The Truth Matters1 – Bruce Bartlett
“Learn what is true in order to do what is ‘right’ is the summing up of the whole duty of man.”– T.H. Huxley
On a recent stop in Sylva, N.C., I purchased a small book at their library’s book store written, not by a philosopher, but by Bruce Bartlett, a magazine columnist, former presidential advisor, and commentator. It is a poignant fit with blogs I have done on cultural reality and epistemology. It also dovetails nicely with the philosophical tool of logic in determining truth in current events.
The author notes early in the book that the fairness doctrine which required both sides to be present for radio and television based political endorsements or opinions was abolished in 1987 – an event of which I and probably many others have no memory. This ushered in the ‘anything goes’ news that permeates our airways and the internet today.
He offers excellent practical tips to increase the likelihood of finding journalistic truth including:
- Primary sources are more reliable than secondary sources.
- Evidence and statements closer to the time of an event are more reliable than later ones.
- The quality of evidence is best in documentaries.
- Reputable publications meet journalistic standards that ensure truthfulness.
- Academic (peer reviewed) sources and university professors are more trustworthy than think tanks.
- Libraries offer excellent resources to access truthful information.
- Numbers must always be placed in context.
- Readers should be aware the media tend to erroneously present issues as having only two sides.
- Polls involve various perils and are best used for confirming trends.
- Readers should counter ‘fake news’ with fact checking.
- Critical thinking is the best defense against deception.
- Readers should be skeptical when a story confirms something they want to believe.
To help us access truthful information, he also provides excellent websites such as www.politifact.com and https://scholar.google.com . I urge you to read and take notes on Bartlett’s book or purchase a copy for reference as you deal with real world issues.
As we discussed in an earlier blog, cultural reality is vital to our daily life, but is perhaps the least easily verifiable tier of reality. However ethical behavior in society depends on a valid understanding of the world we inhabit. By marrying journalistic precautions like those listed above to philosophical techniques in logic and epistemology such as those outlined in The Philosopher’s Toolkit2 and other texts, we should be able to maintain as accurate an understanding of the world as possible. This is a key duty for anyone committed to truth, virtue, and a meaningful life.
1 Bartlett, Bruce, The Truth Matters. Ten Speed Press. 2017. ISBN 978-0-399-58116-8.
2 Baggini, Julian and Fosl, Peter S., The Philosopher’s Toolkit. Blackwell Publishing. 2003. ISBN 978-0-631-22874-5.