Truth Is A Tyrant

The Truth will not set you free. Truth is a tyrant that will enslave you and cast you into a bondage more absolute than any falsehood or ignorance could.

— jonolan

The old adage, “the Truth will set you free” is sadly wrong. No freedom is bestowed by knowledge of the Truth. Knowledge of any Truth removes the possibility of error or judgment, and thereby eliminates one’s freedom.

The enslavement by falsehood or ignorance can be replaced by another falsehood or error that provides for more freedom than the original lie or error did. However, no such alternative exists for the Truth. That is an absolute and does not brook dissembling or evasion.

While the truth is unknown one has the freedom to take various actions, many of which will be based on false premises. These opportunities represent a freedom that falsehood or ignorance provides. A person, innocent of Truth, can do many things; one’s choices may well be near boundless.

Once one knows a truth one can no longer dissemble or evade the consequences of that knowledge. It is a thing that is. The choices one has are now chained by that Truth. To act differently is to act in willful error.

Related Reading:

A History of Western Philosophy
Saying What's Real: 7 Keys to Authentic Communication and Relationship Success
Nothing But The Truth
Philosophy: The Quest For Truth
The Truth about Cancer: What You Need to Know about Cancer's History, Treatment, and Prevention

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23 Responses to “Truth Is A Tyrant”

  1. Joe Torres Says:

    My question, to clarify my understanding of this post, is this: Do you believe in the existence of truth? Perhaps I’m missing an elephant in the room, but it wasn’t quite clear to me.

    Thanks.

  2. jonolan Says:

    Simply put, yes I believe in truth. Each thing or thought is either true or untrue; the vast majority, of course, are untrue because Man is limited.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    This is only to say that the concept of freedom is determined by one’s broader world view. In what sense is the subject of a Marxist society less “free” than the subject of a Misesian society? The subject of the former would no doubt be able to “do” less, but freedom is rarely seen as the mere ability to do things. It is most often defined as the ability to do that which is seen as virtuous and valuable in an environment which nurtures the pursual of such acts.

    The individual, removed from the context of society, is only “freerer” in error than truth under the assumption that conviction to adhere to truth is a bondage, something that the individual *should* be free from.

    Jesus word’s recorded in John 8:32 are in relation to man’s slavery to sin. Knowing the Truth, Christ (14:6), sets one free from the bondage of sin and the condemnation that comes with it. Thus, Jesus’ words in their proper context assume the exact opposite of the idea that conviction to adhere to truth is a bondage. On the contrary the Lord sees true bondage as knowledge of the truth without the conviction to follow it.

  4. jonolan Says:

    Jonathan,

    Adherence to truth is a bondage that no sane person can be free from. Once one knows what is actually true in any given situation one’s options become dramatically limited; one can adhere to that truth or defy it. Those come the only options. That is a loss of freedom and therefore a form of bondage.

  5. Christy Says:

    I was set, Jonolan, to disagree with you based solely upon the title before I read the actual post (open-minded lass that I am ;), but I must admit I could not agree more with most of your assessment. I do happen to believe Jesus when he said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31 and 32). However, I recognize that that freedom lies within the context you laid out and within the context in which Jesus spoke.

    Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As a follower of Jesus, I believe Jesus is Truth (the former being in response to a recognition of the latter and a choice to act), and it is through following Him that we are offered true freedom (referring to what Jonathan mentioned in his comment) – a paradox? Sure. But, I believe Jesus is a master worthy of being enslaved to; I would proffer that we all serve a master whether it’s self, pleasure, gratification, materialism, affirmation from others, fear or any other manner of thing, person, or belief system. But Jesus is the only one/thing who will not abuse His/its power. And for that reason, I can and do choose to readily submit myself to Him. Because He is trustworthy, and I believe He *alone* is trustworthy (precisely because of the Romans 7:14-20 passage you cite about doing what we want not to do and not doing what we should do).

    So I might disagree on the grounds that truth is a tyrant; rather, I would agree that truth does ask our absolute adherence – how can it not if we know it? But that we lose freedomwhich the word tyrant implicatesseems to do a disservice to the dichotomy offered. We have the freedom to walk in the truth or not, to follow it or not; perhaps you mean that when we know the truth, if we chose to walk away from it, that, itself, is bondage and a heavy burden to bear, and I would have to agree with that. But we still have that freedom to walk away.

