Truth, or rather, objective truth, seems to be an elusive creature these days. No matter where you go, bias has seeped into every aspect, it seems, of our fragmented, postmodern society. This is not entirely wrong or necessarily bad, but the trouble, assuming you can recognize it, is figuring out what to do with all of this disinformation. How do we collectively progress as a society when even simple definitions start to see their meanings change relative to the individual or group using them? There is no simple answer.
We all intend, for the most part, to better ourselves and the people around us. Despite all the negativity fed to us through our airwaves and internet, there may at least be small steps we can take to navigate through the uncertainty of our times. A philosopher named John Stuart Mill had simple and effective suggestions for how truth and liberty may be examined and exercised in a democratic society back in the mid-to-late 19th century.
Mill profoundly influenced the shape and scope of British political thought through his works on epistemology (the theory of knowledge), ethics, political philosophy and logic. While John Locke had greater philosophical influence on America’s constitution, Mill’s philosophy came to embody the spirit of civil discourse in our constitutional republic. In his work “On Liberty”, Mill gives us a simple bit of wisdom which seems more relevant now than ever:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; and those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
That is to say, we can still obtain a clearer perception and livelier impression of truth by sharing and understanding differing opinions through meaningful communication. Whether at home, at work or in conversations regarding the future of our nation, we must learn to listen to each other. This is just one step in the right direction, but no matter what aspect of our lives we’d like to improve by seeking truth, Mill’s words still ring in spirit of that truth.
Have a great week,