I was in DUMBO in Brooklyn, unexpectedly early to dinner (for those of you that know me, that’s VERY unexpected), and walked into a used book store seeking a good bilingual copy of a Rilke thing as a gift. At the checkout was a teeny preprint proof of Harry G. Frankfurt’s wallet size pamphlet, On Truth. That’s a subject as near and dear to my slightly still scathed heart as his previous endeavor, On Bullshit.
One part stood out for me- it’s where Frankfurt is paraphrasing Spinoza- saying that we love Truth for very clear evolutionary and spiritual reasons.
Here’s the essence of the argument:
“Whenever the individual’s capacities for surviving and developing in fulfillment of his essential nature are increased, a sense of enhanced vitality arises- the person is more aware of and expansive ability to become and to continue as what he most truly is, he feels more fully himself, he feels more fully alive. This is inherently exhilarating. People cannot help but love truth- they need it to stay alive, and to live fully in accord with their own natures.”
Spinoza argued that the augmentation of the ability to live and to fulfill our nature is felt as a joy, and joy in turn begets love; hence we are driven to love truth because it increases this power to live “authentically” or in accordance with our nature. And conversely we will be driven to distrust and dislike people who are out to deceive us, or just careless of the truth, since they represent a threat to that ability, and therefore a threat to our very selves.
Frankurt expands on this, talking of the sense of assault we experience when we find we have been deceived, or even the sense of becoming a little crazy.
I read an unattributed book review out of the UK that suggested you could test the Truth impulse by considering “Robert Nozick’s “experience machine”, which hooks us into a virtual reality or fool’s paradise in which we wrongly take all our desires to have been fulfilled, and all our wishes to have been met, and continuously experience life as if they have. Spinoza perhaps explains why most of us would not choose to step into such a machine and live the resultant lie.”
I love this. That we seek to speak truth, in fact we love truth, because it aligns us to our highest purpose.
What would you choose? Truth or your own version of the Matrix?