The Aug. 13 New Yorker describes famous philosopher Herbert Spencer as an eccentric virgin depressed libertarian moral-hedgehog future-optimist autodidact obsessed with honesty and truth: Sincerity was the virtue that Spencer set greatest store by: "Let every one insist on reality and sincerity, and refrain as much as he can from complimentary usages which involve untruths. If each resolves to tell as few tacit lies as possible, social intercourse will be much healthier." … For Spencer, the importance of being earnest could not be underestimated; the truth was all that mattered. Science, and a scientific approach to all the problems of social life, was another mode of sincerity, and the more science there was, the more moral people would be …
Nicholas, I'm confused by your explanation. If "Spencer's realism cannot encompass" something, how can it label it true or false at all? As an emotivist, I don't then claim that it is a lie to call something "good", just that it is like shouting "Hooray" and without any "truth-value", which means it cannot be false either. How then would Spencer be "labelling them lies"? It just seems to me that Wilde's art-truths are fundamentally unlike normal-truths, which is why it seems sensible that the word be reserved for the latter kind.
Nicholas, thanks for the elaboration - too bad the New Yorker author didn't make this clearer.
I think Wilde's position could be a bit more sophisticated than you are allowing. He says 'Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style'. So although he speaks, in the common tongue, of the decay of lying, he really means there are truths that Spencer's realism cannot encompass and that art tells those truths. I'm not saying this is a coherent theory of truth, but it looks as if Wilde is all for truth telling, it is just that he disagrees about what that is, and he thinks Spencer's philosophy rules out the telling of many important truths by wrongly labelling them lies!