Friday, May 13, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0013 - The Value of Truth

We are looking at a world in which there is one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones), asking what is true about such a person in such a state.

One question to answer is, "What is the value of truth?"

Or, more accurately, "What is the value of believing true propositions (having true beliefs)?"

In our imaginary world, believing true premises has no end-value. The only thing that has end value (for Alph) is gathering stones. Truth (or believing true propositions) only has value as a means.

There are some true propositions that Alph must believe in order to gather stones. He must know what a stone is, where the stones are, where the gathering spot is located, and how to transport the stones.

He will need to have true beliefs that will keep him safe. He has reason to avoid jumping off any large cliffs to get to the stones that he sees at the bottom. He would benefit from true beliefs regarding the building of a ladder for climbing up and down the cliff, and for building a rope and bucket to haul the rocks up the cliff.

Depending on what the facts of the matter are, he may need to know where he can find water to drink and food to eat. The latter in particular will require a number of additional beliefs about how to acquire food and what types of food are more useful.

Remember, Alph only desires to gather stones. He has no taste preferences. In our model, he eats only for utilitarian reasons - to stay alive. True beliefs will help him to avoid scurvy, rickets, and other diseases that would prevent him from gathering stones. However, this requires a great many true beliefs.

False beliefs, on the other hand, are seldom, if ever, useful. Some are harmful. A false belief that there are rocks to be gathered in the next valley may cause Alph to waste a considerable amount of time travelling to the next valley, only to discover that there are no rocks to gather.

A false belief that he can fly across a chasm may have him laying injured at the bottom of the chasm.

Unless there are false beliefs that are useful, Alph has no reason to acquire false beliefs, while he does have reason to avoid a list of false beliefs at least as long as the list of true beliefs he has reason to acquire.

There is no value other than that which serves the fulfillment of a desire. Where the only desire is Alph's desire to gather stones, nothing has value except insofar as it is Alph gathering stones (which Alph values for its own sake), or that which helps Alph to realize a state in which he is gathering stones (which Alph values as a means to the one and only end).

Truth (or true belief) has value only insofar as it is desired for its own sake, or to the degree that it helps to bring about states that are valued for their own sake.

However, true beliefs are very, very useful. Even in our own society, it is no exaggeration to say that a great many of the evils that we suffer come from agents acting on false beliefs.

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