As readers of this blog well know, there is a growing amount of interest in epistemic value. In my view, understanding epistemic value requires understanding its meta-normative status. A good place to start getting a hold on this status is a question which Jon raised on this blog over a year ago: Can we be expressivists about epistemic value?
Clearly, a chief – probably the chief – epistemic value is truth. So we might just as well ask: can we be expressivists about the value of truth? In order to answer that question, we need to get clear on at least two things: what it means to talk about “the value of truth” and what it would mean to be an expressivist about that value. My answers to both questions can be found in “Expressivism and the Value of Truth” a rough draft of which can be found over on Epistemic Value (Comments obviously welcome).
Here’s the really short version:
By “the value of truth” we can mean two nominally distinct things. First, we could mean: the value of (having) true beliefs. This is what we are on about when we talk about truth being the proper end of inquiry – we think it is a good state of affairs to believe what is true. Second, we could mean: the value of a belief having the property of truth. This is what we are on about when we talk about truth being a norm of belief: that a belief is good/right/correct when true.
Suppose we limit ourselves to sense (a). If so, then, at the very least, being an expressivist about the value of truth amounts to claiming that we are not describing the world when we say, e.g. truth is what inquiry should aim at, or that it is good to believe all and only what is true. Rather, we are expressing a positive attitude or sentiment.
Is it true, for the expressivist, that it is, e.g. good to believe what is true? An epistemic expressivist in the mold of old-fashioned moral expressivists might have said no: evaluations/expressions are precisely distinct from descriptions in that the former can’t be true or false while the latter can. But an epistemic expressivist of a more contemporary frame of mind would be apt to answer as Blackburn or Timmons would in the more familiar moral case. According to Blackburn/Timmons and other contemporary expressivists, from what Timmons calls the morally engaged perspective, ethical claims are true or false. That is, they are disquotationally true or false. But from the morally disengaged perspective they are not capable of being “objectively true” or capable of being TRUE, as Timmons might say.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this is just how Hartry Field’s own epistemic expressivism is articulated. From what we might call the epistemically engaged perspective, Field says it is true that is good to believe what is true and not what is false. This is because, just as Timmons and Blackburn say in the parallel ethical arena, from a normatively engaged stance, the truth predicate operates disquotationally. Yet from the disengaged perspective, the expressivist will say that it is not true (or as Field says, not “objectively true”) that any epistemic goal is better than any other.
This is an interesting view: it is consistent with naturalism about epistemic value; nonreductive (it doesn’t reduce the value to something else); and yet it allows us to speak with the vulgar (we get to say that it is true that truth is the proper end of inquiry). Yet I think it is implausible, for I am not convinced we can make the necessary distinction, in the epistemic case, between the engaged and disengaged perspective. For in order to make sense of such a distinction, we need to be able to make sense of someone having something other than truth as a goal of epistemic inquiry. But, or so I argue, that requires making sense of someone believing – that is, having real beliefs — without their doxastic practice being regulated by the norm of truth. I don’t think we can make sense of that. So I don’t think we can make sense of the distinction between the epistemically engaged and disengaged standpoints; and without that distinction, the epistemic expressivist can’t say what is (clearly) true: namely, that it is true that it good to believe what is true and not what is false.