Jamie Dreier sent along a couple of interesting links that you might enjoy checking out.

The first is a radio show, WBUR’s “On Point”. It features Michael Lynch and Simon Blackburn talking about truth.

Truth on the Radio

The second is a review by Jim Holt (who has written some good articles for Slate) of Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and Simon Blackburn’s Truth: A Guide from the latest New Yorker.

Truth reviewed

With that I have to take another leave of the blog. I’m impersonating a jetsetting young professional for the next few weeks, spending time in Prague, London, Oxford (very briefly) and Barcelona. I’m looking forward to lots of philosophising and holidaying, two of my very favourite activities. Unless I post from the road, I’ll be back here in three weeks.

17 Replies to “Links”

  1. I didn’t manage to find time to listen to the whole show with Michael and Blackburn, but I found the debate very odd. I couldn’t persuade myself that the discussion wasn’t using truth utterly ambiguously. Sometimes they seemed to be talking about truth itself (however we want to cash that our – correspondance to the facts, etc) – but often when they purportedly discussed the ‘value of truth’, for example, they really seemed to be talking about the value of truthfulness, or to pick a term which makes the contrast more vivid, sincerity.

    So to illustrate, take the example the participants discuss several times, the telling of the public that Iraq had WMDs in order to get support behind the invasion of the country. Surely what people are angry about is that they felt their governments withheld germane information and/or gave false information, not that they failed to track the facts (That’s not to say people wouldn’t be angry if it had transpired that despite the best attempts to gather intelligence on the matter, the government had got it wrong. Only that this doesn’t seem to be the issue here). Contrast the situation regarding the tragic shooting of a man on the London Underground recently. People are, of course, upset and concerned that our law enforcement shot dead an innocent man, but with a few exceptions people aren’t angry in the way they would be if they felt that this was anything more than an honest mistake.

    In general, we are much more tolerant of those who make honest mistakes than of those who we discover to have fed us deliberate misinformation, and we should keep discussions about the value of truth and discussions about the value of sincerity quite separate. That is, of couse, not to deny that there will almost certainly be interesting connections between the two debates.

    But the radio discussion seemed curiously insensitive to the ambiguity – so, for example, discussion switches several times very quickly between the relationship between philosophical discussions of truth in the past century on the one hand, and the current climate of bullshit in America on the other. Labelling both concerns about truth wasn’t helpful.

    (Actually, the abiguity should have been obvious from the doubly ambiguous opening sentence; ‘truth has always been under attack from liars’. Just as ‘truth’ is ambiguous here between truth and sincerity, ‘liars’ is ambiguous between the paradoxes and people who tell lies.)

  2. Aidan is basically right that the On Point show veered between discussing the value of sincerity and the value of true belief and various theories that, in my view and Simon’s, misunderstand what truth is. But this is something that Simon and I were well aware of both during and after the show, and mildly frustrated by. Indeed, both of us explicitly cautioned against the “ambiguities” as you call them during the show itself.

    None of this is surprising of course. It was a mass media radio talk show, and there was very little time for, or interest in, what non-philosophers might consider fine distinctions.

    (see also NPR’s August 10th Odyssey show on truth — for more truth on the radio)

  3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that the philosophers weren’t sensitive to the relevant issues, only that it was a little surprising that they weren’t in sharper focus in the discussion – but it’s clear that you guys are trying to give clear answers to what weren’t always helpfully formulated questions

  4. Aidan, truth can also be relative.

    You obviously buy the “official” releases that make you tend toward the conclusion that that the Bush administration fabricated the WMD story. Your “truth” is received truth and in no way absolute. You have weighed secondary, often partisan opinion, and decided that in fact Bush and co were out to dupe us all.

    Another variant of the truth might be as follows. The non discovery of WMD in Iraq was in fact a result of pre-planning on the part of the Ba’athists. Russia as we know, had an arms pipeline via Syria that furnished Saddam with a wide array of lethal weaponry and Saddam was in debt to the Russians to the tune of hundreds of millions. It wasn’t in the Russian interest to have the US discover the extent of their collusion with Saddam, so they did the necessary – helped to remove military collateral to Syria and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

    The Al-Qaqaa facility outside Baghdad was discovered to have been mysteriously stripped of all munitions. IAEA inspectors attested to this, as did the US army’s Exploitation Task Force. The 377 tons or so of heavy ordinance from that facility couldn’t have been moved after the invasion because the heavy trucks involved would have been a target of US surveillance.

    When the former Russian Intelligence Chief, Yevgeny Primakov, failed to pursuade Saddam to agree to western demands the Russians knew they had to act in order to protect their own rear end. Intelligence reports, both foreign and US, suggest strongly that Russian Spetsnaz units collaborated with Saddam’s Mukhabarat in moving high explosives and other related military technology.

    I could furnish much more here by way of source material to support this thesis, but since the discussion is about the nature of truth and not the war in Iraq, it’s a digression to labor these points.

    Truth when related to temporal events, is never “the truth”, but rather a version of truth, more or less true depending on your opinion and sources. This is never more true than in an instance involving political biases and partisan convictions.

  5. This is an amazing uncharitable reading of what I wrote. I don’t want to abuse Brian’s space by spending much space replying, but a couple of quick comments.

