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On Truthtelling is an essay by one person

Already I'm simplifying. What we write or what we are is always the work of many people. Nonetheless it is convenient for me to say that my essay is by one person. Likewise to give a reason for doing so. At the beginning of my essay, I admit that I've always wanted to be a great writer and thinker.

It's a hot, muggy, overcast day and I sit here in my little room sweating profusely. At the same time I look for some sort of inspiration, some sort of meaning, some sort of direction, indeed, some sort of future for myself. For the fact of the matter is that, right now, right at this point in my life, I'm afraid of the future, afraid of my age and my aging, afraid of, to speak figuratively for a moment, putting to flight all the romantic songbirds of my soul. Afraid of – and still speaking figuratively – going out of this life not with a bang but a whimper. Is it any wonder then that, mindful of my youthful dreams and what has guided me thus far, I wish more than ever now for a bright star before me?

And what could this bright star be if not, somehow renewed and revitalized, my long-held wish to be a great writer and thinker?...

As far as my credentials go, they are both modest and substantial. Modest in the formal sense and substantial otherwise. Cited below is what I wrote to several publishers who politely declined my work.

I'm a graduate of the University of Ottawa (PhD in Philosophy – 2003) who has recently completed an essay called On Truthtelling. The work is unique in that it combines the performative and constative sides of truthtelling: the essayistic, autobiographical, confessional, testimonial, dramatic, dialogic, and, finally, argumentative modes of telling the truth.

Being such a novel approach, it is difficult to categorize and so its scholarly significance may not be apparent. Concerned as it is with what might be called the storytelling side of telling the truth as much as the speculative, it brings the scholarly dimension into play only indirectly. At the same time this dimension is treated as a subject within a larger one (i.e., truthtelling). In a complex way, the scholarly is given a voice and, indeed, has several voices with some not averse to challenging my own. What I can say in favour of this is that it does what truthtellers have not been doing for over two thousand years, that is, not telling the truth about themselves while telling the truth about other subjects.

In dealing with the subject of truthtelling as necessarily demanding and taking in the subject of myself (as the one who presumes to be able to tell the truth about it), I've attempted to make this philosophical essay a work of art. Along with different voices, it combines different styles to counter what would otherwise be unwieldy. Understood as complication and even over-complication, truthtelling is multi-faceted, multi-factual, conflict-ridden, changeable, and often hegemonic even while being subversive and unending.

Another relevant point is that my essay is in some sense my CV, my credentials, my authorization for telling the truth about truthtelling.

On Truthtelling has many voices

It is with several voices that I do the best I can with my subject. First, with my own voice or, rather, voices that arise not only from my changing over time, but from being a divided self. Second, with ones that I've purposely created for this essay. And, finally, with ones that come from the past. With respect to the ones that come from the past, they are mainly professors of philosophy who commented on the essays I wrote as university assignments. With respect to the ones that I've purposely created for this essay, they mainly belong to three dramatis personae: Theodore Baumgarten, a professor of philosophy, Andrew Chalmers, his colleague, and Alice, a twenty-two year-old student. The first two represent more or less what I contend with as a truthteller. The third represents the deepest and most fanciful parts of myself.

Strictly speaking, I do not involve myself in a dialogue with these characters. However, they do react to me as I to them. Moreover, they themselves carry on dialogues. I don't identify them as is done in a stage play. The reason for this is that a dominant voice is necessary in a work that's trying to get at the truth of something.

The dialogue below – between Alice and Professor Baumgarten – starts off the thematic section called "A New Turn" (No. 30).

– Excuse me! I'm looking for Professor Baumgarten.

– I'm he. Who are you?

– A strange mix of things. But principally a new voice assigned to these proceedings.

– You're quite beautiful. Forgive my colleague. He had a bit too much to drink. New voice, you say?

– Well, certainly not one to overrule yours or in any way threaten it. After all, I'm only an undergraduate.

– Please, come in. Sit down. You're certainly a welcome relief. I must tell you, I've almost been stretched to the breaking point of late. This business of endlessly circling around a subject, of not cutting through to something clear – do you know what I mean? – it's a horror!

– I understand. It's not at all what you're used to.

– Oh, you've said so much. Thirty years of teaching students to think clearly and logically about truth and now this.

– There's unfairness and injustice and a certain amount of cruelty you've had to put up with.

– Oh, you're a wonder! You're an angel!

– You've been a captive audience in the worst sense. Under normal conditions, you wouldn't have tolerated it. You would've walked away.

– Especially when it goes on and on, dear girl, and seems to be plugged into your very thoughts. To be maliciously circumventing every possible objection you can make.

– You've suffered a great deal. And if it weren't for the fact this is a kind of thought-experiment, it wouldn't be possible to justify it.

On Truthtelling is both scholarly and non-scholarly

To say that scholarship is but one species of truthtelling is not to stop being a scholar. No more than to bring these other species simply into view. Turning away from the scholarly without turning completely away can only be done by letting these other species of truthtelling play about and, as it were, have their say. Trying to tell the truth about truthtelling without doing this would be like trying to tell the truth about it without trying to tell the truth about this very telling.

Hence it is not only with an argumentative voice or voices that I speak but also with autobiographical, confessional, testimonial, poetic, and dramatic ones. To be sure, argument has always enjoyed a special status. We rely upon it even when we hardly think about it. Its truth is always useful in some way or other. But with all that is contradictory and uncertain in truthtelling, argument can never be – as much as it might strive or strain to be – the whole of it.

To promote a subject both timely and close to my heart

Why promote? Why timely? Why close to my heart? It almost takes the essay that I wrote to answer these questions. Leaving aside the most egoistic and self-serving elements, I will say that truthtelling is the one great subject that so far has been left out of all truthtelling. The hyphen or space that normally keeps the word truth separate from the word telling represents an ideal eroded but never erased or at least never erased or re-erased without re-emerging. Or perhaps it is never erased but only threatened to be erased. This threat of erasure carries with it a good deal of truth (which indicates that there is more than one ideal) but only as much as the whole of truthtelling can stand.

Should I say that I've taken all of this on out of a sense of duty? Why, then, perhaps the best I can do is to reproduce once again something that was part of my proposal to publishers.

If there be such a thing as a truth-industry with diverse interests that are not fully one with valuing and telling the truth and in fact may conflict with these, then there is a flaw that threatens the ideality permeating this industry and holding it together as much as these not so compatible interests. Since this threatened ideality is a constant call for some extraordinary commitment, for some sacrifice crediting to it the highest value, then I feel I'm in a position to claim that my own work bears all the earmarks of such an enterprise.

To reach out with it in the most diverse way

What I've laid out as the work that I call On Truthtelling includes other of my works (i.e., mostly university assignments). It is therefore something like a mini-corpus. It is diverse enough to engender a diversity of responses. Part of my work's diversity is its being an ongoing response to itself. This is partly through the essay's having different voices. Some of these voices represent what is critical from the outside. Some represent the difference between a past and present self. And some a perpetually divided self. In a sense this thoroughness of self-response is like having an argument that one thinks can't be topped. There is fear and excitement in anticipating all who might attempt to do so.

To give a bad conscience to the scholarly community

As a truthteller, the maintenance of my good conscience is a sort of aggression against others. Principally those esteemed and learned others who say so little against themselves. My aggression then is the result of the threat they pose to me as one who strives to be like them without coverup and quasi-deception.