The Invention of Truth

posted by Nima

January 25, 2010 · Posted in Philosophy 

Today I watched “The Invention of Lying”. The main theme of the movie has enormous philosophical implications. The striking humor in almost all conversations in the movie lies in the fact that people tell each other the truth on all occasions.

It shows us how lying, a thing most of us profess to consider immoral and wrong, is in fact one of the most basic elements in our societal fabric. We act surprised and upset whenever we find out that some government official or CEO lied about something at some point in time. But we fail to realize how much we and our friends actually lie in our personal lives.

The idea that “the family” is more important than non-family, the idea that your school teachers are right and good and that you are bad if you don’t listen to them and do your homework, the notion that a god exists, the notion that a government is necessary – all these are lies that most people are completely incapable of revealing to themselves.

Anyone who is new to the consistent application of such ideas is likely to roll their eyes, brush it off as nonsense, or resort to plain ridicule. This is expectable behavior and should not concern us in the pro-truth movement too much. For we are asking people to give up on lies that they have clung to for decades, have arranged their entire lives around, and may, at times, have greatly benefited from.

Isn’t it possible that some of the most basic falsehoods and lies at the root of our societies which only very few people are capable of seeing, actually stem from every single one’s proneness to lie in certain situations? Couldn’t it be that the above mentioned manifestations are but a mere result of our own disregard for the truth in our own day to day lives?

How can we strive for more truth and accountability in political and business affairs if we ourselves aren’t even capable of consistently being truthful on our personal lives?

We all know that real societal change necessitates a new philosophical revolution, a movement that widely spreads the true facts about all the falsehoods we grew up with. We can’t get rid of the government, religion, blind family-alleciance, and public schools, if the majority of the people has not been guided toward the shining light of truth. But as such people must first and foremost accept its benefits. So long as we deem it expedient from time to time to delude ourselves and others on vital matters, it is likely to be impossible for most to see any value in truth.

Thus such a philosophical revolution almost necessitates something like a reversal of what happens in the movie, namely “The Invention of Truth”. Advertisement: Get your shortlink before someone else does at

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5 Responses to “The Invention of Truth”

  1. Rafi on January 28th, 2010 12:41 pm

    Blind family allegiance? Huh?

    You’re painting some broad strokes here in a very short blog post. There are reasonable arguments for the existence of a God as a source of reality, and reasonable arguments for the existence of a government. Are you calling those arguments lies or are you calling people who accept the existence of those things blindly liars (to themselves)?

  2. Nima on January 29th, 2010 1:21 am

    Well, I am making broad strokes here, but it’s not like I haven’t talked about this stuff again and again in the past :)

    But that’s interesting. You don’t think that a lot of people grow up with the notion that their Mom and Dad are right, and they have to obey no matter what? Don’t you think that a lot of arguments between kids and their parents end with “I am your FATHER, jimmy!” or parents beating their kids with most people never questioning the concept of beating up on a completely helpless person? That’s what I mean by blind family allegiance. To conjure up an imaginary entity called family that warrants antisocial behavior that would never be acceptable in other contexts.

    As far as a God is concerned: What is your definition of god, and what are the reasonable arguments for his/its/her existence? What are the reasonable arguments for establishing a group that has the right to steal from everybody with the force of guns and the threat of murder and kidnapping?

  3. Rafi on February 1st, 2010 12:26 pm

    It’s too long of a reply to establish the argument fully that God exists, but by God I mean the source of existence. That is, a prime cause, a primary existence that all existence derives it’s reality from. It isn’t an old man with a white beard, it’s the source of reality. Also, things in existence are preceded by their parts. For example, if we define a car as a motor and chassis, by definition we must first have “motor” and “chassis” before we can have “car”. Unless you posit that there are an infinite number of causes, then there is a primary cause that is an absolute unity – it has no parts, and thus nothing preceded it, and it’s existence is dependent upon nothing. It’s nature is to exist, it is the source of existence, etc.

    As far as reasonable arguments for government, if the government is formed out of revolution and voluntary pact, then it is legitimate and binding, like any other contract. It gets tricky when you factor in children and the next generation, but for that first generation they have given their consent to the governing institution and the social contract is real.

    As far as the family, I totally understand and agree with your point. The family is not an imaginary thing though. It’s clearly defined biologically and psychologically – they are real relationships. Parents can abuse their children in any number of horrible ways, and certainly one of the most horrible is to destroy their curiosity and ability to think for themselves. That doesn’t mean that sometimes – depending on the age of the child – it isn’t appropriate to simply say “Because I said so.”, but that shouldn’t happen nearly as often as it does, in my opinion.

  4. Nima on February 1st, 2010 2:45 pm

    Regarding what you said about God:

    You redefined the commonly used definition of God. So in that sense there is not a whole lot I disagree with on what you said. I was referring to the God that most religious people refer to: That actual being which is perfect in power and knowledge and is worshiped as creator of the universe. An entity without mass but with the capacity to act and intervene inside our universe … that God is what I am referring to

    But what you said doesn’t really contradict my statement. If anything you affirmed my claim that God doesn’t exist. If it is the source of all existence, the prime cause, the first thing that got things moving, then that was way in the past. But it no longer exists. Just like dinosaurs don’t exist anymore, so your “God” no longer exists …

    Regarding government:

    Give me an example of your hypothetical scenario. A historical example where all the people agreed and consented with the formation of a new apparatus with the right to perform acts of aggression against THEM to fund itself on a periodical basis, signed a contract, and agreed to be liable for all its obligations incurred. I’d be thrilled if you found one, because, believe me, I have tried!

    Regarding family:

    When you look at society, you always have to remember that all that exists are people doing stuff. Every sociological event, meaning inflicted human action, involves nothing but people doing stuff. All that exists as tangible objects in society, aside from goods of course, are people. There is no such tangible thing as the government, or a family, or a nation. All these are only concepts that we group certain people into. So far so good. But it gets problematic if we begin to ascribe attributes to those concepts that are invalid and allow for the objects we have grouped into it to get imbued with those same seeming attributes in our minds. That is all I am referring to when I say something like “the family/government/god doesn’t exist”.

  5. Rafi on February 3rd, 2010 8:37 am

    Re: God – you’re making one subtle mistake. If God is an absolute unity, it is impossible for him not to exist. He is incapable of change. If an absolute unity exists, one of its properties is that it always has existed and always will exist. The reason this must be so is because any sort of change or dynamic requires parts, and by definition the primal cause has no parts. So again, unless you posit an infinite number of causes, God exists and He can’t really change that fact. Now obviously billions of people believe in a personal God that interacts with humanity, and that is a much much much more contentious claim, and much harder to prove. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to prove, but it’s muuuuch harder, and almost all religious people don’t care to prove it. They just believe it based on faith. You and I would both agree that that’s silly. But I just wanted to add a counterpoint to your post that God doesn’t exist, and that there are indeed reasonable arguments for the existence of such a being.

    Re: Govt – You are right, there are no examples like that, and it remains a hypothetical scenario. I still think it’s a reasonable argument, even if it is hypothetical.

    Re: Family: I give concepts a higher degree of reality than you do, I think that human concepts model and approximate nature. Is there are true concept of nation? Probably not. Is there a true concept of government – the jury is still out on that one for me. Is there a true concept of family – yes, and as I said before it is both a biological definition and a psychological definition. But I agree with you that people abuse these concepts and behave in a narcissistic fashion that is antisocial and harmful to people.


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