On Truth

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4 out of 5 stars
By Jim Vaughan on 02-12-12

An Opportunity Missed....

I bought this audiobook, having enjoyed Harry Frankfurt's classic essay "On BS" (which would make an excellent audiobook on Audible!). However, although he makes some good points towards "On Truth", and it is well narrated, I ended up disappointed.

This book is really an appendix to his previous work, probably in response to criticism that he never discussed why truth was worth striving for.

Frankfurt takes a Pragmatist line on justifying the value of "Truth" - it is useful! Firstly because without it, reality is harder to navigate, secondly, that lying undermines trust, and the self image of our lied-to friends, and thirdly, that love of truth expands the soul (Spinoza). Post modernist relativism (that there is no truth), is Frankfurt's special bête noir, a chapter which I thoroughly enjoyed.

However, it is only briefly at the end that he goes into the more interesting aspects of truth and untruth, such as in the Shakespeare sonnet, where two lovers flatter each other, each knowing the other is being untruthful, yet this knowledge only enhances their love "...and so, together we shall lie".

By using a Pragmatist justification, Frankfurt never grapples with the issue that BS and untruth can also be useful, and therefore are presumably justified e.g. for the child who learns to tell their first lie to avoid punishment (an important developmental step), for the fraudster, who lies for gain, for the skilled Sophist who's clever BS win's an argument, for Kant worrying whether to lie to protect a friend from a murderer, or the white lies to save another's feelings.

He also never gets onto the fascinating aspects of partial truth such as: perspectivism, spin-doctoring, selective statistics or being economical with the truth, and this feels like an opportunity missed.

So, in summary, "On Truth" makes some good points, and is narrated well, but falls well short of being a worthy sequel to his more famous essay "On B******t".

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