The Law Of Veracity: A Study In Practical Ethics -- By: Gabriel Campbell
BSac 61:242 (April 1904) p. 366
The Law Of Veracity: A Study In Practical Ethics1
In the interpretation of the development of the race a fact at once remarkable and anomalous comes to view, namely, the varying recognition and valuation of Truth. At all times and everywhere the acclaim is so unanimous, the commendation of truth so imperative, it may well be designated a racial impulsion. When, however, we pass definitely from theory to practice the divergence in valuing is as marked as was the unanimity.
This has been interpreted as an outcome of our partial, our progressive evolution. Spinoza’s account of Evil in the world as resultant of man’s limitations, is admirable for its simplicity. But clearly it is too simple. In the ethical opinion of sundry barbaric civilizations we find truthfulness holding its maximum rank; while in our own most enlightened communities it encounters difficulties seemingly for the moment insurmountable. One of the most subtly perplexing problems of our modern applied ethics is this, Does there exist for us a Law of Veracity, or only a convenient, conventional maxim? In other words, Is Kant’s pronouncement “To speak the truth is my bounden duty” a result of genuine vision, or is this merely Kantian mysticism, as some of his followers claim? Here then is our question.
Let us summarize a few prominent ethnic peculiarities in the appreciation of a Law of Veracity. Among the ancient Egyptians there was a singularly unsophisticated blending of
BSac 61:242 (April 1904) p. 367
speech and life: no distinction between what a man says and what he is. For admission to a future happy world it is only requisite that the soul before the judges repeat moral maxims, declare I have not falsified. The word stood for the deed and the life.
In China a distinguishing between speech and deed becomes apparent. Who can compute the effect upon Chinese life of the confession by their great moralist Confucius that he himself failed upon occasion to conform his conduct veraciously to his words?
There develops in India a remarkable antithesis. The oldest codes condemn falsehood in strongest terms. A hero who will not lie is immortalized. And yet, it is in evidence that there were likewise evolved methods of deception as deftly systematic as a cancerous disease.
So far as we can ascertain, the Scandinavians appear to have been worshipers of veracity. No place in their Valhalla for a liar.
Among the Greeks and Romans, while Socrates is willing to die rather than live a life not according to truth, and Cicero denounces mendacity unqualifiedly, while Plato rises to...
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