QUESTION 109: OF TRUTH
We must now consider truth and the vices opposed thereto. Concerning
truth there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether truth is a virtue?
(2) Whether it is a special virtue?
(3) Whether it is a part of justice?
(4) Whether it inclines to that which is less?
Article 1: Whether truth is a virtue?
Objection 1: It seems that truth is not a virtue. For the first of virtues is
faith, whose object is truth. Since then the object precedes the habit
and the act, it seems that truth is not a virtue, but something prior to
Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 7), it belongs
to truth that a man should state things concerning himself to be neither
more nor less than they are. But this is not always
praiseworthy---neither in good things, since according to Prov. 27:2,
"Let another praise thee, and not thy own mouth"---nor even in evil
things, because it is written in condemnation of certain people (Is. 3:9): "They have proclaimed abroad their sin as Sodom, and they have not
hid it." Therefore truth is not a virtue.
Objection 3: Further, every virtue is either theological, or intellectual, or
moral. Now truth is not a theological virtue, because its object is not
God but temporal things. For Tully says (De Invent. Rhet. ii) that by
"truth we faithfully represent things as they are were, or will be."
Likewise it is not one of the intellectual virtues, but their end. Nor
again is it a moral virtue, since it is not a mean between excess and
deficiency, for the more one tells the truth, the better it is. Therefore
truth is not a virtue.
On the contrary, The Philosopher both in the Second and in the Fourth
Book of Ethics places truth among the other virtues.
I answer that, Truth can be taken in two ways. First, for that by reason
of which a thing is said to be true, and thus truth is not a virtue, but
the object or end of a virtue: because, taken in this way, truth is not a
habit, which is the genus containing virtue, but a certain equality
between the understanding or sign and the thing understood or signified,
or again between a thing and its rule, as stated in the FP, Question , Article ;
FP, Question , Article . Secondly, truth may stand for that by which a person
says what is true, in which sense one is said to be truthful. This truth
or truthfulness must needs be a virtue, because to say what is true is a
good act: and virtue is "that which makes its possessor good, and renders
his action good."
Reply to Objection 1: This argument takes truth in the first sense.
Reply to Objection 2: To state that which concerns oneself, in so far as it is a
statement of what is true, is good generically. Yet this does not suffice
for it to be an act of virtue, since it is requisite for that purpose
that it should also be clothed with the due circumstances, and if these
be not observed, the act will be sinful. Accordingly it is sinful to
praise oneself without due cause even for that which is true: and it is
also sinful to publish one's sin, by praising oneself on that account, or
in any way proclaiming it uselessly.
Reply to Objection 3: A person who says what is true, utters certain signs which
are in conformity with things; and such signs are either words, or
external actions, or any external thing. Now such kinds of things are the
subject-matter of the moral virtues alone, for the latter are concerned
with the use of the external members, in so far as this use is put into
effect at the command of the will. Wherefore truth is neither a
theological, nor an intellectual, but a moral virtue. And it is a mean
between excess and deficiency in two ways. First, on the part of the
object, secondly, on the part of the act. On the part of the object,
because the true essentially denotes a kind of equality, and equal is a
mean between more and less. Hence for the very reason that a man says
what is true about himself, he observes the mean between one that says
more than the truth about himself, and one that says less than the truth.
On the part of the act, to observe the mean is to tell the truth, when
one ought, and as one ought. Excess consists in making known one's own
affairs out of season, and deficiency in hiding them when one ought to
make them known.
Article 2: Whether truth is a special virtue?
Objection 1: It seems that truth is not a special virtue. For the true and the
good are convertible. Now goodness is not a special virtue, in fact every
virtue is goodness, because "it makes its possessor good." Therefore
truth is not a special virtue.
Objection 2: Further, to make known what belongs to oneself is an act of truth
as we understand it here. But this belongs to every virtue, since every
virtuous habit is made known by its own act. Therefore truth is not a
Objection 3: Further, the truth of life is the truth whereby one lives aright,
and of which it is written (Is. 38:3): "I beseech Thee . . . remember how
I have walked before Thee in truth, and with a perfect heart." Now one
lives aright by any virtue, as follows from the definition of virtue
given above (FS, Question , Article ). Therefore truth is not a special virtue.
