Can Literature “Tell the Truth” Better than other Arts or Areas of Knowledge?


One of the most striking characteristics of post-industrial living is the fact that currently dominant socio-political and cultural discourses grow increasingly marginalized, in intellectual sense of this word. In its turn, this explains why, as time goes on, more and more people are being tempted to seek answers to life’s secrets in tabloid press and in the books by self-appointed ‘experts on morality’, known for their tendency to utilize sophistically sounding but essentially meaningless New Age phraseology.

The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to continuously growing popularity of Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret, first published in 2006. Despite the fact that in this book, Byrne had proven herself possessing a clearly defined anti-scientific outlook onto surrounding realities, it nevertheless did not prevent The Secret from becoming a bestseller, within a matter of a week, after its initial publishing.

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As it was noted by Smythe: “The Secret props up faltering dogma by relying on charismatic representatives and a lot of smooth talk, which is so expert and cleverly edited it is easy to miss the false premises, tautologies… and other varieties of fuzzy thinking”.[1]

The earlier articulated suggestion corresponds to the discussed subject matter (can literature ‘tell the truth’ better than other arts or areas of knowledge?) rather directly, as it helps to expose the potential fallaciousness of would-be positive reactions to assignment’s question, due to the sheer extent of question’s contextual inappropriateness.

After all, there is ‘fictional’ and ‘scientific’ literature, with these two types of literature differing from each other qualitatively. And, as history shows, it is only the scientific literature that is being potentially capable of ‘telling the truth’. In our paper, we will aim to explore this hypothesis at length.


There is a number of so-called ‘eternal questions’, which never cease puzzling the majority of growing adolescents, endowed with genetically predetermined ability to indulge in abstract philosophizing, such as ‘what is the universe?’, ‘what is love?’, ‘what is the purpose of life?’, ‘what is death?’, etc.

And, even today, many people continue to firmly believe that it is namely by reading the works of classical and contemporary fictional literature that youths would be able to find answers to these questions. The fact that as of today, the dogmas of political correctness are being forcibly imposed upon people in Western countries, created additional preconditions for the growing number of citizens to refer to the very process of reading as intellectually beneficial, regardless of the actual content of what it being read.

As Griswold had put it: “Women readers of formulaic romance novels… whom academics formerly regarded as passive vessels into which mass culture poured its most mindless drivel, are now reconfigured as agents, cultural actors making decisions and insisting on their rights”.[2]

However, the works of fictional literature cannot possibly ‘tell the truth’, simply because, as practice shows, they are being written by as much of dilettante individuals as most readers themselves. The only difference between the author of some emotionally-charged bestselling novel and the readers is the fact that, unlike readers, he or she was able to turn its graphomaniac urges into the tool of generating money – pure and simple.

Fictional literature is only partially able to ‘tell the truth’ only for as long as it contains empirically valid psychological observations, which in their turn, confirm natural laws’ full objectiveness. Yet, with the exception of Jack London’s Social-Darwinist short stories and novels, there are virtually no fictional literary pieces that explore scientific motifs, in relation to the qualitative essence of people’s existential mode.

It is specifically scientific literature, which is being rarely ‘read’ but mostly ‘studied’, that does offer people scientifically legitimate answers to life’s dilemmas. The reason for this is simple – even though science does not provide answers to just about all the questions that people might have, the answers it does provide are absolutely legitimate, because their legitimacy can be proven in practice.

For example, one may go about gaining an insight on the essence of love by reading countless romantic novels. And yet, the chances for such an individual to become enlightened on the subject of love, as the result of having read these novels, would still remain rather slim.

Alternatively, one may go about reaching the same objective by the mean of studying relevant scientific articles – as a consequence, it would not take too long for such an individual to realize that, under no circumstances may the essence of people’s romantic amorousness be referred to as ‘divinely’ but rather ‘chemically’ predetermined – this is the actual truth.

