That Which Can Be Destroyed By the Truth Should Be

Carl Sagan? P. C. Hodgell? Kirien? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There exists a family of sayings that is popular in the community of skeptics. Here are four examples:

1) That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.
2) Anything that can be destroyed by the truth should be.
3) Anything that can be destroyed by the truth, most certainly should be.
4) If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.

This expression has been attributed to the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, but it has also been credited to the award-winning fantasy author P. C. Hodgell. Would you please help to dispel the confusion?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Carl Sagan said or wrote this expression. He died in 1996, and an instance was attributed to him many years later in 2012.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1994 novel “Seeker’s Mask” by P. C. Hodgell (Patricia C. Hodgell). In the following scene two characters named Jame and Kirien were conversing, and the adage was spoken by Kirien. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Jame winced, remembering the awful revelation of her own soul-image. “Perhaps,” she said, “we can’t endure to know ourselves too well. Perhaps, the truth can sometimes destroy.”

“That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” said that implacable voice. Could any Arrin-ken have spoken with more authority? “Of what would you choose to remain in ignorance?”

It is important to recognize that a quotation from a novel sometimes represents the opinion of a character and not the belief of an author. Indeed, the fictional person expressing the thought may grow and change dramatically during a story arc; hence, even that person may disown the quotation.

The fantasy backdrop in the novel was complex. The prefatory section of the work provided the following one-line descriptions for the dialog participants:

Kirien — the Jaran Lordan or Heir, a scrollswoman
Jame — Jamethiel Priest’s-Bane, Torisen’s twin sister

Hodgell does not recall hearing the adage before she penned it for “Seeker’s Mask”. She kindly provided QI with the following gloss for the scene: 2

Jame is speaking to Kirien, a young scholar (she of the “implacable voice”). Anxiety has pulled the latter into the academic equivalent of a berserker fit — a ruthless drive to lay bare the truth, regardless of the cost. She is about to force Jame to face some facts about herself at the worst possible time, in the middle of a crisis.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading That Which Can Be Destroyed By the Truth Should Be


  1. 1994, Seeker’s Mask by P. C. Hodgell, Part VIII: Section 1, Quote Page 406, Published by Hypatia Press, Eugene, Oregon; distributed by Blue Moon Books, Woodinville, Washington. (Verified on paper)
  2. Personal Communication via email between Garson O’Toole and P. C. Hodgell, Time period: March 8 and 9, 2016.