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A Good Lawyer

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Posted by Benjamin Nelson on February 27, 2001 00:31:55 UTC

Richard:

The proposition here seems to be that truth reveals itself to human beings who are preoccupied with their own situations. Only in the connection with the circumstances that are embodied in the individual can we comprehend what exactly this responding truth is. And while I disagree that truth is the same as reality, I agree that it has sense and meaning only insofar as it serves as the foundation for reality. The problem, of course, is that while truth is defined by its content -- for example, 1+1=2 -- you may run into problems when you try to do the same with your reality.

Besides, maybe "reality" is best left out of this altogether. Borrowing from Foucault, whether your existence is "real" or not is, at best, elusive. And even when "reality" can be clearly defined, it is a concept to which most of us are indifferent. My point is simply this: the human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a machine for convincing others that its owner is on the side of truth -- and thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. To that end, the brain is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth, regardless of whether they in fact are "true." And like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.

Still, one might think that being rational creatures, we would eventually grow suspicious of our uncannily long string of rectitude, our unerring knack for being on the right side of truth. Nope. Time and again -- whether arguing over a place in line or who is the more rational mind -- we are shocked a the blindness of people who dare suggest that our outrage isn't warranted, that our proposition on truth may be more dubious than not. In this way, unfortunately, human beings are a species splendid in their array of cognitive equipment, but tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse.

B. L. Nelson

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