Show

The Value of Truth

Week of: 
April 4, 2006
What is it: 

The pursuit of truth is often thought to be "intrinsically" valuable. Scientists and philosophers, who eschew religious rationales for their life's work, take the pursuit of truth to be obviously a worthwhile enterprise. But what's so great about truth? Sure, it's good to know what's for lunch, or the nature of the disease that plagues you, but is there any intrinsic or instrumental value in knowing how far away the farthest stars are? Or whether Milton's greatest works were written while he had a headache? Or what the next layer of basic particles are like? Truth telling on Philosophy Talk.

Listening Notes: 

What's so valuable about truth? Ken thinks that the value of truth is obvious. Having true beliefs help us act so as to satisfy our desires. John points out that sometimes the truth can be harmful, such as knowing where drugs are being sold. There are a lot of truths that are irrelevant or trivial. There are also depressing truths. Ken thinks that you can't separate truth from believing because when we believe something, we take it to be true. Ken introduces the guest, Simon Blackburn, professor at Cambridge. John asks Blackburn to explain the nature of truth. Blackburn explains minimalism about truth, which says that there is no general answer about truth. The correspondence theory of truth says that there is some fact that makes a judgment true. However, there is no higher-order verification of this judgment. Another view is the pragmatist theory which says that the truth is valuable because it is useful.

What is the postmodernists' problem with truth? Blackburn says that the general idea goes back to Nietzsche and it is that our judgments and beliefs are formed and shaped by various forces beyond our control. Ken says that we would get around this if we had some method of tracking the truth. Blackburn says that the correspondence theory of truth works great when we are working with a straightforward representation of the world that we understand. How do we discern truth from falsehood? Blackburn thinks that is a skill that requires a lot of practice.

Some truths hurt us and some falsehoods are comforting. Should we always seek out truth for its own sake? There are a bunch of useless truths, such as the composition of dirt on Mars. Blackburn thinks that the useful falsehood is a hard idea to dispel. According to many psychologists, most people think they are about 15% smarter or good-looking than they actually are, and that keeps many people from being depressed. Nietzsche was moved to his relativism by perspectivism, which says that we view the world from our own perspective. Blackburn doesn't think that perspectivism leads to relativism because the visual metaphor breaks down.
 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 05:20): Polly Stryker asks several people whether we should always tell the truth.

Get Philosophy Talk

Radio

Sunday at 10am, PST, KALW, 91.7 FM, Local Public Radio, San Francisco

Podcast

Individual Downloads  via CdBaby or Itunes.  Multipacks and The Complete Philosophy Talk via Iamplify

John Perry and Ken Taylor

Continue the Conversation

Sidebar Menu

Upcoming Shows

  • March 8 : Diseases of the Mind: Philosophy of Psychiatry
    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is the primary reference catalog for mental health illnesses. But whereas a medical textbook will show you the...
  • March 15 : Forbidden Words
    Some words, like n****r, ch*nk, and c*nt, are so forbidden that we won't even spell them out here. Decent people simply don't use these words to...
  • March 22 : Democracy in Crisis
    Democratic systems of government are supposed to reflect the interests of ordinary citizens, and not some shadowy political elite. But more and more...
  • March 29 : Morality in a Godless World
    Belief in God is thought by many to be the only possible source of morality, such that without a God, “everything is permitted.” Yet godlessness is...
  • April 5 : The Nature of Wilderness
    Nowadays we think of wilderness as a fully natural environment that contrasts sharply with the designed and constructed environments in which we...

Support Philosophy Talk

DONATE TODAY

Philosophy Talk relies on the support of listeners like you to stay on the air and online. Any contribution, large or small, helps us produce intelligent, reflective radio that questions everything, including our most deeply-held beliefs about science, morality, culture, and the human condition. Make your tax-deductible contribution now through Stanford University's secure online donation page. Thank you for your support, and thank you for thinking!