Monday, September 18, 2006

Misak and Pragmatism and Deflationism

Today we discussed an article by Cheryl Misak in my epistemology class. The essay is “Deflating Truth: Pragmatism vs. Minimalism” (The Monist, 1998) and it’s one of my favorites. It discusses many of the same themes as Misak’s book "Truth, Politics, Morality" (2000) but very efficiently and succinctly.

I especially like the argumentative structure: starting with the basic platitudes of disquotationalism and deflationism, and then grafting on a quasi-Peircean theory of truth (quasi-Peircean because Misak avoids talking about a hypothetical “end of inquiry” and instead treats truth as a property of beliefs that will never disappoint us).

The last section of the article discussed whether truth can be applied to moral discourse; Misak concludes that it can. She writes:

Moral discourse has the requisite basic discipline; it is full of candidates for truth. We aim at getting things right, we distinguish between thinking that one is right and being right, we criticise the beliefs, actions and cognitive skills of others, we think that we can make discoveries and that we can make discoveries and that we can improve our judgments, and we think that it is appropriate, indeed required, that we give reasons and arguments for our beliefs....Such phenomena are marks of objectivity; they are indications that an area of inquiry aims at or aspires to truth.

I think that just about nails it on the head. Certainly one of the advantages of the theory Misak proposes is that it can be extended to moral discourse. After all, it’s on questions of morality that I most want to get things right. As I tried to articulate in class, if I’m mistaken about my scientific beliefs that’s something I can live with; but being wrong about what is morally right or wrong is truly distressing. That’s where the question of truth becomes especially pressing, and an adequate theory of truth needs to recognize this. Misak’s does, and that’s a powerful reason in its favor.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

You say: "If I’m mistaken about my scientific beliefs that’s something I can live with; but being wrong about what is morally right or wrong is truly distressing. That’s where the question of truth becomes especially pressing, and an adequate theory of truth needs to recognize this."
What kind of theory of truth would you be talking about? Would not the feelings of distress not stem from what society has conditioned you to feel and therefore not really be a matter of truth but one of socialization?
Please forgive me if this comment is uninformed, as I am a college student and therefore decidedly unlearned.

5:17 PM  

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