“Do you want to know the truth if you knew it would hurt you?”

I have been holding this particular question in my brain, but I could not come to a conclusion. It was this TED-Ed video that got me think about this question. First, let me take you to the thought experiment from the video.

Thought Experiment on Knowing the Truth

“Imagine that you could plug your brain into a machine that would bring you to the ultimate pleasure for the rest of your life. If you were given the choice to sign up for that kind existence, would you? This is the world that guarantees only pleasure and never pain. This means that you would have to permanently leave reality behind, but you would hardly know the difference. Your experiences will be indistinguishable from reality.”

Would you take this chance?

The term “Hedonism” in philosophy argues that pleasure is the primary or the most important intrinsic good. It seems right to avoid pain and take only pleasure if we want to live a happy life, isn’t it?

Let’s have an another experiment in a different context.

“Betsy and Xander are in a loving and committed relationship. Betsy is head over heels and has never felt happier. However, unknown to Betsy, Xander has been romancing her sister, Angelica with love letters and secret rendezvous for the duration of their relationship. If Betsy were to find out, it would destroy her relationships with both Xander and Angelica.”

If you were Betsy, would you want to know the truth? If you believe in Hedonism, you’d not because by not knowing the truth, you can maximize your pleasure.

Or perhaps, you may feel that you would want to know the truth. Why is that? Is there something more important to you than having only pleasure in life?

Why It Matters to Know the Truth

These questions were somewhat unrealistic. But, it helped me to reveal the important things in life. I can say with a certainty that I would choose to know the truth. To me, knowing the truth is stronger desire than taking pleasure in many cases.

Personally, I do avoid unnecessarily painful things such as negative people, disturbing ads, violent video, or scandals. However, I am willing to lean into pain if I could know the truth.

This is because, as an individual, I empirically know that I can produce good outcomes by accurately understanding the reality. I want to know what people really think, what really is happening in the world or how the world really works. It is a huge waste of a time to fix the wrong reality. Knowing the truth is the only way to find the problems that we should fix.

Know the Truth as a Society

Moreover, I noticed that knowing the truth is much more important than our personal achievements. We need to know the truth as a society to make the world a better place. Corporation, government or individual always hide unjustifiable truth and hope that nobody would find that out. When they are certain that they can keep it to themselves, people tend to act unethically. Corporation uses labor force, in third world countries, as if they were slaves including children, government monitors phone calls of its citizens without permission, politicians cheat on their taxes, and such. They think, “Let’s just do it because nobody’s gonna find out.”, right? To prevent them from this unethical behavior, we should be radically transparent in unveiling the truth.

Martin Luther King says,

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

For the same reason as to why I want to know the truth individually, we need to know the truth to fix the problem as a society.

Hedonism and Silent Majority

However, there seems to be many who believe in Hedonism. In other words, they don’t want to see the truth if it would hurt them. We even have a term for this, silent majority[1].

Martin Luther King adds,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

They want to get only pleasure. They won’t try to know the truth because they might feel pain or ignore them even if they know that it is unjust.

As far as I know, those people are usually good people and even make other people around them happy. There is nothing wrong with us taking pleasure because it is hard to make others happy when we are not happy.

However, I don’t believe taking only pleasure makes the world a better place because people may stop caring about unjust truth.

So, “Do we need to know the truth if we knew it would hurt us?”

Yes, we should be willing to know the truth for justice.


[1] Richard Nixon said in his speech in a November 3, 1969 “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.”