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Truth Deserves to be Believed

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2013


Science seems generally to aim at truth. And governmental support of science is often premised on the instrumental value of truth in service of advancing our practical objectives, both as individuals and as communities, large and small. While there is some political expediency to this view, it is not correct. The value of truth is nowise that it helps us achieve our aims. In fact, just the contrary: truth deserves to be believed only on the condition that its claim upon us is orthogonal to any utility it might have in the service of (any and all) practical ends.

Winner of the 2012 Philosophy prize essay competition
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2013

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3 Op. cit. note 1, 139.

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11 Indeed there is a very large literature proposing alternative algorithms for belief corpus modification, upon the introduction of new propositions into a given corpus.

12 Glaucon formulates his original Gyges story to secure a similar leverage against Socates's position, and in favor of his own proposal to the effect that pursuit of self-interest and pursuit of justice are decidedly different things. The Gyges stratagem works for Glaucon the same way I should like it to work for my case in the present context.

13 Cognitive theories of vision-for-action – for example, Milner, A.D. and Goodale, M. A., The Visual Brain in Action (New York: Oxford, 1995)Google Scholar – provides strong independent evidence for this claim, though there is no space here to elaborate the point.

14 Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Science in a Democratic Society (Prometheus Books, 2011)Google Scholar.

15 Cf. Irwin, T., ‘Aristotle’. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online) (Taylor and Francis, 2002)Google Scholar. This corroborates certain sentiments – those that provoked J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein to quietism – to the effect that when one asks ‘How do I know there is a hand here?’ one is not seeking an answer to an ordinary question at all, but only a philosophical answer. Austin and Wittgenstein famously held that there is none to give.

16 This in not the place to say what these standards are. And in any case, the matter is subject to some controversy.

17 Recognition of this fact is one route to solving certain philosophical puzzles of recent vintage, problems having to do with strategy: puzzles of deterrence, or of coordination where there are multiple Nash equilibria, and the toxin puzzle (where prudence as such seems to get in the way). All of these problems lend themselves to better solution via Gyges' ring than through a process of ratiocination in which along the way we acquire also materials that undermine a desirable target belief.

18 Rather more directly, I should think, from what Hume had in mind.

19 Ever since the appearance of the influential work of Maynard-Smith, John, Evolution and the Theory of Games (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, this characterization of the social has been heavily articulated.

20 And there is a growing school of social scientists directing enormous creative energies towards founding a quantitative science of culture and anthropology, in this spirit. Many of them reserve a space for cultural transmission as independent, normally also admit of vector combinations of biological and cultural forces. See for example Boyd, R. and Richerson, P., Culture and the Evolutionary Process (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)Google Scholar and Cavalli-Sforza, L. and Feldman, M., Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981)Google ScholarPubMed. Skyrms, Brian, Evolution of the Social Contract (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar offers a modeling strategy (called ‘replicator dynamics’) that can be utilized to model both types of forces.

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