If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: truth

Gene Wolfe – intro to The Sandman, vol. 6 (1993)

What is important and central here is that, time after time, the stories themselves are true. I don’t mean simply that Neil Gaiman’s history is good history and that his myth is good myth—although they are. I mean that you will understand yourself and the world better for having read them, and that you will have been both ennobled and troubled by the experience; that this is not just art—all sorts of ugly and foolish things are art—but great art.

Harry Frankfurt – On Bullshit (1986)

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor [to] conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is therefore responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Neil Gaiman – Sandman, vol. 3 (1991)

Auberon: We thank you, Shaper. But this diversion, although pleasant, is not true. Things never happened thus.

Dream: Oh, but it IS true. Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.

Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

“That is quite true, Dorian,” cried Hallward.

“Nothing is ever quite true,” said Lord Henry.

Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning (2015)

I thought about it. “Sometimes I think that truth is a place. In my mind, it is like a city: there can be a hundred roads, a thousand paths, that will all take you, eventually, to the same place. It does not matter where you come from. If you walk toward the truth, you will reach it, whatever path you take.”

Calum MacInnes looked down at me and said nothing. Then, “You are wrong. The truth is a cave in the black mountains. There is one way there, and one only, and that way is treacherous and hard, and if you choose the wrong path you will die alone, on the mountainside.”

‘”The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…”‘

Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning (2015)

I imagine people pretending to be what they truly are,…


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)

“Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.”

from “The Yellow Face”

Douglas Hofstadter – Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979)

In short, Gödel showed that provability is a weaker notion than truth, no matter what axiomatic system is involved.

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988)

Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.

Christopher Hitchens – Hitch-22 (2010)

The usual duty of the “intellectual” is to argue for complexity and to insist that phenomena in the world of ideas should not be sloganized or reduced to easily repeated formulae. But there is another responsibility, to say that some things are simple and ought not to be obfuscated.