The Right to the Truth?

December 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

Which enjoys prioricity, the right to be told the truth or the telos of language to communicate the truth to others? It may be a question of the chicken and the egg, but this question has been stumping me for nearly a month (ask D…he’s had an earful or three). Although I still have to decide whether there *is* a fundamental human right to be told the truth – I agree that there is a right to pursue the truth, but to be told? – I think the telos of language must be prior. I come to this conclusion for two reasons: first, man alone as rational animal has at least the potential to speak a language (repetition by a parrot does not count) and thus by virtue of merely being in existence possesses the gift of language and the telos of language. This reason by itself, though, would not be enough to give this telos prioricity.

The second reason I came up with involved a thought experiment. Suppose no human being on this planet did have the right to be told the truth: would not the speaker, based solely on the fact that he spoke a language and the telos of language was to communicate the truth, have the responsibility to speak the truth?

Obviously I need to refine this more than a bit more, and address the question of whether there is a right to be told the truth (or a telos of language for that matter).

In other news, I foiled a very nice attempt at a prank made by D. and his younger brother last night. I am very proud of myself. His brother called me on the phone and pretended to be D.: he used D’s usual forms of greeting, etc. and sounds almost exactly like his brother. Luckily I was expecting something like this, so I was highly skeptical and noticed that the voice was not quite the same. I called their bluff, and they got a good laugh out of it. Goofy guys. :::shakes head:::

Only six more hours until I am off of work for Christmas break. Huzzahs!!!!

§ 2 Responses to The Right to the Truth?

  • ggw_bach says:

    as they say, the truth will set you free.

    keep this as your lodestone, and you won’t go wrong.

    the one caveat?

    our knowledge will always be incomplete, from a human perspective. So the truth that we know will somehow always be ‘partial’.

  • Father Joe says:

    Just a small suggestion, if you are going to use words like “telos” and “prioricity” on your Blog, you might want to give definitions to those poor souls who have never taken an epistemology course. Ah, it is no wonder my Blog gets more hits than yours (half a million last count to your eleven thousand)! I talk about swimwear, UFOs and Embryo mutants and you discuss language and truth… oh well. You’re a lot smarter than me!

    Do you have an absolute right to be told the truth? I am reminded of Jack Nicholson’s great line in the courtroom scene from A FEW GOOD MEN. He shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!” I am no apologist for perjury to cover up crimes, but sometimes there is truth to such a statement. If aliens were real and visiting this planet, would the government be right to make a cover-story so as to avoid worldwide panic? What about the little child who asks, “Is there a Santa Claus?” Worse yet, what do we tell a small child who asks, “Where do babies come from?” Do we destroy childhood innocence because the truth must reign on its altar? As a Confessor, I have also had situations where I kept people in vincible ignorance because nothing could be done to undue a past act and there was no value in increasingly guilt over a wrong largely mitigated by their not knowing. I am also reminded of a convent that was hiding Jewish children in Germany during World War II. When the Nazis came to the door and asked about Jews, the Mother Superior said, “We have no Jewish children here FOR YOU.” Her manner of response was deceptive but with a grain of truth. Such children were in hiding, but she had none for the soldiers to take away. Did she lie? It could be argued that the Nazis, who would have imprisoned or murdered the children, had NO RIGHT to the truth.

    The TELOS of language to communicate the truth might be judged as more basic and essential to the meaning of truth. Even a fictional story or parable— while arguably a lie— can still convey the truth. Actors on television draw us into all sorts of imaginary story-lines and fascinating characters; but, while truths might be transmitted, the manner of communicating depends upon pretense and elaboration. I suppose the absurdity of legal language, as seen in contracts, is so intricately weaved that we inherently hate both the language and the lawyers. They force language to deceive or confuse even as they specify and annotate. Such seems an offense against truth. The goal or purpose of language may be to present truth or truths; but, even as small children, human beings have the ability to lie. Tell a three year old he cannot have cookies. Later catch him with an open cookie jar, crumbs on his mouth and a half eaten cookie in his hand. If you ask (preferably loudly), “Did you take those cookies?” He will invariably look you straight in the eye and say, “No.” Ask him how he got the cookie and the crumbs and he will say, “I don’t know.” Then he will start crying. Okay, he has not reached the so-called age of reason and cannot sin. But he can lie, although not very convincingly.

    Nevertheless, all these complications aside, language allows us to communicate and it advances our knowledge. No matter whether we are reading the Bible or a Science textbook, we are seekers of truth. Without language and the ability to share, record and pass on ideas, that endeavor would be seriously miscarried. If this is the egg then I would give it priority over the chicken or any right for the truth. You write: “I think the telos of language must be prior.” Oh my, I guess we agree… now how did that happen?

    God bless!

    Merry Christmas!

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