Dear Dr. Boli: Why is it so hard to ascertain the truth? Don’t you think the truth should be the easiest thing in the world to discover? We have only to determine which of several possibilities corresponds to reality, and there we have our truth. Why is that so hard? —Sincerely, the Hon. John G. Roberts.

Dear Sir: It appears that you have fallen prey to the appealing but fundamental error of supposing that what we call “truth” is that which corresponds to reality. Such a definition would be questionable even in the so-called hard sciences, and it is plainly unworkable in every other department of life. What we call “truth” is that which corresponds most plausibly to our prejudices.

With this definition in mind, we can see at once why the truth is so hard to uncover. It may take some work to discover which of several possibilities corresponds to reality, but it plainly takes much more work to find an observation that plausibly confirms what we have already decided the answer must be. The more unreasonable our prejudice, the more work in plausibly confirming it; for it must be obvious that very unreasonable prejudices are, by their nature, very implausible.

Nevertheless, truth is justly valued as the goal of all intellectual activity. For it is plain (as Aristotle said) that the purpose or end of all human existence is happiness. That nothing makes us happier than the apparent confirmation of a favorite prejudice is a fact of daily observation. Plainly, then, nothing can be more conducive to the ultimate goal of our lives than a diligent search for “truth.” In spite of the difficulties inherent in it, Dr. Boli hopes you will not be discouraged from such a search; for he assures you that you will find the effort well rewarded.


  1. Jared says:

    “What is truth?” The question that rings through the ages. Thankfully, Justice Roberts and his colleagues offer an appealing selection of answers from which to choose.

    Thomas: “Constitutionally speaking, truth is the original intent of James Madison as recalled by him during the Jeffersonian era, but by no means as recorded by him during the Constitutional Convention.”

    Kennedy: “Speaking as the all-important swing vote on a divided Court, truth is pretty much whatever I say it is.”

    Breyer: “Truth is an emerging consensus for which the Court is an institution on the vanguard.”

    Sotomayor: “Ultimately, truth claims derive from the individual, especially if that individual happens to be a wise Latina.”

    Scalia: “Truth is found in the collective works of Coke, Blackstone, Eliot’s Debates, and the Constitution itself, understood as these documents would have been at the time they were drafted, unless this leads to conclusions too dreadful to contemplate, in which case truth is measured by the degree of biting wit it facilitates.”

    Ginsburg: “It has been alleged that truth is merely precedent by another name, on which I dissent in part, but concur in judgment.”

    I shall dispose with the rest for the present time.

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