130). The pursuit of truth also includes the willingness to admit when one is wrong, and is not a matter of consistency, but a matter of the ability to consider information and adjust beliefs accordingly. Not standing up for what you think is right is a lack of intellectual integrity, according to Lynch, but defending a view without bothering to examine it for truth is also a lack of intellectual integrity. In lack of intellectual integrity is the lack of authenticity, which indicates lack of self-control. These are all very agreeable assertions.
An important part of caring about the truth and seeking the truth, in Lynch’s eyes, is sincerity, which has “instrumental value” (153). Lynch says caring about truth, seeking truth, is risky; but caring about truth also leads to authenticity and degrees of happiness, which gives life meaning, because in not caring about truth, one lacks of self-respect, and lack of self-respect leads to unhappiness – again, very logical. As Ellen J. Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University says, “Self-respect […] may hold the key to achieving the peace of mind we seek”, and by self-respect, she means acceptance. (Langer, 1999) As Lynch has said you cannot accept yourself if you do not know yourself, which happens in-part through caring about the truth. What Langer suggests also coincides with Lynches theory on happiness in caring about and valuing the truth, and living a “life lived well”. Happiness, while it can be allusive, becomes more attainable through truth.
You can hardly talk about truth without talking about lying. Lying involves belief, but in a different way, when “what you say is not what you believe” (Lynch, 147). Lying is just as complex as truth. According to Lynch there are many kinds of lies, from ambiguous to equivocal. According to Lynch there are justifiable lies, which are ones used to “save-face” or protect the feelings of others, or in some cases, such as in the government, used to temporarily protect national security. Some lies a “tall tails” or “yarns”, and some are outright “bullshit lies”. Lies, then, can be just as subjective as truth, but are generally intentional and meant to be misleading or deceiving and other nefarious motivations. Additionally, lies harm people, and lies breed more lies. Not very noble ends, really.
In the end chapter, Lynch dipped his toes into politics and truth, while interesting, and seemed like a personal rant about his issues with liberal democracies. What really stood out is that when discussing “the liberal” he used pronouns such as “herself”, “she” (165). I am also not so sure that I agree with Lynch when he states that “liberalism is presupposed a concept of objective truth” (167). If anything, conservatism seems more inclined to objective truth (based on religious “truth”), while liberalism is more subjective, and that is why conservatives assert that liberals “don’t believe in truth” (evidence of which can be found doing a very quick Google search). In any case, it seems that when Lynch took to the political soapbox and with him a broad brush of personal opinion, certainly detected throughout the claims in other parts of the book, also. This does not make what he says any less “true”, but for people who want to deny truthiness in his truth, it is an opening for contention.
Ultimately when it comes to choosing between the truth and a lie it is important to remember, like with anything, that you should treat others as you would have them treat you. Surely there are few people in the world who want to be lied to. At the end of the day not finding value in truth, at least for the same of it, and rejecting truth as something exists is dangerous, just as is thinking there is no such thing as free will and becoming a victim of self. Giving up on truth embraces doom, for who wants to live in a society where nobody believes in truth.
Lynch never had to convince me to care about truth, because being lied to hurts. However, he did present new ways of thinking about truth, especially in relation to truth being a potential catalyst in becoming a better happier person. Hopefully more people come to see that there is a clear value in truth, both personally and for society.
Langer, E. J. (1999, 11 1). Self-esteem vs Self-respect. Retrieved from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect
Lynch, Michael P. True to Life: Why Truth Matters. Cambridge: MIT, 2005. Print.