How Not to Love the Truth

Since when you are thinking about yourself you will come to the same conclusion regardless of the truth, let’s talk about someone else. Suppose someone says this:

I have the Ultimate Theory of Reality. It is true and absolutely certain. Not only is it true, but there is not even the slightest bit of evidence against it. This is not an exaggeration. All the evidence in the world favors it. No one has ever mentioned even a single fact that stands against it, and all the people in the world who disagree with it disagree with it for emotional reasons alone. And if you hold the Ultimate Theory, you should never change your mind about it no matter what happens. If you find someone who says that he used to believe the Ultimate Theory but no longer does, he never really believed it in the first place. Finally, per impossibile, if the Ultimate Theory turned out to be false, there would be no reason to change my mind, because nothing would matter anymore.

Naturally, this is not an actual quotation. But neither is it a caricature. Although I will not link to the original, it is based on an actual opinion written by a real blogger not that long ago, and every point of it is a fair representation of what he actually said. There are a number of errors here:

  1. The claim to absolute certainty about his opinion.
  2. The claim that all of the evidence favors his opinion.
  3. The claim that he should never change his mind under any circumstances.
  4. The claim that someone could not hold his opinion and then change his mind.
Each of these claims indicates a lack of love of truth in relation to the opinion in question, or at any rate another love which takes precedence over the love of truth. They do this by showing that the person is attached to his opinion as this particular opinion, regardless of whether it is true. And the absolute character of the claims, in this particular example, comes close to showing a complete absence of the love of truth, relative to the particular claim. The first three claims do this in a somewhat evident manner, namely by indicating that the person would be unwilling to change his mind even if he were wrong. The fourth indicates that takes pride in his attachment and considers it good and reasonable: not only does he fail to love the truth of the matter, but he loves his own failure to love the truth. And all of these things are the case whether or not the Ultimate Theory is actually true.
Finally, there is a fifth claim, which I did not include in the list of errors because in principle it could be true (it was in fact false in the case in question.) He claims that if he were wrong, there would be no reason to change his mind, since nothing would matter anymore. In principle, this could be true. If “good and bad do not exist,” is true, then it is not bad to believe that they do exist. If “truth is bad and falsehood is good” is true, then it is good to say that truth is good, and bad to say that it is bad. And if it is true that “nothing matters” then it does not matter if I say that something matters.
But apart from such obvious examples, the claim is a danger signal relative to the love of truth, because again it indicates an attachment to a particular opinion that is unrelated to its truth or falsity. Just as the one who loves sweet wine loves sweetness, not wine, if he would no longer love the wine without sweetness, so one who would not love the truth if it were different from the opinion he currently holds, does not love truth but his opinion, even if his opinion is true.
This idealized example (again, however, a fair description of a real opinion) shows us how not to love the truth. The closer we are, in theory or in practice, to making these kinds of claims about our own opinions, the less likely it is that we actually love the truth relative to those opinions. Unfortunately, however, just as a person might believe himself to be a lover of truth without being one,  a person might suppose that he does not fall into these patterns of thinking, even while falling into them.

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