Essay On Importance Of Truthfulness

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And, in the state of nature Williams imagines, the accurate and sincere reporting of truths between persons certainly seems to be necessary to the development of trust between persons, and facilitates human flourishing.

Truthfulness, as Williams rightly argues, is instrumentally valuable.

Instead, he will tell a story or “fictional genealogy” that explains our need for truth and truthfulness.

Having done so, he proceeds to detail some of the important ethical consequences of that need, in several historical genealogies of the concepts of truth and truthfulness, and related ideas such as authenticity and self-deception. The first half, chapters 1 through 6, revolve around a State-of-Nature story Williams tells (in chapter 3) to illustrate and defend the importance of truth for successful human interaction.

Williams is not attempting to provide a theory of truth, he rather hopes to give us “the value of truth” (6).

Williams believes that the notion of truth he will be working with reflects “everyone’s concept of truth” (271).

Consequently we cannot limit our discussions of deception to merely straightforward verbal lies (such as Sissela Bok attempts to do, in her groundbreaking study Lying [1989]).

For Williams lies are pernicious for at least two reasons: (1) the liar betrays the trust of the dupe; and (2) the liar exerts power over the dupe, manipulating his or her beliefs and thus (potentially) his or her choices.

But (c) is trickier, and here I don’t think Williams succeeds in making his case.

Everyone will admit, Williams thinks, that there are some “plain truths.” In his State of Nature, “a small society of human beings sharing a common language, with no elaborate technology and no form of writing” (41), such truths are of the “Watch out! Williams identifies two “virtues” of truthfulness that will emerge in such a society: “accuracy” and “sincerity.” Accuracy is the virtue of carefully investigating and deliberating over the evidence for and against a belief before assenting to it; sincerity is the virtue of genuinely expressing to others what one in fact believes.


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