Objection 4: Further, truth seems to be the same as simplicity, since
hypocrisy is opposed to both. But simplicity is not a special virtue,
since it rectifies the intention, and that is required in every virtue.
Therefore neither is truth a special virtue.
On the contrary, It is numbered together with other virtues (Ethic. ii,
I answer that, The nature of human virtue consists in making a man's
deed good. Consequently whenever we find a special aspect of goodness in
human acts, it is necessary that man be disposed thereto by a special
virtue. And since according to Augustine (De Nat. Boni iii) good consists
in order, it follows that a special aspect of good will be found where
there is a special order. Now there is a special order whereby our
externals, whether words or deeds, are duly ordered in relation to some
thing, as sign to thing signified: and thereto man is perfected by the
virtue of truth. Wherefore it is evident that truth is a special virtue.
Reply to Objection 1: The true and the good are convertible as to subject, since
every true thing is good, and every good thing is true. But considered
logically, they exceed one another, even as the intellect and will exceed
one another. For the intellect understands the will and many things
besides, and the will desires things pertaining to the intellect, and
many others. Wherefore the "true" considered in its proper aspect as a
perfection of the intellect is a particular good, since it is something
appetible: and in like manner the "good" considered in its proper aspect
as the end of the appetite is something true, since it is something
intelligible. Therefore since virtue includes the aspect of goodness, it
is possible for truth to be a special virtue, just as the "true" is a
special good; yet it is not possible for goodness to be a special virtue,
since rather, considered logically, it is the genus of virtue.
Reply to Objection 2: The habits of virtue and vice take their species from what
is directly intended, and not from that which is accidental and beside
the intention. Now that a man states that which concerns himself, belongs
to the virtue of truth, as something directly intended: although it may
belong to other virtues consequently and beside his principal intention.
For the brave man intends to act bravely: and that he shows his fortitude
by acting bravely is a consequence beside his principal intention.
Reply to Objection 3: The truth of life is the truth whereby a thing is true, not
whereby a person says what is true. Life like anything else is said to be
true, from the fact that it attains its rule and measure, namely, the
divine law; since rectitude of life depends on conformity to that law.
This truth or rectitude is common to every virtue.
Reply to Objection 4: Simplicity is so called from its opposition to duplicity,
whereby, to wit, a man shows one thing outwardly while having another in
his heart: so that simplicity pertains to this virtue. And it rectifies
the intention, not indeed directly (since this belongs to every virtue),
but by excluding duplicity, whereby a man pretends one thing and intends
Article 3: Whether truth is a part of justice?
Objection 1: It seems that truth is not a part of justice. For it seems proper
to justice to give another man his due. But, by telling the truth, one
does not seem to give another man his due, as is the case in all the
foregoing parts of justice. Therefore truth is not a part of justice.
Objection 3: Further, according to Jerome truth is threefold, namely, "truth
of life," "truth of justice," and "truth of doctrine." But none of these
is a part of justice. For truth of life comprises all virtues, as stated
above (Article , ad 3): truth of justice is the same as justice, so that it
is not one of its parts; and truth of doctrine belongs rather to the
intellectual virtues. Therefore truth is nowise a part of justice.
On the contrary, Tully (De Invent. Rhet. ii) reckons truth among the
parts of justice.
I answer that, As stated above (Question ), a virtue is annexed to justice,
as secondary to a principal virtue, through having something in common
with justice, while falling short from the perfect virtue thereof. Now
the virtue of truth has two things in common with justice. In the first
place it is directed to another, since the manifestation, which we have
stated to be an act of truth, is directed to another, inasmuch as one
person manifests to another the things that concern himself. In the
second place, justice sets up a certain equality between things, and this
the virtue of truth does also, for it equals signs to the things which
concern man himself. Nevertheless it falls short of the proper aspect of
justice, as to the notion of debt: for this virtue does not regard legal
debt, which justice considers, but rather the moral debt, in so far as,
out of equity, one man owes another a manifestation of the truth.
Therefore truth is a part of justice, being annexed thereto as a
secondary virtue to its principal.
Reply to Objection 1: Since man is a social animal, one man naturally owes
another whatever is necessary for the preservation of human society. Now
it would be impossible for men to live together, unless they believed one
another, as declaring the truth one to another. Hence the virtue of truth
does, in a manner, regard something as being due.
