hits counter Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy - Ebook PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy

Availability: Ready to download

What does it mean to be truthful? What role does truth play in our lives? What do we lose if we reject truthfulness? No philosopher is better suited to answer these questions than Bernard Williams. Writing with his characteristic combination of passion and elegant simplicity, he explores the value of truth and finds it to be both less and more than we might imagine. Modern What does it mean to be truthful? What role does truth play in our lives? What do we lose if we reject truthfulness? No philosopher is better suited to answer these questions than Bernard Williams. Writing with his characteristic combination of passion and elegant simplicity, he explores the value of truth and finds it to be both less and more than we might imagine. Modern culture exhibits two attitudes toward truth: suspicion of being deceived (no one wants to be fooled) and skepticism that objective truth exists at all (no one wants to be naive). This tension between a demand for truthfulness and the doubt that there is any truth to be found is not an abstract paradox. It has political consequences and signals a danger that our intellectual activities, particularly in the humanities, may tear themselves to pieces. Williams's approach, in the tradition of Nietzsche's genealogy, blends philosophy, history, and a fictional account of how the human concern with truth might have arisen. Without denying that we should worry about the contingency of much that we take for granted, he defends truth as an intellectual objective and a cultural value. He identifies two basic virtues of truth, Accuracy and Sincerity, the first of which aims at finding out the truth and the second at telling it. He describes different psychological and social forms that these virtues have taken and asks what ideas can make best sense of them today. Truth and Truthfulness presents a powerful challenge to the fashionable belief that truth has no value, but equally to the traditional faith that its value guarantees itself. Bernard Williams shows us that when we lose a sense of the value of truth, we lose a lot both politically and personally, and may well lose everything.


Compare

What does it mean to be truthful? What role does truth play in our lives? What do we lose if we reject truthfulness? No philosopher is better suited to answer these questions than Bernard Williams. Writing with his characteristic combination of passion and elegant simplicity, he explores the value of truth and finds it to be both less and more than we might imagine. Modern What does it mean to be truthful? What role does truth play in our lives? What do we lose if we reject truthfulness? No philosopher is better suited to answer these questions than Bernard Williams. Writing with his characteristic combination of passion and elegant simplicity, he explores the value of truth and finds it to be both less and more than we might imagine. Modern culture exhibits two attitudes toward truth: suspicion of being deceived (no one wants to be fooled) and skepticism that objective truth exists at all (no one wants to be naive). This tension between a demand for truthfulness and the doubt that there is any truth to be found is not an abstract paradox. It has political consequences and signals a danger that our intellectual activities, particularly in the humanities, may tear themselves to pieces. Williams's approach, in the tradition of Nietzsche's genealogy, blends philosophy, history, and a fictional account of how the human concern with truth might have arisen. Without denying that we should worry about the contingency of much that we take for granted, he defends truth as an intellectual objective and a cultural value. He identifies two basic virtues of truth, Accuracy and Sincerity, the first of which aims at finding out the truth and the second at telling it. He describes different psychological and social forms that these virtues have taken and asks what ideas can make best sense of them today. Truth and Truthfulness presents a powerful challenge to the fashionable belief that truth has no value, but equally to the traditional faith that its value guarantees itself. Bernard Williams shows us that when we lose a sense of the value of truth, we lose a lot both politically and personally, and may well lose everything.