    Firstly, I put forward no thesis about the nature of truth, let alone one that might rule out relativism of any sort. All I said was that those questions about truth shouldn’t be confused with questions about sincerity.

    Secondly, I discussed the WMD case because it was the example running through the radio discussion. As far as this thread is concerned, I really don’t care what the details of the case turn out to be – I’m not sure what “official” releases are, and I’m not sure what in my discussion of the case made it ‘obvious’ that I buy them. I never drew the conclusion that the Bush administration fabricated anything; I never drew any political conclusions whatsoever. To the extent my treatment of the example was weighed by my own opinions of the matter, it clearly isn’t one that affected the point I was using the case to make.

    It was clearly never my intention to expose the conviction that my own political views, such as they are, enjoy some status of absolute truth – indeed, that’s almost as silly a position as the barely intelligible opposing view advanced (supposedly) against me. Let’s try avoid such point-missing in the future, please.

  6. Aidan, my points really address this question of “truth” as it relates to some of the matters outlined in my post. I wasn’t trying to pin you to any hard and fast position, so much as use your argument as a starting point for mine. I was clear that you weren’t speaking from a narrow dogmatic position.

  7. I guess these comments gave me the impression that you were in fact taking sides on the issue …

    “Surely what people are angry about is that they felt their governments withheld germane information and/or gave false information, not that they failed to track the facts.”

    “…current climate of bullshit in America …”

    🙂 Have a good one!

  8. Enjoyed the horn locking by the two Aidans – lol – they’re both “right” in their own way but coming from totally different perspectives.

  9. Aidan, I’m sure there is no chance you will see this post because the thread is pretty ancient by now. I happened to pick it up again this evening on Google because I just recently re-activated my blog.

    It turns out I jumped the gun and made the assumption you were the same Aidan (also a single name user)with whom I had had heated exchanges on a chat we both frequented. The irony is that prior discussions with him were precisely on the nature of truth re these very issues and I knew for a fact that he was coming from a politically partisan position. So when I read your commentary I had difficulty crediting you with little, if any, impartiality on issues such as WMD and the Bush rationale.

    Of course if you come from Boston area then I immediately take it all back 🙂

  10. I’m from Glasgow, never been to Boston in my life. So definately not the same guy you had discussions with. I hadn’t realised there were so many Aidan’s around.

  11. lol hi Aidan – it’s a rare name in N.America. I’m from Belfast originally myself (now living in Canada) and this character from Boston was the only other user of “Aidan” I have come across online.

    When I realized I screwed up, I thought I would re-visit the thread because you made a sound philosphical argument that I willfully chose to subvert.

    I’m pretty much an amateur in the area if philosophy, but I love the dialogue in these rooms and follow it on and off … usually as a reader rather than commentator.

    This question about the value of truth and the value of sincerity is an interesting one. The scenario I outlined in my post isn’t one I completely buy into 100%, because over the past year I have grown increasingly cynical about both the truth and the sincerity of this administration. Even if WMD existed and was moved prior to the invasion (as I in fact suspect to be the case), it still doesn’t answer questions that point to a lack of credibility.

  12. Aidan M, I happened on your comments in TAR after checking out your blog. Your comment section is closed so I wasn’t able to post. I sent an email instead.

    I’m not clear where you are coming from on this WMD issue. I realize this is a philosophy site so I presume the scenario you outlined above is a hypothetical one you floated for the sake of argument. We have had this discussion on chat forums and to be honest, I’m still not 100% clear where you stand. By the way, A.D. and Al were wondering why you haven’t been on the chat of late.

  13. Hey Zak, ty for the email and yes I have been on the chat, just not as frequently as prior.

    My response to Aidan McGlynn above that included reference to the WMD issue was a case of playing devil’s advocate. There is no doubt that Bush and co spun the WMD issue for maximum hype, and Wolfowitz has admitted as much. Visions of an Alladin’s cave of weaponry turned out to be a mirage, and Bush has finally fessed up to this.

    However … here is where I differ from the oh-so-confident mockers on the left who see the whole issue as pure fabrication. We know the Ba’athists used WMD in conflicts with neighboring states. We know they used them in genocidal attacks on the Kurds and Shia. Sure, the weapons programs weren’t close to being as advanced as the Bushies claimed, but what about the stuff we know they had at one time?

    WMD-related materials have indeed been discovered – chemicals, radioactive agents etc. However any weapons he had lying around seem in short supply.

    Wide eyed conspiracy theories abound about what happened to the stuff – a lot of it verging on science fiction. The most credible voice can be found in the Iraqi Survey Group report by Charles Duelfer. On the issue of possible weapons tranfers prior to the invasion, Duelfer has this to say …

    ISG was unable to complete its investigation and is unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war.”

    “Whether Syria received military items from Iraq for safekeeping or other reasons has yet to be determined. There was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer, and ISG received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved. In the judgment of the working group, these reports were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation.”

    That’s as far as I would go also … a possibility of pre-invasion transfers. There are lots of theories in support of this, but in the absence of hard facts it is more intellectually honest to simply state the obvious … that the hypothetical weapons remain undiscovered and so are ostensibly non-existent.


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