The Table Video

Robert P. George & Cornel West

The Bond of Truth Seeking

McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University / Founding Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions
Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary / Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
August 28, 2015

We do not debate for the sake of being right, we do not argue for the sake of our own merit, we seek truth for the sake of truth itself. When we do this, we see the people we debate with not as enemies but as friends, helping us find the truth.

Transcript:

It’s sometimes said the most powerful bond in the human world is the mother child bond. And I believe that. That’s probably true. But I wanna call attention, this evening, to another very powerful bond, that is too often overlooked. It’s a bond that we need to appreciate in order to make that bond happen in our discourse, in pluralistic societies like the United States of America, where people disagree.

And I call this the bond of truth seeking. The bond of truth seeking. What I have in mind is this. Let’s ask ourselves the question, “Why do we enter in to discussion and debate when we do this?”. Why do we do it? It’s a question that goes all the way back to Plato, and his depiction of Socrates, interactions with his interlocutors in the Gorgias, and in his some of his other dialogues. Why do we do it? Do we do it for victory? Do we talk for victory? Do we talk to show off, make a spectacle of ourselves? Do we talk to impress people, like at cocktail parties or maybe in a Freshman class or something like that.

Why do we enter in to dialogue, discussion, debate? Well, the reason that we ought to be doing that, is for the sake of the truth. Now, if I’m just trying to defeat you, my interlocutor in a debate, to show how much smarter I am, or to gain publicity for myself, or to show off, or to become a public figure or a celebrity – that’s not worth much. In the end, those goals end up, even if you achieve them, being ashes in your mouth.

Yeah.

What you should be about with your interlocutor, the whole point of discussion and debate, is to arrive at the truth together. And when we understand that as the point, and we understand the value of the truth, that the truth is not merely instrumentally worthwhile because it can be useful for other ends, but truth itself is inherently, intrinsically worthwhile. It inherently enriches and ennobles us.

That’s why we should be appropriating truth as much as we possibly can. When we recognize that, then we will not see our interlocutor as an enemy to be defeated, but rather, even if we disagree, even if we strongly disagree, as a friend with whom we are engaged in a common project with a common goal. What’s that goal? Trying to get to the truth of whatever the matter is under discussion. It may be a profoundly important matter. It may be a matter of justice in human rights on which we disagree. The human condition is such.

We are poor, fallible, frail, fallen creatures. We can be wrong even about important things. We can be wrong even when we’re trying to be good, even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we can line up on the wrong side. And the only way that we can have a hope of being on the right side is to think as critically and carefully as we can, and engage with people who don’t see it just the way we do.

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