    Just an initial reply, working out my thoughts still. Much to ruminate over…

  6. Jonathan Says:

    Jonolan,

    Thanks for the response. I stand by my initial analysis that the concept of “freedom” is determined by one’s broader worldview and that it is most often not thought of as merely a number of options in relation to convinction. As I stated last time, freedom is most often seen as the ability to pursue virtues or values (which people historically would associate with truth) in an environment that nurtures said pursual. I believe the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy under Positive and Negative Freedom support my claim and puts me in good company, though I hate to use an appeal to authority… I am simply pointing out that your idea of freedom is not how people have historically defined it. Furthermore, it is clearly not how Jesus thought of freedom and this is a fair observation as you quote Him. Under the historical/Christological definition, the truth shall set you free indeed. I see no paradox here, as Christy mentioned, though I appreciate her input.

    From a purely secular view, Plato saw freedom as obtained when the person had himself in proper order and was ruled by reason. One can hardly be ruled by reason without the truth. Thus, truth is necessary to freedom.

    Jesus added another dimension to freedom: ethical. One who doesn’t know the truth still has the same options open to him, logically speaking, but he may lack moral conviction to one of those options which he would otherwise have in knowing the truth. Not knowing the truth restricts the man’s freedom in that he is not free to choose that which is true for the right reasons, namely that it is truth or Truth. Freedom is an ethical concept as much as an ontological one. Thus, truth and right convictions are necessary to freedom.

    Jesus’ point is that in knowing Him, in the salvific sense, one is given truth and convictions that properly relate to that truth. This is in contrast to the way the Bible portrays the non-Christ follower: someone who hates the light (the truth, Christ) and loves the darkness (untruth, that which is not of Christ). In other words, Jesus contrasts this freedom with someone who hates the truth and does not have the conviction to follow it.

    Of course, there is a great danger of equivocation in these posts so we must be careful to understand the level at which we are speaking. I am trying to deal with freedom in its ethical and ontological dimensions. We could easily speak of freedom in a sense of pure logical modality, but this must also relate to truth, namely the actual, but with different connotations. An interesting post, nonetheless, Jonolan.

    In Christ, the Truth,
    Jonathan.

  7. jonolan Says:

    I see freedom as solely the ability the choose and to act on one’s own judgment and to further one’s own motives. Both Positive and Negative freedoms are still examples and subsets of freedom, not separate and independent ideas.

    Reason does not require truth, or even accuracy, just a logical approach to one’s aims and environment. Reason and reasoned actions can easily – and often are – based on untrue data and perceptions.

    I disagree that Jesus added anything to the concept of truth. A lack of conviction is not a lack of freedom. In point of fact, knowledge of the truth eliminates the need for conviction. One doesn’t need conviction when one knows that something is.

    Also, hatred of the truth is immaterial to one’s freedom. The knowledge of a truth still eliminated the freedom presented by possibilities that are no longer available for consideration.

    Essentially what I’ve been saying is that once someone knows a truth he looses the freedom to act on premises that were untrue.

  8. The Razzler Says:

    I think I agree with you Jonolan.

    “Once someone knows a truth he looses the freedom to act on premises that were untrue.”

    Two points. Do you think it is possible to ever become fully convinced of Truth? And do you think that the loss of freedom is worth it?

  9. jonolan Says:

    Razzler,

    That depends on the truth in question. It’s easy to know – i.e. be convinced without any room for doubt – some truths and nearly impossible to know other truths.

    — To know that 2 = 2 is easy, even prosaic.
    — To know that your flesh will someday die is harsh but still easy
    — To know the truth of whether you will die when your flesh does is seemingly impossible

    Faith or conviction is not the same as knowledge. In fact it could be said that knowledge precludes faith by making it redundant or unnecessary since faith requires a lack of knowledge to exist. You don’t need faith in a thing that you know.

    As for the loss of freedom ever being worth the knowledge of truth, I would say that it is worth it. But one must be willing to except the strictures emplaced by that knowledge.

  10. The Razzler Says:

    I think I agree – again.

    Eg. My own faith. If God showed up right here, right now, I wouldn’t need faith.

    But I have some doubts. In the Old Testament, there are occasions where God shows his power to the Israelites, but they go and do their own thing anyway. Does this mean that in fact knowledge of truth does not involve a loss of freedom? Or did His display of power not qualify as enough for knowledge of truth?

  11. jonolan Says:

    I don’t remember anywhere in the Old Testament where Yahweh stepped in and exerted his will in a way that couldn’t be (mis-)interpreted as a natural act. That would have left room for both doubt and faith.

    Picture actually knowing – i.e. He comes up tells you with no room left for doubt – your God’s plan for you. You really wouldn’t have much room left for choice or dissension at that point. I don’t remember that on a macro scale in the Old Testament.

