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  • Andrew Scott

What is truth?

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

This question was famously posed by the cynical, political Pontius Pilate. In my previous post, I suggested drawing a distinction between stories that are true and those that are untrue: how are we to do that? Oftentimes we don’t know if a story is true or untrue; or partially true; or true, but with a degree of spin… And as has often been observed, a story that seems true to you may be patently false to me, and vice versa.

I would make a few observations about that: one is that I am normally pretty clear whether I know a story that I am telling to be true, or am not so sure. I may lack that clarity about other peoples’ stories, but that is less critical. My primary responsibility is for the stories I choose to tell – or refrain from telling.

My second observation is that the other criterion that I suggested, helpfulness, is the more important one to consider. Even if true, unhelpful stories are better not shared. If we are not sure if they are true or not, they should certainly not be shared. And if we find ourself initiating such stories, we should take a long hard look at ourself..

Likewise, this is a much better ground to challenge someone else than the truthfulness one; regardless of whether it is true or not, if a story is damaging to other people or to the organisation, and there is no good reason for spreading it around (such as whistle-blowing) then it seems to me to be wholly appropriate to challenge it.

Some people assert that the frequent unknowability of truth, or even more frequent disagreements about it, mean that there is no such thing as objective truth. For a more general consideration of the notion of truth (and indeed whether one can talk of objective truth at all) see my post here.

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