In this blog, I have kept a running list of tests for telling whether you love the truth, including:
- Plato’s Truth-Loving Test
- C.S. Lewis’s Truth-Loving Test
- Voltaire’s Truth-Loving Test
- A Chess Player’s Truth-Loving Test
- A UFO Nut’s Truth-Loving Tests
- A Truth-Loving Test for Amateur Psychologists
- A Truth-Loving Test for Amateur Scientsts
- The Fearless Person’s Truth-Loving Test
Today, let’s add one from Friedrich Nietzche:
Something might be true, even if it were also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction. The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much ‘truth’ he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified.Friedrich Nietzche, Beyond Good and Evil, paragraph 39, translation by Marion Faber
I credit Jordan Peterson for bringing this to my attention. Riffing on Nietzche’s idea, Peterson said, “The pathway to who you could be if you were completely who you [are] is through the truth. …And so the truth does set you free but the problem is that it destroys everything that isn’t worthy in you as it sets you free” and that is often painful.
I can attest to the truth of what these gentlemen have said. It took me four decades of growing up before I was finally ready to squarely face some difficult questions about my own beliefs, and then it took four more years of study and critical thinking before I was ready to abandon those beliefs. It was very painful but it did set me free.
In my experience, Nietzche’s description of the weak-spirited person as one who needs to have the truth “diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, [and] falsified” does not so much refer to the outer truth being examined (i.e., a belief system) as to inner the truth about the person himself: the fact that he harbors confirmation bias, and why he does; his willingness to go along to get along; his fear of life falling apart if he allows his beliefs to change; his attachment to the positive outcomes of his belief system; his need for life to make perfect sense; and many other counter-productive traits.
Until those character defects are exposed and rectified, the project of correcting the outer falsehoods is hopeless.
Are you facing the unpleasant truths about yourself? Take this handy homemade quiz and find out! Every “Yes” answer says you are on the right track.
- When someone corrects your behavior, or an argument you are making, are you grateful rather than defensive?
- Do you help your ideological opponents fashion the strongest possible argument for their position before you attempt a rebuttal?
- Do you refrain from attributing bad motives to others unless you have incontrovertible evidence?
- Have you given as much thought to your method of arriving at truth as to whatever you have concluded is the truth?
- Do you often catch yourself believing what someone says because they are good-looking, or of your race? (We all do this, so if you’re at least catching yourself, that’s a good thing.)
- Do you often catch yourself reflexively believing someone is “bad” because they disagree with your political or religious convictions? (Also something we all do, so the more you catch yourself, the better.)
- And one more for these days of COVID-19: Do you respect the conclusions of acknowledged experts more than the opinions of your friends or conspiracy theorists?