Truth and lies – do you know the difference?

“That won’t do.”  Lord James Barksdale, better known as Jack, stood beside her.  He shook his carefully cropped head of jet-black hair and looked her straight in the eye.  By the thin shaft of the crescent moon, his craggy face looked cold as steel.  “Talk like that will set tongues wagging.   Believe me, Miss Adams, you do not want that.”

“I said nothing untrue.”

“Truth and lies.  Such a fine line.  Might you know the diference, cousin?  I am most certain that I do not.”

“Lies are never justified, my lord.  Herr Kant, a highly respected gentleman from Königsberg,says we have a moral obligation to our fellow men to tell the truth.”

“Does he?”  Lord James grinned.  “Does Herr Kant also suggest the truth is always justified whatever the consequences?”

______

Something is either true or not – right?

At least that’s how we behave.  We even have machines to tell us when someone is telling a lie.  That’s assuming that telling a lie is other than not telling the truth.

Semantics you say?

I’m not so sure.  While researching for my new novel – Lords and Lies – (excerpt above), I discovered that contrary to popular belief, there’s no agreement on what is truth – indeed finding one is a central aim of  philosophy.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit on the subject.  Luckily, Lord James and his cousin, Miss Adams, live in the 18th century.   So they only have to worry about ‘truth’ as it was conceived of then.

Before Herr Kant of Königsberg, there were two routes to an 18th century truth (both inspired by Descartes):

(1)          Rationalism – finding truth by rational deduction – in other words truth is determined solely through reason (Leibniz).

(2)          Empiricism – finding truth by observation and experience – in other words what you see is what you get (Hume).

Kant believed both Leibniz and Hume were wrong.  Thus he  articulated a third approach – a sort of middle ground.

For Kant, truth came in two varieties (1) those which were a priori true (i.e.  all bachelors are unmarried) and (2) those which required  empirical testing  (i.e. all bachelors are unfulfilled).

Not so easy –  but Kant believed that once you had determined that which was true from that which was not  – then as my heroine points out – one has a categorical  impertative (i.e. moral obligation) to tell the truth.

Now comes the really tricky bit – as  Lord James points out.

For example, assume that a Nazi demands to know if you are hiding Jews in your cellar   If you tell the truth, everyone knows what will happen and it won’t be pretty.  But if you don’t tell the truth, then you’ll have failed to meet your moral obligation.

So what if you decide (poker-faced) to refuse to respond?

Truth or lie?

That’s what Lord James and Miss Adams will have to decide.

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