What is Truth?

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

–          J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

In response to my question, “What’s Your Alternative?” when considering a culture or tradition better suited for liberty than the Christian, and a value higher than what I suggest must be the highest value, the value of love, I received the following as one reply: “the truth.”  The truth valued higher than love.  It’s an interesting thought, one perhaps worth exploring.

Aren’t there times and situations when we know it is better to not tell the truth, or to not speak truthfully?  If the truth inflicts tremendous harm on someone without any gain to the person, is this at least something worth considering?

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

–          Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Why would the truth be higher than love?  In other words, why value truth?  I can think of one reason: to achieve justice.  So, the “why” of truth is justice.  It’s one possibility.  Does this make justice the thing we should most highly value?  For this, we would need a standard.  I guess one standard could be something along the lines of the non-aggression principle and property rights, but that just leads me back to the question from Ira that started this entire discussion.

In any case, if justice is the highest virtue, this leaves no room for mercy.  What of mercy?  Can a society be just without mercy?  I don’t know, maybe.

Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.

–          Thomas Aquinas

Why have mercy?  I guess otherwise it would be a cold society.  Three strikes you’re out, no extenuating circumstances.  But, at least according to Thomas, neither justice nor mercy can be highest, as each one is destructive without the other.  What is above them both?  Why must justice and mercy walk hand-in-hand?

I am finding that the last answer to the last “why” is love.  I certainly wasn’t the first person to figure this out.  And it wasn’t the Greeks or Romans who did, either….

A Texas Libertarian offered a comment worth exploring:

There is a simple test to conclude whether Christianity or the actions of the individual or group of supposed Christians are bad.

(1) Are the tenets of the Christian Church good?

(2) Are the bad actions of the individual or group in question in line with Christian tenets?

If (1) is yes and (2) is no, then it should be clear that it is the individual and not the religion who’s to blame.

I was thinking about this in terms of the Greek / Roman morality prior to Christianity, which I explored here.  In that society, it was ethical to murder slaves for any or no reason, have sex with slaves with or without consent, treat women like chattel, murder babies for any or no reason – and certainly if they were female.  Contrast this with the Christian society that replaced it – where each of these “goods” of the Greco-Roman ethic were overturned quickly.

I will grant that in either society, no man perfectly lives his ethic.  Some Roman men did not murder their newborn daughters, and no Christian was the next Jesus Christ.

But which ethic is the one worth aiming at?  Which one, if aimed at, provided a better chance of a society where all were treated with respect, where property and life were upheld, where peace had a better chance of taking hold?  To ask these questions is to answer these.  The competition is so one-sided as to not be fair.


What is truth?  Try love.  Love is truth.  It works well for liberty, also.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.