  12. Christy Says:

    Under the historical/Christological definition, the truth shall set you free indeed. I see no paradox here, as Christy mentioned, though I appreciate her input.

    Heh. My point, sloppily laid out, was that it does seem paradoxical that in order to have true freedom, you must submit yourself to Jesus. On the surface, one generally does not equate freedom with submission. Jesus tended to turn things upside down. Lose your life and you will save it, etc.

    (I wasnt intending to enter into the discussion on a trade philosophical or theological level and will stay out of it for now due to lack of time, not desire.)

  13. jonolan Says:

    Christy,

    Thanks for taking what time you could. I know you’re busy these days.

  14. Jonathan Says:

    Jonolan,

    You state: “I see freedom as solely the ability the choose and to act on ones own judgment and to further ones own motives.”

    This is a fine definition of freedom as far as it goes. However, and I speak as a Christian, one’s motives and desires and even judgments will be determined by one’s nature. Jesus’ point in Matthew 7 regarding false prophets rests upon this: (vss 16-18) “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” He makes this point again in Matthew 12:33-35 and this is even implicit in the context of John 8:32 (cf. vs 34).

    So while one lacks the Truth, one lacks the ability to do that which they ought to do. They are slaves to sin. When one knows the Truth they are freed (from sin) but become “slaves” to Christ (cf. Romans 6:17-19; note especially that this “slavery” is simply a metaphor describing our obligation to worship and obey God). There exists no middle ground by which a person can be free from both sin and Christ and there exists no middle ground in the sense that man’s choices will not be determined by his nature. Thus, even your definition of freedom must be qualified.

    Furthermore, I take it, and have been taking it, that you mean that the person has this ability with no moral obligation and it is this moral obligation that is the key in your argument. (But you did not mention this in your above definition.) I take you to mean this because even if one knows the truth, they can still choose to act against that truth; in fact, this is what Scripture assumes sinners do all the time. Thus, it doesn’t logically follow, given your stated definition, that knowing the truth limits the person’s ability to choose and act according to their judgments and motives unless one takes into account the moral dimension of obligation.

    Men always choose to do that which is congruent with their strongest inclination and is available given the circumstances. Even if someone holds a gun to your head and says “dance, or I’ll kill you,” your choice will be determined by your strongest inclination: to dance or to die. Clearly, the concept of freedom can be spoken of with many different nuances and on many different levels.

    You state: “Reason does not require truth, or even accuracy, just a logical approach to ones aims and environment. Reason and reasoned actions can easily – and often are – based on untrue data and perceptions.”

    This is true on some levels but false on others. Ultimately, truth is required for reason to be sound. Your statement is true in that one may have a modus ponens argument that is “rational” in that it is valid but not true in that it is unsound. However, when I speak of rationality being dependent upon truth I am using it in regards to soundness and I think this is the way Plato would have understood it as well. When you speak of reason not requiring truth, you are only refer to formal matters. One cannot have a logical approach to reach something that correlates to reality unless they move beyond the formal to the informal, to truth.

    You state: “I disagree that Jesus added anything to the concept of truth. A lack of conviction is not a lack of freedom. In point of fact, knowledge of the truth eliminates the need for conviction. One doesnt need conviction when one knows that something is.”

    First of all, I spoke of Jesus adding something freedom, not truth. Secondly, what I meant was that Jesus added something to Plato’s concept of freedom and by this I do not mean that there was a time that true freedom did not have a moral dimension. Christian theology most certainly equates a lack of conviction to do that which is right with a lack of freedom; as freedom is experienced in its highest form: to worship and enjoy the Creator. I also disagree that one does not need conviction when one knows the truth. The Bible speaks of all men as knowing God (Romans 1:18ff; This should be distinguished from relational knowledge spoken of in John 8) and yet this knowledge is not enough to cause them to act in accordance with that knowledge. Men can and often do rebel against the truth.

    You state: “Also, hatred of the truth is immaterial to ones freedom. The knowledge of a truth still eliminated the freedom presented by possibilities that are no longer available for consideration.”

    If knowledge reveals that what was thought possible (squaring a circle) is impossible then the freedom that that possibility brought was illusory. Thus, knowledge frees you from illusion or, conversely, knowledge binds you to reality. How you see this (as tyrrany or bondage) reveals something of your world-view… but my initial point was that the notion of freedom was tied to one’s broader world-view anyway. Either way, knowledge does not bind you to live in accordance with that truth outside of a moral sense.

