Even if the pain, sadness, and anger of living a non-deceived life is excessive, we would rather live a life knowing truly than believing falsely. For, truth is a goal of inquiry.
This research cluster explores intuitions about the value of truth. Wyatt, Ulatowski, and Chase Wrenn (Alabama) have established a research programme designed to explore intuitions about the value of truth. And the study seeks to uncover whether native English speakers and native speakers of other languages harbour different intuitions about the value of truth. The topic of this study is to discover how people, philosophers and non-philosophers alike, respond to questions that test their intuitions about alethic value.
Suppose that you learn that your best friend's husband has been unfaithful, has no remorse about his infidelity, and knows exactly how to cover his tracks such that his partner will never discover his adulterous affair. There are no means for the cheated partner to find out about the husband's peccadilloes. Do you tell your best friend the truth of his husband's philandering, risking your friendship to do so? Remember, if there is no way for the cheated partner to find out about the adulterous affair, then you're telling him will be uncorroborated by any reasonable form of evidence. Or, do you let the couple live on, even if one of them is deceived by their otherwise blissful experiences? Under the circumstances, few of us would wish to continue to live the deceived life no matter how transcendent the experience is of living that life. Even if the pain, sadness, and anger of living the non-deceived life is excessive, we would rather live a life knowing truly than believing falsely.
The objective of this investigation is to determine whether individual differences such as native language, gender, socio-economic status, or political affiliation matter for one’s intuitions about whether we value the truth and the extent to which we do (or do not) value it. Past studies have ignored the "truth dimension" some popular thought experiments, such as Nozick's experience machine and Russell's 5-minute old universe. Our study intends to address the "truth dimension," thereby showing how truth is a goal of inquiry.
Relevant Background, by Chase Wrenn
Current research on the value of truth focuses on two distinct, but connected, issues. One is the question of whether truth has “epistemic value.” The other is the question of whether truth is valuable in the broader sense of being something it is important for us to cherish.
“Epistemic” value is a kind of purely intellectual value, which abstracts all non-intellectual kinds of value, such as moral, prudential, practical, and aesthetic value. It is value from the point of view of a believer as such. What is good, from the purely intellectual point of view? Believing what is true and not what is false, according to a popular answer.
Some philosophers endorse veritism. They hold that truth has special status as the fundamental epistemic good (Pritchard 2014). On their view, all other epistemic value and normativity derives from the value of believing what is true (and the disvalue of believing what isn’t true). Opponents of veritism often argue that we are subject to intellectual norms independent of the truth-goal. A belief can be truth-promoting, they contend, without being reasonable from a purely intellectual point of view (Berker 2013). Other opponents argue that the goal of truth is much less important than other goals, such as understanding or empirical adequacy (Elgin 2017; Van Fraassen 1980).
A view related to veritism claims our epistemic norms derive from our need for true beliefs in a more social way. To satisfy our aims, we need accurate information that is only available from others. Our epistemic norms and values are a response to that need. We institute and enforce epistemic norms in order to create a social environment in which individuals (including ourselves) have access to information they need (Craig 1999; Williams 2004) (Horwich 2006).
Another debate about truth’s epistemic value concerns whether the truth-aim is built into the nature of belief itself. Some maintain that it is essential to belief that we ought to believe something if and only if it is true. Others argue that belief can’t be subject to such a norm, because it is impossible to satisfy.
The very idea of epistemic value is controversial. Some philosophers maintain that it isn’t really a kind of value at all. Even granted that truth is good from a purely intellectual point of view, is it something we really ought to care about? Is truth valuable in the broader sense, or is its value confined to a purely intellectual perspective that is, arguably, alien to the perspective of us actual human beings?
Some philosophers insist it is part of the nature of truth itself to be valuable in this broader sense. The point of Lynch’s “experience machine” thought experiment is to show that we think of truth as valuable in that way (Lynch 2004). Gila Sher defends a view on which the concept of truth has an essentially normative function (Sher 2016), and valuing truth is an essential part of our humanity (Sher Forthcoming).
Others have been reluctant to construe truth as inherently evaluative or normative. Some deny we ought to value truth at all, or at least not much (Elgin 2017; Hazlett 2013). Others hold that we ought to value truth, but that has nothing to do with nature of truth itself. Rather, we are subject to moral, social, or political norms admonishing us to do our best to believe what is true and not what is false. Those norms, they say, derive from the same kinds of moral, social, and political considerations that ground other norms, and not from anything special about the nature of truth as such (Ferrari 2018; Wrenn 2015).
Berker, Selim. 2013. “The Rejection of Epistemic Consequentialism.” Philosophical Issues 23 (1): 363–87.
Craig, Edward. 1999. Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Elgin, Catherine Z. 2017. True Enough. The MIT Press.
Ferrari, Filippo. 2018. “The Value of Minimalist Truth.” Synthese 195 (3): 1103–25.
Hazlett, Allan. 2013. A Luxury of the Understanding: On the Value of True Belief. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Horwich, Paul. 2006. “The Value of Truth.” Noûs 40 (2): 347–60.
Lynch, Michael P. 2004. True to Life: Why Truth Matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Pritchard, Duncan. 2014. “Truth as the Fundamental Epistemic Good.” In The Ethics of Belief: Individual and Social, edited by Jonathan Matheson, and Rico Vitz, 112–29. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Sher, Gila. 2016. Epistemic Friction: An Essay on Knowledge, Truth, and Logic. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Sher, Gila. Forthcoming. “The “Post-Truth” Crisis, the Value of Truth, and the Substantivist-Deflationist Debate.” Australasian Philosophical Review 7 (4): 4-25.
Van Fraassen, Bas C. 1980. The Scientific Image. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Williams, Bernard. 2004. Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wrenn, Chase B. 2015. Truth. Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity Press.