101 Chapter 5

Do We Really Care Whether Our Beliefs Are True?

5.1 Getting Started

What I propose to argue in this chapter is that once we have a clear view of the matter, most of us will not find any value, either intrinsic or instrumental, in having true beliefs. If this is right, a number of consequences follow. First, those who urge reliabilist analyses of justification, rationality, or kindred notions of cognitive evaluation will not be able to appeal to truth in explaining why rational cognitive processes or justified inferences are valuable. Much the same difficulty will confront those who eschew conceptual analysis altogether and offer truth-linked accounts of what it is to reason well, without any claim that such accounts of inferential goodness capture our ordinary concepts of epistemic evaluation.

A rather more startling consequence follows if we accept the traditional view that know/edge is justified true belief. For if that is what knowledge is, and if neither truth nor justification is valuable, then the value of knowledge itself is brought into question. 1 This is not a theme I propose to dwell on in this chapter, but it is certainly not a conclusion I am much inclined to resist. For more than two millennia philosophers have been concerned to rebut the skeptic who argues that, for one reason or another, people cannot gain real knowledge. But the alarm philosophers have felt in the face of the skeptic's challenge, and the urgency that has imbued their responses, can be traced in large measure to the conviction that having knowledge is very important. On my view, the best way to deal with the skeptic is to challenge that conviction. If the skeptic claims that we cannot have the special sort of justified true belief that counts as knowledge, the right move to make first is to ask why we should care.

It has been my experience that when they first hear the thesis being defended in this chapter, many people assume I must be joking, or propounding silly skeptical puzzles. To these people it seems obvious that true beliefs are valuable and preposterous to suggest that they are not.