TeeJaw Blog

Your Truth, My Truth? — The Truth Is Out There

Posted in Culture by TeeJaw on Sunday, September 4, 2011, 2: 16 PM

“If there is only your truth and my truth and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it “the truth”) by which to settle our differences, then either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you.”

            — George Weigel

“Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave. She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out. “

            — William F. Buckley, Jr.

Lawyers, especially some criminal defense lawyers, double-especially lawyers who work in the public defender’s office, tend  to believe there are “versions” of the truth and that the purpose of a trial, civil or criminal, is not the discovery of truth but the discovery of which version of the truth we are going to accept as the truth.

I don’t know whether it is some genetic predisposition afflicting that self-selected group of individuals who opt for law school over dental school, or whether it’s attributable to the influence of law professors like Professor Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School (just one example of professors who tout the “versions-of-truth” philosophy), or something entirely different.  There is an answer, or possibly multiple answers.  I don’t really know what the truth is about it, I just know that it’s a common belief among members of the next to the oldest profession.

How do I know that?  Experience guided by intelligence is as good an answer as any, but there is a way to really know the truth about this.  That would be to take a scientific poll of a representative group and sufficient number of trial lawyers and ask them.  But wait, that would likely only give us a suggestion of the truth.  Some of the lawyers might lie to the pollster, they are lawyers after all.  The poll might be flawed in some way we don’t know, or the pollsters might have their hand on the scale to skew the results.  They are pollsters after all.  There are probably other factors which could cast doubt on the results of such a poll.  Maybe it just isn’t possible to really know the truth of my proposition.  But here is something we can be sure of. There is a truth out there.  It may be difficult to find, but it’s there just the same.  Whether we know it or  not.

For the time being, why not just take my word for it?  Experience guided by intelligence is a pretty good approach to truth finding. It served Nero Wolfe quite well. Enabled him to solve some mysteries.

Those who believe there is no such thing as the truth tend not to be truth seekers.  You don’t seek what you believe doesn’t exist.  That’s a problem because as my example shows, truth, whether yours or mine, is often allusive and can only be got close to by educated and intelligent guessing. Nothing wrong with that so long as one realizes that what one is doing is attempting to come as close as possible to something that resists complete and final discovery.

Juries, by the way, don’t think like lawyers at all.  People on juries usually think there is such a thing as the truth and they sorely want it [notwithstanding anomalies such as the OJ jury]. They deliberate until they think they’ve found it.  Whether they have actually found it or not, they try not to give up until they feel sure they’ve either found the truth or have come as close to it as is humanly possible.  Lawyers know this.  That might be why they will almost always use their peremptory challenges to keep a fellow lawyer off any jury.  After all, a lawyer on a jury may not be seeking the truth, but only a version of the truth.  And it might be the wrong version.

You see, even lawyers who don’t believe in the truth feel more comfortable submitted the fate of their client’s money or liberty to people who do believe in the truth.  Even they don’t trust putting their fate in the hands of someone who may think the same as they do.  Cognitive dissonance of some kind I suppose.

Bill Whittle examines the truth in this interesting video that is worth your time, I promise.

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