“The truth is what the jury will believe.” That was the statement made by a federal judge that Keith heard as a young lawyer and cited in his comments made after my previous posting. That statement embraces a serious problem that is related to the question about what is true.
Most people are familiar with the idea that might makes right, an idea especially associated with Machiavelli, a contemporary of Columbus—and, perhaps, implemented to a certain degree by Columbus. But that is a highly problematic idea, and closely related to the judge said. If the truth is what the jury will believe, those lawyers with the mightest arguments and with the greatest wealth of experience—and often the greatest wealth—are able to determine what is “true.” Thus, might makes "truth" as well as right. But even if that is often so, is it right?
“The truth is what the jury will believe” may be correct in its consequences, but do we really want to affirm that concept of truth? Think about an innocent person charged with a serious crime. A powerful prosecuting attorney may get the jury to believe the man to be guilty, resulting in the man being sentenced to a long prison term. But what is true? The decision of the jury might be “true” in its consequence. But surely we want the truth that corresponds to reality to be found and followed, not just the “truth” of a jury persuaded by a powerful attorney.
In spite of cynical judges, the legal system in this country is based on the idea of truth as something that corresponds to reality. Words ascribed to Jesus are incised into the wall of the U.S. Supreme Court Building: “The truth shall make you free.” For the innocent man falsely sentenced, it is objective truth, not the “truth” of a falsely persuaded jury, that is liberating.
The writers of the Declaration of Independence asserted, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Their understanding of those “truths” was seriously limited. “All men” must include women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Muslims, “illegal” aliens, etc. But the assertion about the basic equality (that is, the inherent worth) of all people is a basic truth, even though it may not always be self-evident. That is, the belief that all people are to be treated justly, as well as lovingly and respectfully, is true whether the jury believes it or not.