The incompatibility between truth and righteousness

3 minute read


Truth and righteousness are the two qualities that humanity always wants to pursue. But are they always compatible with each other?

Let’s imagine a scenario in which Alice did a personal attack on Bob. For simplicity, we assume that Alice is 100% guilty who attacking Bob without reason, and Bob is 100% innocent who suffering from Alice’s attack (Of course, the real scenario is way more complicated than that. It is often that Alice is not all guilty but Bob also did some wrong things). Assuming Bob knows the objective truth that Alice is 100% guilty of attacking Bob with (how Bob knows this truth is another challenging topic, and for simplicity, we just assume Bob knows it).

If only Bob knew the truth, of course, he would not get justice; Thus, he has to tell the truth to others. But will telling others ensure he can get justice? Maybe not. If Bob goes through the legal system, this is costly to Bob and Bob needs to provide evidence to prove Alice is guilty (Presumption of innocence for Alice), which is not always easy. Even if Bob is able to provide evidence, the legal system is subject to human bias and countless other factors. And if, in the end, Alice gets the punishment, there is no objective way to tell if the punishment is proportional to what she did. Thereby, justice is not always guaranteed for Alice and Bob even under the legal system.

A way worse situation is Bob speaking the truth to the public. As the public does not have the training to judge Bob’s truth, the result is uncontrollable. The public might understand that Bob is also responsible for a large part of the responsibility of the original incident, but by our assumption, Bob is totally innocent. Even if assuming the public is all super intelligent and can tell Alice is 100% guilty, such public opinion will unavoidably harm Alice. Since such uncontrollable harm to Alice, this would also create uncontrollable harm to Bob, because the public harm for Alice is from Bob’s speaking up the truth; thus, even if initially Bob is innocent, now Bob is guilty because of speaking up truth.

There might be one scenario that might justify Bob’s speaking the truth to the public for righteousness: Alice’s attack is a systematic issue. Countless Alices are using a similar method to attack countless Bobs. In this case, our Bob speaking up the truth would potentially help the system to improve, thus satisfying the interest of the public. However, there is a dilemma: the louder Bob speaks, the bigger the potential impact on the system to improve, thus potentially helping more Bobs, but more uncontrollable harm to Alice and Bob. It is then similar to the Trolley problem: will Bob sacrifice Alice and himself to potentially save other Bobs?

You might argue that Bob does not need to speak up, the system would improve itself. But this is rarely the case in human history. The system does not improve itself unless there is some triggers (usually sad triggers). Therefore, it is just a sad reality that truth and righteousness are fundamentally incompatible in a way.