30 review for Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alina

    I went into this book hoping that Williams, a grandmaster in contemporary philosophy, could shed his wise light onto this problem: What is the nature of truth, given the fact that our conceptual systems and possibilities of knowledge are constrained by our history and social norms? This book does not address this question (I shouldn't have expected it to do this, perhaps, since tackling this question would require going into metaphysics and epistemology, which is not Williams' speciality). Inste I went into this book hoping that Williams, a grandmaster in contemporary philosophy, could shed his wise light onto this problem: What is the nature of truth, given the fact that our conceptual systems and possibilities of knowledge are constrained by our history and social norms? This book does not address this question (I shouldn't have expected it to do this, perhaps, since tackling this question would require going into metaphysics and epistemology, which is not Williams' speciality). Instead, Williams takes for granted that there are matters of fact out there in the world, and it is possible for us to know them. He addresses a fascinating question, downstream of that: What is the value of truth and truthfulness in our society? That is, what does affirming the possibility that we can arrive at truth do for us, or what roles does this play in our social practices? Williams exercises his extraordinary sensitivity and insight into moral and political issues in his investigation, and this was a satisfying read, despite it being about a topic I was not initially interested in. I will summarize the parts that I found most interesting. In the first two chapters, Williams lays out the problem and his method. Chapter 2 presents an awesome explanation of the kind of philosophical progress telling genealogical stories can make, and how genealogical stories can do this. One takes up this method of genealogy when there is a certain concept that people tend to take for granted, as absolutely truthful or unproblematic, but one thinks this concept is in fact misguided, incomplete, or operative due to social or political forces. The classic example is Nietzsche's genealogy of western morality; he showed that our notions of good/evil stem from Christianity and the anger, envy, and loathing of the weak, directed at the powerful. An immediate concern one might raise against this method is that any genealogical story is not factually or historically precise; it is a myth-like or idealized story one fabricates for one's purposes of dethroning the legitimacy of a concept. Moreover, one might be concerned that this method gets the realm of causation and the realm of reasons confused (i.e., the "is" and the "ought"); just because a concept came out from a historical sequence of events does not mean that this concept is misguided. Williams addresses these two concerns. He argues that even though the story is not factual, it is not arbitrary by any means; a good genealogical story will capture some structural or functional social dynamic, which actually existed in our human history. The concrete details might be unfaithful to reality, but those are irrelevant for the development of the concept at hand; rather, this functional, inner dynamic is relevant. Moreover, Williams clarifies that the method never intends to dethrone a concept altogether, in the sense of reducing it to the historical circumstances from which it originated. The method acknowledges that the current concept is truly emergent, even if it has certain origins (I made sense of this part by thinking of Freud's notion of sublimation: there is a primordial drive, which could potentially be expressed in any number of concrete ways; we end up expressing it in one certain way, which is socially acceptable and useful for us). In chapter 3, Williams moves on to his positive account. He tells a genealogical story of the concept of truth. There is a small community. Any individual member of the community can only know about the world through her own limited perspective; it is immensely helpful for the sake of survival for all members to pool their observations together. This involves two dispositions: an individual must acquire a correct belief from their experience, on the one hand, and she must articulate and deliver it in a reliable format into the pool, on the other hand. These two dispositions correspond to Williams' central concepts: the virtues of Accuracy and Sincerity. For Williams, the value or virtue of truth is to be understood in terms of those two virtues. He takes the rest of the book explicating the genealogical histories of each of these virtues, in actual western history. Before he gets to that task, Williams makes a fascinating point in chapter 4 (which he expands on in chapter 8). Williams argues that the difference between belief and desire is more tenuous than is commonly assumed in philosophy, and examining their relation helps us understand the relation between belief and truth. Plato assumed that reason and desire are neatly separated, and ethical living is all about having the two harmonize with one another (i.e., ensuring that we desire what we rationally know to be good). Williams points out that there is an issue upstream to that. We have a ton of conceptual resources floating around in our heads. These resources can be drawn upon and be formed into either beliefs or desires. Having a wish become a belief vs. a desire in the first place is already a cognitive achievement. We start of with wishing for all sorts of things that are suitable to us. In practical deliberation, we evaluate our desires, and sort them into wants vs. wishes. The former are achievable, and the latter are not. The difference between the two is often a matter of belief; if I desire to become an astronaut, for example, whether or not this is a want vs. a wish depends on whether I believe that the competition pool of candidate astronauts is arranged in such a way that I have a chance, or that I have a physiology that is capable of the training requisite to astronaut-hood, etc. Because we are frail, fallible human beings, we will let desires conduct the train, and determine whether some conceptual resources are turned into beliefs. If I very much desire to be an astronaut, it is in my interest for this desire to be a want, rather than a wish, and so my conceptual resources about astronaut-relevant matters turn into an array of beliefs that provide a context that lets my desire be a want. All of this is related to Accuracy and Sincerity. Williams argues that this fragility of beliefs - that they might break apart and turn out to be false and desire-driven - makes Accuracy and Sincerity all the more valuable. The beliefs that amount to the societal pool of knowledge must be true and reliable, if the community members who draw upon the pool are to be helped, rather than hindered. Williams focuses in Sincerity in chapter 5. Sincerity is a matter of making sure that the listener ends up with the right beliefs, the beliefs that we know to be true and that we convey to her. The opposite of this is deception and lying. In chapter 6, Williams introduces Accuracy. There are facts of the world that exist independently of our dispositions towards them. To capture and convey these facts is to provide beliefs that are reliable; this reliability is grounded in the actual existence of these facts and their independence of our human activities. In chapter 9, Williams examines the value of Sincerity and Accuracy in the political sphere, dealing with two primary issues: freedom of speech, and social hierarchy. He shows that J.S. Mill's notion of the "marketplace of ideas," launched for the promotion of policies for total freedom of speech, is severely misguided. There is no guarantee that when a bunch of people get together, the ideas they come up with will be either Sincere or Accurate; there are so many complicated interests and power structures in play. Williams also argues that post-modern critical theory's rejection of truth is a wrong move. Critical theory's aim is to show that the acceptance of this hierarchy by those at the bottom rungs depends on subtle coercion maintained by those at the top rungs. In order to show this, we must affirm that there are facts of the matter regarding whether coercion is indeed being used, whether the actual events of history demonstrate this. We need to affirm Sincerity and Accuracy. In chapter 10, Williams examines truth with respect to history, to our knowledge of what has happened in the past. He rejects the post-modern doctrine that there are no grand narratives of society at all, that it's all arbitrary and invented. Williams acknowledges that our needs and interests determine which facts will be salient to us. But these are facts, nonetheless. Moreover, the way we string facts together, to tell a coherent narrative that has the power to explain a certain outcome or occurrence, can be truth evaluable. Interpretations can be more or less sincere; historians can have the will to deceive and control others, or the will to tell something that will be reliable and useful to others. Of course, different things will be useful to different people. Politics is a matter of getting others to share one's own needs and interests, which would make it the case that certain historical narratives will be more suiting or useful to them, rather than other narratives. I have the suspicion that all of this is consistent with the metaphysical claim that there is no absolute truth that is knowable to humans; there are certain ground-level facts that no one could possibly disagree with, but these are not absolute in a metaphysical sense; they are still shaped by our human biology and cognitive system. Williams is just not interested in that kind of absolute truth, and his interests are very valuable, and he does a tremendous job in investigating and satisfying them. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in critiquing post-modernism, or is fearful of the 'post-fact' cultural trend. Or to anyone in general; the book is full of fascinating ideas that I think are generally interesting (since they are relevant to our existential situation, of how to live and make sense of society) and I've named only a fraction of them.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Josh Paul

