Why Truth is Important to us


“We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

[Declaration of Independence]

Truth is not as obvious a concept for us.

After writing a very popular book On Bullshit, where he explores the question from a philosophical perspective as to why to go with vast amount of experience we have on how, Harry G. Frankfurt wrote another short think piece On Truth.

The reason and purpose of writing this second book was to fill a gap identified in the argument against bullshit — an explanation of “the value and importance of truth,” and a reason why we should care about it. The premise:

When I try to put my finger on just why truth is important to us, what comes most readily to my mind is a thought that perhaps seem unpromisingly banal but that is, nevertheless, unquestionably pertinent.

It is the thought that truth often possesses very considerable practical utility.


After all, how could a society that cared too little for truth make sufficiently well-informed judgements and decisions concerning the most suitable disposition of its public business? How could it possibly flourish, or even survive, without knowing enough about relevant facts to pursue its ambitions successfully and to cope prudently and effectively with its problems?

Honesty and clarity are important to fact reporting, while pursuing accuracy is critical in figuring out “what the facts are,” he says.

We live in an age when many seem to think truth is not worth much. Frankfurt cites publicists and politicians among those “with a cavalier attitude toward truth.” More worrisome is that best-selling authors and prize-winning journalists have also joined the ranks of “the shameless antagonists of common sense:”

[…] there is a clear difference between getting things right and getting them wrong, and thus a clear difference between the true and the false.

While context may be subjective:

Surely it is apparent, however, that in large part we select the objects that we desire, that we love, and to which we commit ourselves, because of what we believe about them — for instance, that they will increase our wealth or protect our health, or that they will serve our interests in some other way.

Hence the truth or falsity of the factual statements on which we rely in explaining or validating our choice of goals and our commitment is inescapably relevant to the rationality of our attitudes and our choices.

Unless we know whether we are justified in regarding various factual judgements are true, we cannot know whether there is really any sense in feeling and choosing as we do.

We require truths as individuals and as societies. They are the pillars on which our success is built. Without truth there is no luck, but we must also do something with it once we have it.

The 100-page book makes a profound argument on the importance of keeping things right in life, starting with finding our own boundaries as human beings.


[image via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain]