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Why Truth Matters to Me!

August 3, 2010

I’ve just finished Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. It’s a good little read introducing various forms of post-modern relativism and arguing strongly against them.

It got me thinking; why have I started caring so much about what is true? Why is it that I care about the truth of religious beliefs, not just the consequences of these beliefs? Why do I care that the government response to the Evidence Check by the Select Committee on Science and Technology will allow people to continue to belief that homoeopathy has a place in state funded medical care?

There are beliefs that are true and beliefs that are false. If I go outside in the rain without an umbrella or other form of shelter, I will get wet or I will not. When I lower my glass of fruit juice towards the desk in front of me, it will rest on the solid surface of the desk or it won’t (slowly sinking through the desk before spilling on the floor, where presumably it will come to rest). The moon is a rocky mass orbiting our planet or it isn’t. Gods exist or they don’t.

On all but one of these claims I can make undisputed claims as to the truth of the matter. However, on the topic of the last claim a whole host of rhetoric, sophistry, relativism and logical fallacy can, it seems, be legitimately used in a supposedly rational discussion. The truth of the claim becomes secondary to peoples desires, wishful thinking and the worry that the an argument is “offensive”. Worst of all, fideism is elevated to an exulted position; faith and reason become distinct, and faith is the superior of the two.

If we let this irrational state of affairs persist, who is to say where it will stop? If I belief that homoeopathy works (it doesn’t), does this justify it having a place in the NHS? According to the government, yes. Belief in the absence of evidence… faith. The creep of faith into everyday life and decision making is dangerous, in that there are no limits to where it could take us in its desire to remove reason and evidence from the decision making process. I want to live in a world in which it is acknowledged that claims are true or false, and that we should act according to the truthfulness of a claim, no matter how much we wish the opposite were true.

That is why truth matters to me.

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