    Probably better than "Ethics and the Limits..." some genuinely interesting stuff on the role of truth and truth telling in ours lives - along with some borderline polemical attacks on various forms of relativism. Probably better than "Ethics and the Limits..." some genuinely interesting stuff on the role of truth and truth telling in ours lives - along with some borderline polemical attacks on various forms of relativism.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Xan Shadowflutter

    Review to Follow

  4. 5 out of 5

    Canaan

    Very good book, lucidly written and argued. Roughly, I would say that in chapters 1-6, Williams works out his account of truth and truthfulness using his genealogical method (for which he brilliantly draws on Nietzsche), and that in chapters 7-10 he applies the account in analyzing various issues, including history, authenticity, liberalism, and narrative. Taken altogether, the book sometimes meandered (which can be enjoyable or annoying, depending, I guess, on one’s mood; sometimes it was one a Very good book, lucidly written and argued. Roughly, I would say that in chapters 1-6, Williams works out his account of truth and truthfulness using his genealogical method (for which he brilliantly draws on Nietzsche), and that in chapters 7-10 he applies the account in analyzing various issues, including history, authenticity, liberalism, and narrative. Taken altogether, the book sometimes meandered (which can be enjoyable or annoying, depending, I guess, on one’s mood; sometimes it was one and sometimes another), but was nonetheless thematically connected. Various non-exhaustive takeaways: The problem that starts the book is a tension between two currents of ideas that Williams says are predominate in modern thought and culture: intense commitment to truthfulness (or reflex against deceptiveness) versus suspicion about truth itself. The desire for truthfulness drives a process of criticism that seems to weaken the assurance that there is any stateable truth. Williams says that finding a way to stabilize the notions of truth and truthfulness is a basic problem for present-day philosophy: his genealogical account aims to stabilize them. Good critique of a popular form of relativism here. Naturalism aims for explanation, not reduction. On the one hand, naturalism eschews a certain notion of the intrinsic value of truth, or of needing to live up to such a notion as brought by critics, according to which truth's value is independent of human interests and there’s nothing more to say than that truth is intrinsically valuable. On the other, naturalism provides a certain kind of instrumentalist account, but one that does not leave truth as a merely instrumental good; in fact, it leaves truth as an intrinsic good. The genealogical account does this by explaining ethical phenomena in relation to the rest of nature, specifically that part of nature known as the rest of human psychology (i.e. in relation to basic human needs). Says Williams: "I suggest that it is in fact a sufficient condition for something (for instance, trustworthiness) to have an intrinsic value that, first, it is necessary (or nearly necessary) for basic human purposes and needs that human beings should treat it as an intrinsic good; and, second, they can coherently treat it as an intrinsic good,” (92). This account is vindicatory rather than debunking (as in Nietzsche's genealogy). That there can be no interesting correspondence theory of truth. The notion of truth belongs to a “ramifying set of connected notions,” including meaning, reference, and belief; if any of these concepts has a claim to being more basic, it’d be truth. Following Davidson, Williams says that we can’t hope to underpin the concept of truth with something more basic or understandable, though we can still say many illuminating things by relating it to the other notions in the ramifying set. Williams does this sort of thing in chapter 4. There is no history of truth, only histories of theories of truth. Inspiring interpretation of Plato’s metaphysics that turns on the ambiguity in Plato’s account regarding the independence of the objects of human knowledge and their value from human thought and attitudes: the upshot being that this can’t be, as human interests are inescapable, the independence view itself being an expression of human interests (p. 61, p. 143). Formulation and rejection of the "indistinguishability argument," which is attributed to pragmatists, namely Rorty, who Williams says is fond of distributing polemical capital letters, like T in Truth (p. 128). It’s interesting to note how Williams’ account has affinities with certain strands of pragmatism (it seems to me: compare Philip Kitcher’s The Ethical Project, for example) and where he is critical of pragmatism, notably against the “anti-realism” of Rorty. Really interesting comparison of Rousseau and Diderot on self-knowledge and authenticity. The discussion of Diderot’s ideal of “steadying the mind” is fantastic. Great chapter on liberalism and critique, including a workable "critical test”; incisive discussion of free speech and truth; and reflections on the relationship of liberalism to truth, drawing on Shklar’s liberalism of fear as opposed to metaphysically grandiose groundings for liberalism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Siu Hong

