As inquisitive creatures, we seek truth; we prefer truth to falsehood. Searching for truth excites us. We often fail to question its value, though. I’ve always assumed its value and as such, I’ve searched for it my entire adult life.
I believed, in essence, that if I pursued truth in earnest it would unfold before me revealing its many life-enhancing qualities. In short, I reasoned that if I searched long and hard enough, truth would not only present itself to me, but it would also set me free – free from the consequences of wrongful ideas, assumptions, and behaviors.
I’ve never seriously considered that truth may not serve me as well as untruth. It’s simply an idea that never crossed my mind. I believe that searching for the true nature of things is our highest calling. Seeking, finding, and understanding truth is oft times its own reward; it is better to die knowing the truth than to live without it, I surmised.
But I have also understood truth to be a means to an end. I valued truth, historically, as providing value to a certain type of lifestyle, one of service, compassion, love, acceptance, and gratitude – most of which were promoted by the teachings of Jesus.
Apart from scientific truth, we seek to understand truth as the relationship of opposites. Truth vs. falsehood, good vs. bad, good vs. evil, black vs. white, night vs. day, and so on, is what enables us to know right from wrong. Long ago I adopted a code of ethical behavior which characterizes my thoughts and behavior as either moral, amoral, or immoral. And I have bolstered this sense of morality by reading the Bible, Plato, and Kant, in that order. And from these three sources, I constructed a worldview, one which guides me through the maelstrom of life.
Seeking moral truth has preoccupied the West since the time of Socrates/Plato where the concept of an everlasting soul was first conceived and then borrowed and built upon by the apostle Paul, who was steeped in Plato’s writings. Doing the right thing leads to a healthy soul; acting immorally sickens it. I have always assumed that living a moral life is humankind’s highest conceivable achievement. Have I been right in making this assumption or did I miss something along the way?
Our entire system of ethics is built on the assumption that persons possess free will which I addressed in my last two essays. Aristotle believed that morality could be taught and learned. If a person fully understood how they should act toward others, they would more often than not choose to do the right thing. Wrongful behavior was thus the result of imperfect or incorrect information.
Additionally, I believed that humans are driven at the core level to seek truth. We seek truth at all costs. And this seeking of truth is our highest calling. All else wanes in comparison.
Immanuel Kant (arguably the most influential philosopher since the days of Socrates/Plato/Aristotle) argued that people possess the ability to make decisions free of internal and external influences. Men and women have the ability to freely assess all information available to them and then make decisions based on the processing of this information. We are morally free agents, in other words.
Nietzsche challenged this way of thinking. He argued that personkind’s highest calling is not to seek truth. As agents of action in an ever-changing world of shifting dynamics, we seek power over truth. The will to power over the will to truth is Nietzsche’s main theme in ‘Beyond Good and Evil.’ We seek power in order to protect ourselves and loved ones from the actions of others who wish to take our power away.
In keeping with the idea that the relationship of opposites is how we understand reality, Nietzsche discusses the difference between instinct (sub-conscious processing) and conscious awareness.
Nietzsche confronts our faith in opposite values. He suggests that the relationship between so-called opposites is far more complex than initially construed. Often, our “truths” are born from our prejudices, he argues, from our will to deceive; they are born from our falsehoods, that is to say.
For instance, conscious thinking is usually contrasted with instinct, but Nietzsche argues that most conscious thinking is informed by our deepest instincts. Instinctively, we value truth (our truth) over falsehood, but falsehoods can be valuable, even indispensable, as a condition for life, as well.
While philosophers generally like to proclaim their disinterestedness in reaching their final conclusions, their deep-seated instincts and prejudices are usually what inform them, not their value-free objectivity. At the bottom of each pile, we typically find a bucket full of old prejudices called “truths” followed by a comprehensive system of philosophy built up (after the fact) to justify these “truths.” Nietzsche believes that every philosophy is, essentially, the confession of a philosopher, and it gives us more of an insight into that philosopher’s character than anything else.
Philosophy, “the most spiritual will to power,” according to Nietzsche, “always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise.” This will to power, according to Nietzsche, is our cardinal instinct, more fundamental even than the instinct of self-preservation or our will to truth (desire to seek truth).
With the foregoing in mind, I asked myself a question, the following question – do we as humans value power more than truth?
In pursuing power (to be used to protect ourselves from others who wish to take our power away or harm us) do we then begin to value misinformation more than truth? If a lie serves our needs better than the truth, will we propagate it?
Lying to others and manipulating the truth to better suit our needs becomes a way of life. Every branch of psychology admits that humans not only lie to others but to themselves, also. We are a race of chronic liars.
In closing, I freely admit that this post is bleak in nature. And for this, I sincerely apologize. But we live in a time when truth has taken a backseat to untruth. You know it and so do I. Perhaps this essay will shed some light on the subject?
As much as I loathe our current political environment and the misinformation flying through the air like the winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, I understand it as the will to power. And the will to power is not the least bit interested in the will to truth. Misinformation, lies, and manipulation are valued means to the end. Truth is irrelevant. All we have to do to see this fact of life in action is to read the news – which I don’t do much of these days. I mean, what’s the point?
Sad, I know. I wish it wasn’t the case but as a student of history, I believe it is so. As Jack put it so well in ‘A Few Good Men’, we can’t handle the truth.