Reply to Objection 2: Truth, as known, belongs to the intellect. But man, by his
own will, whereby he uses both habits and members, utters external signs
in order to manifest the truth, and in this way the manifestation of the
truth is an act of the will.
Reply to Objection 3: The truth of which we are speaking now differs from the
truth of life, as stated in the preceding Article , ad 3.
We speak of the truth of justice in two ways. In one way we refer to the
fact that justice itself is a certain rectitude regulated according to
the rule of the divine law; and in this way the truth of justice differs
from the truth of life, because by the truth of life a man lives aright
in himself, whereas by the truth of justice a man observes the rectitude
of the law in those judgments which refer to another man: and in this
sense the truth of justice has nothing to do with the truth of which we
speak now, as neither has the truth of life. In another way the truth of
justice may be understood as referring to the fact that, out of justice,
a man manifests the truth, as for instance when a man confesses the
truth, or gives true evidence in a court of justice. This truth is a
particular act of justice, and does not pertain directly to this truth of
which we are now speaking, because, to wit, in this manifestation of the
truth a man's chief intention is to give another man his due. Hence the
Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) in describing this virtue: "We are not
speaking of one who is truthful in his agreements, nor does this apply to
matters in which justice or injustice is questioned."
The truth of doctrine consists in a certain manifestation of truths
relating to science wherefore neither does this truth directly pertain to
this virtue, but only that truth whereby a man, both in life and in
speech, shows himself to be such as he is, and the things that concern
him, not other, and neither greater nor less, than they are. Nevertheless
since truths of science, as known by us, are something concerning us, and
pertain to this virtue, in this sense the truth of doctrine may pertain
to this virtue, as well as any other kind of truth whereby a man
manifests, by word or deed, what he knows.
Article 4: Whether the virtue of truth inclines rather to that which is less?
Objection 1: It seems that the virtue of truth does not incline to that which
is less. For as one incurs falsehood by saying more, so does one by
saying less: thus it is no more false that four are five, than that four
are three. But "every falsehood is in itself evil, and to be avoided," as
the Philosopher declares (Ethic. iv, 7). Therefore the virtue of truth
does not incline to that which is less rather than to that which is
Objection 2: Further, that a virtue inclines to the one extreme rather than to
the other, is owing to the fact that the virtue's mean is nearer to the
one extreme than to the other: thus fortitude is nearer to daring than to
timidity. But the mean of truth is not nearer to one extreme than to the
other; because truth, since it is a kind of equality, holds to the exact
mean. Therefore truth does not more incline to that which is less.
Objection 3: Further, to forsake the truth for that which is less seems to
amount to a denial of the truth, since this is to subtract therefrom; and
to forsake the truth for that which is greater seems to amount to an
addition thereto. Now to deny the truth is more repugnant to truth than
to add something to it, because truth is incompatible with the denial of
truth, whereas it is compatible with addition. Therefore it seems that
truth should incline to that which is greater rather than to that which
On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that "by this
virtue a man declines rather from the truth towards that which is less."
I answer that, There are two ways of declining from the truth to that
which is less. First, by affirming, as when a man does not show the whole
good that is in him, for instance science, holiness and so forth. This is
done without prejudice to truth, since the lesser is contained in the
greater: and in this way this virtue inclines to what is less. For, as
the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7), "this seems to be more prudent
because exaggerations give annoyance." For those who represent themselves
as being greater than they are, are a source of annoyance to others,
since they seem to wish to surpass others: whereas those who make less
account of themselves are a source of pleasure, since they seem to defer
to others by their moderation. Hence the Apostle says (2 Cor. 12:6):
"Though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish: for I will
say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that
which he seeth in me or anything he heareth from me."
Secondly, one may incline to what is less by denying, so as to say that
what is in us is not. In this way it does not belong to this virtue to
incline to what is less, because this would imply falsehood. And yet this
would be less repugnant to the truth, not indeed as regards the proper
aspect of truth, but as regards the aspect of prudence, which should be
safeguarded in all the virtues. For since it is fraught with greater
danger and is more annoying to others, it is more repugnant to prudence
to think or boast that one has what one has not, than to think or say
that one has not what one has.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.