Re: How You Do Not Tell the Truth

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 11:57:19 MDT

On 5/3/2001, wrote:
>In contrast to both you and Tyler, however, I am not very troubled by the
>notion that people agree to disagree, nor--and more to the point--do I
>conclude that they therefore undervalue truth. Rather, I regard persistent
>academic disagreements as analogous to the adversarial legal process, wherein
>opposing parties deliberately exaggerate their viewpoints in order to
>facilitate a systemic search for the truth.

The legal process may produce truth, but I think it safe to say that most
individual lawyers do not think of themselves as participating primarily to
produce truth. They want to win. Most academics, on the other hand, do think
of themselves as seeking truth, so it seems worth pointing out to them that
their behavior suggests that they also mainly want to win.

I doubt that deliberate exaggeration itself facilitates the search for truth.
The best institutions we can find using existing humans may in fact frequently
result in exaggeration. In which case it would be negative we should accept.
But it would still be something truth-seekers would regret. And I have my
doubts about how well existing legal and academic institutions do at promoting

>... Consider, for instance, that we agree about almost
>everything. That's perhaps an odd thing to say, but only, I think, because
>we take our nearly universal agreement for granted. Most conversation,
>particularly outside of professional and academic contexts, does not involve
>debate. (Review, for instance, recent discussion around your household.) We
>debate only a very few, usually not very important (e.g., sports), and
>usually not very easily resolved (e.g., theology) issues.

I think this is just not true. Ordinary people disagree on just about
everything, e.g., household chores, who likes who, what foods are healthy.
They disagree especially on just about any question of individual ability.
People consistently think themselves more able than others think them,
in cooking, driving, kissing, you name it.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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