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10 Qualities of a Truth Seeker in a discussion

29 Dec, 2014 in Personal Advancement

Communication and spreading of information is one of the core tools that we as humans have in improving the lives of the people around us. However, just as we can use communication for good, we can also use it to spread lies, hatred, or propaganda. While truth doesn't necessarily lead to good, it allows us to better see things as they are, to which we can start bridging the gap between how things currently are, and how they can be. Solutions based on misinformation or falsehoods are sometimes (if not, most of the time) not solutions at all, and can cause more problems than they solve.

Who is a Truth Seeker?

For the purposes of this post, a truth seeker is someone who engages in debates and discussions, or writes content with the aim of finding truth in things. Truth seekers are conversationalists in the sense that they are good listeners and communicators, but don't necessarily have charisma or charm. Truth seekers are philosophers in the sense that they deconstruct concepts and ask questions, but don't necessarily talk about philosophy. Truth seekers are debaters in the sense that they construct arguments and points to convey ideas, but don't necessarily advocate for any set position.

Who ought to be a Truth Seeker?

Any moral person engaged in discussions about topics which truth or progress towards it can be achieved, particularly which the realisation of truth will have a benefit for an applicable group of people, should thus naturally be involved in truth seeking. Not exactly a deep answer, I know, but I think a lot of people can relate to this example where they've been in discussions about hot-topic issues such as politics, abortion, laws, violence, climate change or animal rights, and more often than not, there's always somebody involved in the discussion that hampers the truth seeking process.

Sadly, it's all too common to find people that want to perpetuate their own beliefs or ideals. This is the challenge that truth seekers face every day, particularly when they want to get a handle on what the best solution is for various political or social issues, but are bombarded with endless amounts of misinformation and mud slinging. This is a bit like navigating the rough stormy seas with no sight of land. It's a draining process and it's often hard to know if you're going the right way.

With that, it's good to be aware of the traits of people who seek the truth, as distinguished from people who don't have all of these traits, such as people who have in-grained beliefs, who root for or advocate for a position, and/or people who argue for the sake of boosting their ego. So, here is a list of traits that truth seekers embody.

They have integrity

I'll start off with the obvious one here. Someone who lacks integrity and has a propensity to lie, deceive, or misrepresent ideas is not someone who's interested in the truth.

They wholly listen to others

Truth seekers by nature don't dismiss ideas prematurely. To listen wholly and effectively, truth seekers listen to other people without interrupting them, listen without chopping up or misconstruing their message, and listen to their intended message rather than just their phrasing.

It's common for people in response to tune out of a discussion till it's their time to speak, or straw-man arguments by quoting out of context, hanging on their phrasing, or missing their point.

They articulate their points well

Truth seekers understand that communication is a listening and speaking process, and therefore understand that not only they need to have good listening skills, but also have the ability to articulate ideas well. Part of this process is having a good grasp of language which allows them to make broad or general statements, make finer grained statements, clarify statements, or rephrase statements.

The other part is having the creativity to convey and apply ideas into scenarios using metaphors, anecdotes or comparisons to help push points forward. Lastly, for written discussions in particular, truth seekers will ensure their points are legible, well spaced out and not overly verbose to induce ad-nauseam.

They see discussion as collaboration more than competition

When discussions arrive at two people arguing from different positions, it can be commonly seen as a competition. This point is further evident in competitive debates, political debates, or in law courts, where both parties advocate from their own positions as much as possible until one of them is determined to be the victor.

However, truth seekers know that how people conduct themselves in discussions is dictated by how those people see the discussions benefiting them. If people engage in a discussion to try and seek truth, then they will see it as an opportunity to collaborate. If people engage in a discussion to boost their own ego, then they will see it as a competition or a channel to boast their intellectual or knowledge prowess, to appear superior.

That said, while discussions can be appreciated as both collaboration and competition simultaneously, when the desire to seek truth conflicts with the desire to "win", then truth seekers will favour the former.

They preserve harmony in a discussion

Truth seekers understand that because discussions are collaborative, that it's important for participants to not feel threatened or violated. This doesn't mean that participants in the discussion should be tip-toeing around their points in fear of offending anyone, that it hampers their ability to convey their ideas effectively. However, it definitely means that any points made should not be personalised, inflammatory or otherwise made in ways that aggravate the participants in the discussion so much that it provokes their disgruntled withdrawal from the discussion. Not only is that harmful for truth seeking, it's also quite rude and likely to make future encounters awkward.