    I listened to the audiobook version. While clearly read, which was all it needed to be, the audiobook was not the best way to understand the book because of how much denser it was written, compared to Micheal Sandel's Tyranny of Merit (which read like a well-organized lecture series). I have the impression that Williams was intellectually generous in considering arguments from a wide range of sources while discerning in considering the truthfulness (ding!) of them. The sheer variety of discussio I listened to the audiobook version. While clearly read, which was all it needed to be, the audiobook was not the best way to understand the book because of how much denser it was written, compared to Micheal Sandel's Tyranny of Merit (which read like a well-organized lecture series). I have the impression that Williams was intellectually generous in considering arguments from a wide range of sources while discerning in considering the truthfulness (ding!) of them. The sheer variety of discussions (Ancient history and myth, Rousseau's sincerity, semantic theories of truth, liberal politics, critical theory) is the evidence of how productive Williams' brand of genealogy is. I'm probably far too impressed to give a fair-minded critique, but I really enjoyed this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Björn

    The truth is, philosophy is really dry. This book is a prime example of that fundamental problem. It takes almost two hundred pages to say nearly nothing. Despite its short length it took me forever to read. By contrast I've read 1000-page novels in a few days; this took me several months to drag myself through to the end. Having said that the book has some content that I found interesting, like about how "history" came into existence. Overall I think the book could have been boiled down to about The truth is, philosophy is really dry. This book is a prime example of that fundamental problem. It takes almost two hundred pages to say nearly nothing. Despite its short length it took me forever to read. By contrast I've read 1000-page novels in a few days; this took me several months to drag myself through to the end. Having said that the book has some content that I found interesting, like about how "history" came into existence. Overall I think the book could have been boiled down to about 40 pages and not lost any of its import.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christian Krüger

    Dieses recht komplexe Buch setzt sich zunächst mit den einzelnen Begriffen Wahrheit, Wahrhaftigkeit, Aufrichtigkeit, Genauigkeit, Behauptung und Überzeugung auseinander. Dabei werden auch historische Begriffe angeschnitten. Von diesem allgemeinen Teil wendet sich der Autor zum Thema Wahrheit in der Politik und der Sinngebung. Hier wird der Leser gefordert. Will man über seine eigenen Ansichten hinauskommen, empfiehlt sich ein mehrfaches Lesen.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steven Felicelli

    Normally when you read a professorial apologia for one side of a polemic, you become convinced of that side. (e.g. Shakespeare identity theories) But after reading this tedious, point-missing opus by Williams, I've gone from fence to firmly in Rorty camp. Normally when you read a professorial apologia for one side of a polemic, you become convinced of that side. (e.g. Shakespeare identity theories) But after reading this tedious, point-missing opus by Williams, I've gone from fence to firmly in Rorty camp.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Edward Fenner

    Interesting, but a bit of a slog at times.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/... http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    Reading Williams is a real but fairly low-key pleasure.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rob Brethouwer

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick Smyth

  16. 5 out of 5

    Louis

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Lam

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathrin

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dharmarajan

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Benbow

  21. 4 out of 5

    naktikovas

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bellamy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Arsen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Henken

  25. 4 out of 5

    Łukasz Stafiniak

  26. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lorena Gutiérrez

  28. 4 out of 5

    Harper

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anton

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lenny Talarico

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...