Truth just doesn’t seem to have the public image it used to have. The idea that we live in a “post-truth” society means we don’t need to think much about it: you have your truth and I have mine until….someone lies. While we might like the idea of a post-truth world, reality comes crashing in.
So it was with great interest I picked up A Short History of Truth by UK philosopher Julian Baggini (London: Quercus Publishing, 2019). Baggini is quick to point out that the concept of a post-truth society doesn’t work and is merely an illusion. But then he doesn’t want to return to the times of the “The Plain Truth”. Truth is more complicated than that.
Baggini then begins his journey of looking at different types of truth: Eternal truths (revealed in say the Bible), Authoritative, Esoteric, Reasoned, Empirical, Creative, Relative, Powerful, Moral and Holistic truths. In each case, he shows the limits and the importance of each species of truth.
Firstly, the book is incredibly readable. Baggini uses lots of illustrations and is keen to show how truth is of practical importance in navigating the world. This is far from abstract thought and self-indulgent philosophy.
The book is aptly titled Short. It is short at 108 pages. The book reminded me of the joke: “My father said, “Always leave them wanting more.” Which is how he lost his job as an anaesthetist.” It is short and each chapter left me wanting more. He raises issues like “Young Earth Creationistsversus Evolutionists” arguing that there is a truth but leaves the tension lying there. There are many issues that you want to be resolved. So this book should be read more as an introduction to the topic rather than a comprehensive treatment.
That being said, Baggini is not afraid to raise the more difficult questions. His first chapter addresses the issue of revealed truth from religion in relation to secular truth and science.
All in all, this is a great book to start the conversation: “If we are not in a post-truth world, how does truth actually work?”