At times, I see people intentionally aggravate others in a discussion in order to create the appearance that the other people withdrew from the discussion. This tactic is used by people characteristic of caring more about boosting their own ego than trying to find the truth.

They use logic and reason

If truth is something which is consistent with reality, then logic and rationality are fundamental for truth finding, so these are essential tools for any truth seeker. Rationality would recognise that the assertion "all apples are red" is false because there is empirical evidence of the existence of apples with different colours, to which upon awareness of this evidence, logic would deduce "at least 1 apple is not red, therefore the previous assertion is false". Once this is realised, the assertion can be clarified to become "all applies in region x are red" or conceded to be false. In either case, we have made progress towards truth.

The above example is an obvious one, but it highlights the basic process that is used in all attempts at truth finding. For analysing or constructing more complicated arguments, it's important to establish common definitions of key terms, to quantify and clarify certain elements of an argument, and challenge/expand on assumptions that have been made.

Truth seekers only embrace ideas that they can justify with logic, reason and evidence.

They are aware of logical fallacies

In assessing or conceiving ideas that aspire to truth, the logical merits of these ideas need to be evaluated. Logic and rationality are the fundamentals of this process, and inversely, faulty logic or reasoning are detrimental to the truth finding process. Having a sound understanding of logical fallacies not only helps truth seekers ensure their own ideas aren't detrimental to the truth find process, but it also helps them pin down faulty ideas or faulty reasoning which has been communicated to them by others.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good page on what logical fallacies are and has a comprehensive list of them. Use this as a handy reference.

They provide sources to credible material

Often times, ideas cannot be rationally deduced on their own without supporting evidence. This is because while logic and rationality are fundamental tools to truth finding as established before, they are useless without information or data. In the above example, we can rationally deduce that "all apples are red" is false because we have information in the real world that contradicts that assertion.

Without this piece of information, we can't logically dismiss the assertion. You can't solve a given mathematical equation in a sit down exam when a part of the equation is misprinted off the page.

It's also important to know that whoever is making an assertion has the burden of proof on their shoulders. This is because the person who is making the assertion must have had prior access to the evidence, or if not the case, then they are making their assertion based on hearsay or lies, neither which is helpful in the truth finding process. Asking the person who you're trying to convince to look up the evidence themselves is very bad practise, because the person with the burden of proof should already have the evidence on hand, rather than making the other person exhaust their own time trying to find something that could possibly be made up anyway, and potentially inducing ad-nauseam.

They value methodology over conclusion

Truth seekers know that theoretically, any conclusion can be derived with enough reasoning and supporting facts. Conclusions however are called conclusions for a reason, and require reasoning and facts to conceive them with empirical confidence.

Correct answers can be wildly guessed, and incorrect answers can be arrived at despite the best efforts of people using very solid reasoning and evidence, so neither suggest that the Socratic approach of reason and evidence to truth finding is fundamentally flawed, and should therefore be abandoned, because it's the best and only true methodology for consistent truth finding that we have at our disposal.

Furthermore, because they value methodology over conclusions, they will show this in who they support. Consider the following dialogue below:

Person 1: I think legalising gay marriage is a bad idea, children raised with a mother and father fare better than families without a mother and father. A wider acceptance of gay parents will threaten this strong family structure and may cause a slippery slope of families raised by inadequate parents.

Person 2: You're an idiot, gay people have rights just as much as anyone else, so gay marriages should be legal.

Regardless of who is believed to be correct, truth seekers appreciate others who possess truth seeking traits, and look down on those that show a lacking of these traits. Truth seekers will applaud efforts by Person 1 for trying to make arguments to support their position, and will be annoyed by Person 2 for showing hostility towards Person 1. This is because truth seekers recognise that the way Person 1 expresses themselves is supportive of freedom of expression that is required to have a meaningful philosophical discussion, and recognise that the way Person 2 expresses themselves is trying to use force or shame over merit or substance.

They are detached from their beliefs

Truth seekers detach themselves from their beliefs. This is not to say that truth seekers don't have beliefs, but rather they are prepared to let go of them when their beliefs are proven false. Someone who clings to their beliefs are not truth seekers because they value their own beliefs over the truth.

Image by Unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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