    You state (to a different person under a different issue): “Faith or conviction is not the same as knowledge. In fact it could be said that knowledge precludes faith by making it redundant or unnecessary since faith requires a lack of knowledge to exist. You dont need faith in a thing that you know.”

    As there are different concepts of freedom so there are different concepts of faith. According to the Christian world-view, knowledge does not preclude faith and faith is the basis of knowledge. This is one of the famous slogans of the Christian theologian Anselm (from Augustine): “credo ut intelligam” (I believe that I may understand). Proverbs 1:7 makes a similar point. But this is true of every world-view. Every world-view must have an ultimate starting point and that starting point provides the basis for the rest of a person’s epistemology.

    You state: “I dont remember anywhere in the Old Testament where Yahweh stepped in and exerted his will in a way that couldnt be (mis-)interpreted as a natural act. That would have left room for both doubt and faith.”

    First of all, your criterion is too high. I believe that under such a construct the only thing “knowable” is a tautology. God’s self-revelation is always sufficient to its purpose, this is the idea behind revelation. We may be able to reflect upon theophanies in the OT and doubt them because we do not share the actual existential experience that the people to whom the theophany occurred did. It is not only possible that the OT (and NT) revelations of God were sufficient to know He exists but the Scriptures assume they were. The problem is that you are taking “faith” out of its biblical construct and then applying an extra-biblical construct of faith to knowing God. Faith, in the Bible, is not propositional knowledge of God’s existence (all men have this, and more, according to Rom. 1:18) it is relational knowledge. This is why YHWH says in Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Obviously, YHWH is speaking of a relationship. The book of James address this issue in direct relationship to faith. See particularly James 2:19-20. Thus, while you may be able to reflect upon past theophanies and doubt it, the Bible presents the theophanies as leaving no room for “faith” as you conceive it.

    I’m going to get addicted to this site if I don’t stop…

  15. Brett Clements Says:

    I agree that truth indeed becomes our master if we yeild to it.
    Truth sets us free in so many ways. For me as a Christian I believe Jesus when He said the truth shall make you free. If you are free in Christ you are free indeed. Now what does that mean?
    Coming to the realization of my inability to save myself from sin free me from my hopes of self reliance. I now yeild to the only way truth and life. I am free from myself. I have wondered in the past what I should do with my life. I wondered what my purpose is for living. Now I know through the proclaimed truth I am not the reason for life. Christ is the reason . Whatever I do I can measure it against the scriptures. This frees me from wondering if I am right or wrong. Should I commit adultery? Certainly not! Why? My moral compass tells me it is wrong. Relying on ourselves opens the door to every opinion. Ten adults may give a different answer to the question of adultery, but God will always say NO! Ask the children of parents who have been torn apart because of adultery. They will agree if their parents had been faithful to one another life would have been better over all.
    I am here to Honor and Glorify my creator. Knowing this frees me from searching. Once the search is over I am truly free to live in the light of the gospel. No longer do I feel alone, useless or unneccesary. I am created by the creator for a purpose. I am free indeed.May we all find that purpose and live freely. Not in our own desires. Being imrisoned by truth surely frees the yeilding soul.

  16. jonolan Says:

    Brett,

    I’ve been waiting to respond to you comment; I’ve been trying to frame my response carefully but I’m finally just going to say it. Please don’t take it as a personal attack.

    You are effectively and eloquently describing slavery.

    It seems to me that what you wrote can be summed up as your belief in the Truth of Christ frees you from the the responsibility of thought and decision. That is either the servitude of slavery, being as a pet, or – at best – being a child who is sheltered from choice, decision or thought – and therefor growth into adulthood.

    Do you truly believe that your God commands you to follow His strictures by rote? I cannot imagine a God who would want his people not to open the door to every opinion and to choose between them.

    There is no morality without choice and thought; there is only compliance.

  17. The Razzler Says:

    Jonolan: Exactly. Being a Christian, or believing in God can not possibly free us from independent thought and decision making.

    I cannot imagine a God who would want his people not to open the door to every opinion and to choose between them.

    I believe that God wants us to think for ourselves, not to just follow the rules by rote, that is just slavery, and not freedom at all.

