Bryan Caplan  

Would a Truth-Seeker Ask?

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Robin lays down a challenge:

Consider the people you most admire that you know personally, such as your parents, spouse, or work mentor. Now imagine the worse [sic] sort of things someone might plausibly accuse those people of. Are you confident you really want to know if such accusations are true? If yes, why don't you look them in the eye and ask them point blank, just to lay the issue to rest? Or offer to bet them on it? I didn't think so.
At the outset, note that Robin limits himself to "plausible" accusations. Since the really bad stuff is rarely plausible - Robin's highly unlikely to be a serial killer - most scary accusations aren't worth making.

Furthermore, even for plausible accusations, a truth-seeker still might not ask, because: (a) If the accusation were true, it would be denied, and (b) people resent being accused. Just because you value truth, doesn't mean you don't value friends.

In short, the fact that we rarely accuse our favorite people is weak evidence that we aren't truth-seekers. It could just be a sign that accusations damage relationships without revealing much truth.

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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

Are you now or have you ever been a communist?

Erik writes:

[Comment deleted pending verification of email address. A valid email address is required to post comments to EconLog. Please email the to restore this comment.--Econlib Ed.]

Les writes:

When a friend came to Socrates with a juicy bit of gossip, Socrates replied, “Before you tell me this bit of gossip, will it pass my triple filter test?

First of all, what you are about to tell me, is it true?” The man replied that he was not sure; he had heard it but could not verify its truthfulness.

Socrates continued by saying, “You want to tell me some gossip but you are not positive that it is true.”

“Well,” said Socrates, “Is what you are about to tell me good?” “No,” the man replied, “it certainly is not good.”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something that may not be true and it certainly is not good.

Let us give this bit of gossip the final of the three filter tests: Is what you are about to tell me going to be useful to me?” Again the man had to confess that no, it would not be useful to Socrates.

So, in his wisdom, Socrates then said, “Well, if you are not sure it is true, you know it is not good, and you tell me that it will not be useful to me, why then tell it to me?”

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