Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard (Zoom)


Monday, October 4, 2021, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


Online Only

"The Truth Will Not Set You Free: Is There a Right to It Anyway?"

Attend this event via Zoom (advance registration required)


Mathias Risse, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy; Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.


Emily Neill

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School or Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

This event is online only. Please click the "Read More" link for full instructions on how to attend this seminar.


Sheila JasanoffFaculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

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Please note: This event requires registration in advance in order to receive the meeting link and password.


A right to truth is recognized in particular domains, for instance in transitional justice. But do we have a more general right to live in societies where truth is respected? One argument that speaks against that is the enormous importance the telling of stories about their lives has for people, and the existential comfort that comes from it. As Nietzsche has plausibly argued, for many people the value of truth is rather limited, and it will definitely not set them free, as a famous Bible verse has it. At the same time, especially in this era of digital lifeworlds with an increasing presence of specialized AI, the harm done to public life by the telling of lies is enormous. One way of making that point is by drawing attention to the importance of repetition in people’s lives, as originally articulated by Kierkegaard. The repetition of falsehoods (made ever so easy in digital lifeworlds) does serious damage to people’s lives and to democracy. A way forward among such competing considerations is offered by Rawls’s characterization of the political domain in terms of a public reason approach. There is indeed a right to the truth in political matters, a considerably constrained one but one we must defend vigorously. But there could be a right to the truth only ever with regard to particular pockets of human interaction, rather than generically.