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The Surprising Patron Saint of Truthfulness

Historian, philosopher, and author Richard Reevesis is a senior fellow at the think tank Brookings Institution. He is concerned that most people can’t distinguish between truth and truthfulness. An error and a lie are not the same. He gives the example of the COVID-19 pandemic:

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we all wanted instant, accurate advice on what to do and what not to do. But the virus was novel. Scientists were scrambling to figure out what it was, how it spread, and how to defeat it. The honest answer to many of our most urgent questions was: “We don’t know yet.” The most important question for citizens is not whether public health advice is always right. It’s whether public health officials are consistently trying to get it right and communicating … “the full painful truth,” honestly and clearly. Trust is built on truthfulness rather than truth.

We don’t like the deliberate lie but acknowledge someone may be making an honest mistake. Truth is empirical, but truthfulness is ethical. Truth is the end product; truthfulness a vital element in its production. ... But the real problem is a loss of virtue, specifically the virtue of truthfulness.

No word on his religious beliefs, but Reevesis has a patron saint for his views:

Our patron saint in this effort could be Nathanael. He appears in the Gospel of John and has a good claim to be the patron saint of truthfulness. When told about Jesus, he scoffed: “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” But Christ, knowing he had said this, exclaimed: ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’’ Christ was clearly not applauding Nathanael for the truth of his statement, but for his willingness to speak his mind – for his truthfulness.

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