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Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mccarthy.jamie/what-is-truth

From: (Jamie McCarthy)
Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,talk.philosophy.misc,
Subject: What is truth?  ...if you follow me.
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 15:02:48 -0400
Organization: Absence Software
Lines: 160
Xref: alt.revisionism:59342 talk.philosophy.misc:35375

Connoisseurs of the popular television show "The Simpsons" may be
familiar with the episode where Bart gets hit by a car.  The shyster
lawyer tells them that they can "ching-ching-ching, cash in on this
tragedy!" and is giving them a lesson on what to say on the stand for
maximum payback, when little Lisa Simpson pipes up and reminds the
lawyer that they'll be under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth.

The lawyer responds:

   Yes, but what _is_ truth?  ...if you follow me.

Recall that at his 1988 trial, Ernst Zuendel was accused of publishing
a pamphlet by Richard Harwood which he knew to be untrue.  Part of
Zuendel's defense was an attempt to prove that he was innocent of the
charge because the only important statements in the pamphlet are
statements of opinion.

The following excerpt is from Lenski, Robert, _The Holocaust on Trial:
the Case of Ernst Zundel_, Reporter Press, Decatur, Alabama, 1989.
Bracketed ellipses and comments removed from the indented text are this
author's;  indented in the text, they are Lenski's.

p. 235:


p. 240:

   Next on the stand was Gary Botting.  The contrast in styles (and
   substance) could scarcely have been greater.  Botting, in his
   mid-forties, was elegantly dressed, sophisticated, the owner of a
   stratospheric IQ.
   The Oxford-born Botting had a cirriculum vitae which would have
   raised eyebrows in fifteenth-century Florence.  Answering
[Zuendel's defense attorney]
   Christie's opening questions, the still youthful-looking Botting
   mentioned noteworthy achievements in law, journalism, philosophy,
   literature, history, the social and natural sciences, public and
   media relations, film, computers, editing and publishing, college
   administration, and religion.
   Botting, who also testified at the 1985 Zundel trial, may play a
   large role in Canada's free speech movement in the years to come. 
   Here, he would limit his remarks to a line-by-line analysis of the
   Harwood pamphlet in terms of statements of fact and statements of

p. 243:

   And so testimony laboriously continued for the remainder of the
   Christie and Botting resumed their examination of Harwood on the
   following day, Thursday, March 31.
   The complexity of much of this testimony is suggested by an
   exchange which occurred just before the lunch break.  It involved
   Harwood's discussion of Anne Frank.
   Christie read:  "The truth about the Anne Frank diary was first
   revealed in 1959 by the Swedish journal _Fria Ord_."

Now, that sounds like a statement of fact if I've ever heard one.  But
then, I'm not the owner of a stratospheric IQ:

   "The search for truth is always a subjective thing," said Botting.
   "You can assume from that this is opinion."
[Prosecuting attorney]
   Pearson objected:  "I don't know what makes this witness qualified
   to say that the search for truth is always a subjective
   "Well," Judge Thomas said to Pearson, "I think you're going to
   have to deal with this in cross-examination, [because] it's
   apparent to me there is a fundamental difference of opinion here."
   "Now," Thomas continued, turning to the witness, "whether [or not]
   the search for truth is subjective, what the Crown Attorney is
   saying is that that statement is put forth by that author as an
   assertion of fact.  You disagree, obviously."
   Botting:  Yes, I do.
   Judge Thomas:  Could you tell me why?
   "We get into a question of epistemology and basic philosophy,"
   said Botting.  "We get into Cartesian analysis and a whole range
   of things which obviously are impractical for a court to
   Judge Thomas:  I think we will have to leave it at that, Mr.
   Pearson:  Your Honor, what I submit in light of that last answer
   [is that] this witness is no longer qualified to do what he's been
   purporting to do since the beginning of his testimony, which is to
   distinguish between fact and opinion in that he has now said, as I
   understand his answer, there is no such thing as fact.
   Christie suggested that "my friend should wait to insult the
   witness at a later point," to which Pearson replied, "I meant no
   insult whatsoever to Professor Botting."
   Judge Thomas advised Pearson that his role -- later -- would be to
   "highlight" Botting's approach to truth "for the jury, and the
   jury can [attach] whatever weight they wish to his evidence."
   Later, Christie noted the frequent assertions made by Harwood
   along the lines of "this is a historical fact" or "this is the
   "Does that mean," he asked, "that it states or claims to be a
   statement of fact?"
   Botting replied, "It's the author's opinion...his [subjective]
   view of the world."

pp. 245-6:

   In one example, Pearson read from Harwood that so many Jews had
   emigrated from European countries other than Poland during a
   certain period of time.  "I suggest to you, sir," he said, "that
   that purports to be a statement of fact."
   "The fact is this is opinion," said Botting.  The individual
   figures may be facts, but the analysis makes the total an opinion.
   Pearson:  Just so I'm clear on this, if I say Bill had two cats,
   that's a statement of fact.  If I say Jane has two cats, that's a
   statement of fact.  If I say Bill and Jane have four cats, in your
   view, that's a statement of opinion.  Is that what you're saying?
   Botting:  It is as good as the premise that goes into it.  If, for
   example, there's also Sam with his cats and Joe with his, and they
   are not mentioned in the context of what you said and yet they are
   relevant in some way, then the conclusion that you've drawn that
   there are, say, four cats in the room in a materially different
   conclusion from fact.  It's an opinion that --
   Pearson:  Let's deal with the conclusion I've drawn, which is that
   Bill and Jane have four cats.  You're saying that that is a
   statement of opinion and not a statement of fact?
   Botting:  I am saying that if you know that you have covered all
   your bases, that is to say that there are only two cats from one
   person, two cats from another person, so that you have four cats,
   and you also state there are no other cats anywhere in the room,
   that you can effectively concluse that that is a fact.  But, the
   process of making that kind of analysis usually is dependent on
   every single detail being present.  If there's one premise missing
   or if there's one premise that is an opinion, then the conclusion
   must be an opinion.
 Jamie McCarthy        Co-Webmaster of
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