Given the fact that by reading fictional literature, people seek to experience aesthetic pleasure, which in their minds is being closely associated with the attainment of emotional comfortableness, they naturally tend to think of such literature in terms of ‘blue pill of ignorance’, as opposed to referring to it in terms of ‘red pill of truth’.

Therefore, it will only be logical, on our part, to suggest that literature’s ability to ‘tell the truth’ relates to the extent of such literature’s emotional sounding in counter-geometrical progression. To put it plainly – the more a particular author expounds on the subject of morality, for example, the greater will be the chances for author’s insights, regarding the discussed subject matter, to be fallacious.

The reason why the works of fictional literature, concerned with exploring the matters of morality, cannot possibly be assumed of being capable of ‘telling the truth’ is simple – as practice shows, in these works, authors usually build their line of argumentation upon a so-called ‘moralistic fallacy’.

In their article, D’Arms and Jacobson define the essence of ‘moralistic fallacy’ with perfect exactness: “The most blatant way to commit the moralistic fallacy is simply to infer, from the claim that it would be morally objectionable to feel F toward X, that therefore F is not a fitting response to X”.[3]

One does not have to be particularly smart to be able to realize why fictional pieces of literature usually feature clearly defined moralistic themes and motifs – by indulging in moralistic reasoning, authors simply strive to divert readers’ attention from the fact that they are nothing but essentially primates, with the layer of their cultural sophistication being only skin-deep.

After all, just as it is being the case with apes, people’s foremost existential priorities appear to be solely concerned with sexual mating, attaining dominant position in social hierarchy and accumulating material riches. In its turn, this partially explains why; whereas, we tend to associate the reading of fictional literature with ‘pleasure’, the reading of scientific literature invokes in our minds the notion of ‘work’ – apparently, the realization of ‘truth’ can rarely be emotionally pleasing.

Therefore, even though the semiotic significance of fictional and scientific literary works can be formally discussed within the conceptual framework of ‘literature’, it would be so much more appropriate to talk of fictional literature in terms of ‘entertainment’ and of scientific literature in terms of ‘science’.

And, it is needless to mention, of course, that these two notions are being only superficially related – whereas, the concept of science of being synonymous to the notion of ‘truth’, the concept of entertainment is being synonymous to the notion of ‘diversion from truth’.

What it means is that that are no objective reasons to believe that, when compared to arts or other areas of knowledge, fictional literature is being more capable of ‘telling the truth’ – that is, of course, for as long as we think of truth in terms of scientifically validated facts. If we were to adopt a relativist perspective on the notion of truth, the suggestion that literature is being more ‘truthful’, as compared to science or art, for example, would not appear completely deprived of a rationale.

And yet, the adoption of such a perspective would prove methodologically inappropriate, since literature is nothing but one among many of people’s three-dimensionally extrapolated intellectual byproducts. In its turn, this implies the full objectiveness of the notion of ‘truth’.


We believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, as to the fact that fictional literature cannot be considered a particularly legitimate ‘pathway towards truth’, substantiates the validity of paper’s initial hypothesis.

Only scientific literature contains empirically obtained insights onto the essence of dialectically predetermined interplay between causes and effects, to which people never cease being exposed, throughout the course of their lives. However, since scientific books and articles deal with thematically narrow and utterly abstract subjects, they cannot be considered as the part of conventional literature per se.


D’Arms, J, & Jacobson, D, ‘The moralistic fallacy: On the ‘appropriateness’ of emotions’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 61, no. 1, (2000), pp. 65-90.

Griswold, W, ‘Recent moves in the sociology of literature’, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 19, 1993, pp. 455-467.

Smythe, IH, ‘The secret behind ‘The Secret’, Skeptic, vol. 13, no. 2, 2007, pp. 8-13.

IH Smythe, ‘The secret behind ‘The Secret’, Skeptic, vol. 13, no. 2, 2007, p. 10.
W Griswold, ‘Recent moves in the sociology of literature’, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 19, 1993, p. 457.
J D’Arms & D Jacobson, ‘The moralistic fallacy: On the ‘appropriateness’ of emotions’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 61, no. 1, (2000), p. 75.


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