Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Value of Truth

The best possible life that one can hope to obtain is to have one's brain put into a particular state, then locked in that state and placed on a shelf, to sit there undisturbed until the universe itself comes to an end.

In my last few posts I have been arguing against Chris Heathwood's theory of a good life on the basis that it leads to this type of absurdity. It is a mental-state theory; a theory that says that the only thing that matters is that the brain be placed in a particular state. Getting the brain into that state, and keeping it in that state, is the be-all and end-all to human existence.

(See Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism by Chris Heathwood (Philosophical Studies (2006) 128:539–563).)

Heathwood is aware of these types of objections

Some philosophers do not like mental state theories . . . [because] a person can be radically deceived about his situation and still lead a good life according to such theories.

Heathwood attempts to answer these objections by suggesting that different mental states have a quality associated with them that is associated with (for lack of a better word) their truthiness.

On the revised theory, pleasure taken in, or the subjective satisfaction of desires for, true states of affairs enhances the value of the pleasure or the subjective desire satisfaction.

First, truthiness is not an inherent property of mental states. The truthiness of desire that P requires a state of affairs that is often quite independent of the desire in which P is true. That state of affairs in which P is true is not a mental state.

Second, what is it that gives truthiness its value? Why is truthiness what matters, and not, say, redness of currentness or being-near-my-50th-birthdayness?

Perhaps the reason that truthiness matters rather than any of these other qualities is because God said so. One of the criticisms often made of atheist ethics is that it ultimately pulls its values out of thin air. Atheists are inevitably driven to a point where they insist that something matters (truthiness), but can never say why it matters. This is because atheists deny the existence of the source of all that matters, and that is God.

I do not know Heathwood's religious persuasion. Perhaps this is the answer that he would give. However, this then would fall to the objection that "God did it" is also a completely empty explanation. No matter what answer one gave - whether it be because of its redness or its currentness or its being-near-my-50th-birthdayness - whatever quality one decides to name one can say that this is the quality that has value because God says so.

Heathwood tries a similar tactic in addressing the question of how some desire-satisfactions can have more value than others.

One natural way for the theory to go would be to assign a number to every state of affairs, one representing how worthy of being desired the state of affairs is, or how appropriate it is to have pleasure taken in it.
Okay, then, how does this number represent and how did it get into those states of affairs? When we assign a number, what does it take for this to be the correct number to assign to that state of affairs? How do we determine correctness? And what are we actually saying when we say that a particular state has a 'worthiness of being desired' of, say, 3.7?

Heathwood does not give us an answer.

When faced with the objection that his theory fails in the face of objections based on deception, he simply asserts that truth matters.

Why does it matter? How does it matter? How does your theory account for the value of truth?

Heathwood does not even start to give us an answer these questions.

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