  18. Brett Clements Says:

    Jesus said: “come unto me and I will give you rest”. The very idea of Christianity is freedom of choice. Many religions are enslaved by the thought of no absolutes. Many religions are under the imperession they must wipe out all infidels (those who do not agree with them). Those who think every idea is right are enslaved to the thought of no right way. If every way is right was it ok for the terrorists to kill thousands of innocent people on 9/11? I am not enslaved by my belief in truth and absolutes. I am free. Free of always thinking I have to be over sensitive to every belief. Don’t get me wrong I do respect your ideas and opinions. I just don’t agree with them. I also am not ashamed or afraid to tell you that. That also proves I am free. My God did not force me to adhere to the teachings of scripture which I believe to be the moral compass that will stand forever. He gave me freedom of choice and I choose to accept Him and His teachings. Like you I don’t want you to take my comments as personal attacks, but I do believe the idea no one way can be right is slavery to all in the deepest form.
    Now to illustrate my point;
    Is it wrong to lie?
    or does it depend on the reason?
    Is it ok to sleep with another persons spouse?
    or does it depend on the consent of all involved?
    The big one; Is it ok to murder?
    or does it depend on the reason?
    Murder is never ok. That is a moral absolut. I derive that from scripture. Because I trust the creator who tells me not to murder I also trust him when he says “thou shalt not commit adultery”.If you think lies are ok between the two paticipating parties you would be wrong. Lies always effect more than involved parties. Adultery does exactlty the same.
    The idea that morals can be derived from all is absolutely absurd when every man can justify his actions be they benevolant or malicious.
    You see, I prefer truth from a holy source. The only holy source is God. The fact I have found the source and made my choice surely doesn’t mean I have no freedom to choose. I am as free as anyone. I just happen to very comforatable with the choice to follow Jesus Christ who is my only salvation.

  19. Robert Crane Says:

    interesting idea.
    but i’m confused by your last comment. if you have accepted a truth then by your own definition you are not free, but you seem to say you have are still free to choose.
    i’m not sure what your point is now.

    speaking as an aetheist, your premises and conclusions strike me as rather self serving for the faithful. faith in a belief is a far cry from any truth. i don’t suggest to have any truth either. so i guess we are all drifting in the same freedom boat as far as i can tell by your definition. the only difference seems to be that i know where i am. i’m not so sure about you and suspect you might be fooling yourself.

    but still a thoughtful idea. thanks for the opportunity to give this some thought and express a contrary opinion.

  20. jonolan Says:

    Welcome, Robert. Well presented contrary opinions are encouraged here. 😉 I despise “love fest” blogs almost as much as I despise flamers and trolls.

    Anyway to your point…

    My last comment was in response to Brett’s assertion that he was freed from things by his acceptance of- and/or belief in the truth of Jesus Christ. I was disputing that what he described was freedom as opposed to the slavery that I claim the knowledge of Truth equates to.

    I’m not sure where my premises and conclusions self serving for the faithful though. In point of fact, faith and absolute knowledge are not, to my mind compatible. Faith in anything requires an amount of uncertainty or lack of empirical proof.

  21. Tofan Says:

    “Im not sure where my premises and conclusions self serving for the faithful though. In point of fact, faith and absolute knowledge are not, to my mind compatible. Faith in anything requires an amount of uncertainty or lack of empirical proof.”

    Exactly. Or like Sam Harris puts it: “The problem with faith, is that it really is a conversation stopper. Faith is a declaration of immunity to the powers of conversation. It is a reason, why you do not have to give reasons, for what you believe.”

    However, without going into dept about the fallacies of “faith”, my two cents on truth: I view truth as a verb and not as a noun. Psychologist Robert Kegan has a great stand point on that one, imho:

    “Talk about truth can raise hackles because someone may seem to be claiming to know The Truth. I do not claim to know The Truth: I am not even sure what it would mean to say one did. What I do have a conviction about is what the truth is about. It is an activity, an activity of relation or balance.”

    Kind of similar to how the scientific method is a methodology for finding a truth that is always subject to change, if new and contradictory evidence is discovered in the activity of that truth performance…

    Does that make any sense?

    /T

  22. jonolan Says:

    I think of truth as noun, though often an elusive one and one that is mimicked by many of our preconceptions.

    That’s what the scientific methods is for – to sift through those preconceptions until reaches the truth of the matter. So far, to the best of my knowledge it has yet to be successful in that search because we keep running into new and contradictory evidence for most theories and even some scientific laws.

    If we ever do figure out the truth of anything, and recognize it as such, we will have lost the freedom to believe those prior, possibly comforting, preconceptions.

  23. Tofan Says:

    Yeah, maybe saying I view truth as a verb was incorrect. The search for truth is an activity, and according to Kegan the way we make meaning of the world (what he calls the evolutionary truce) is something that can evolve and as long as it keeps evolving we reach higher forms of evolutionary truces, just like the scientific method keeps refining truth. So yes you are right you lose the comfort of the previous truths but you gain a more nuanced and accurate truth instead… I think we might be saying the same thing. Perhaps.

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