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Getting it right


Truth monism is the idea that only true beliefs are of fundamental epistemic value. The present paper considers three objections to truth monism, and argues that, while the truth monist has plausible responses to the first two objections, the third objection suggests that truth monism should be reformulated. On this reformulation, which we refer to as accuracy monism, the fundamental epistemic goal is accuracy, where accuracy is a matter of “getting it right.” The idea then developed is that accuracy is a genus with several species. Believing truly is a prominent species, but it is not the only one. Finally, it is argued that accuracy monism is equally good or better than both traditional truth monism and its main dialectical rival, value pluralism, when it comes to satisfying three important axiological desiderata.

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  1. 1.

    See, e.g., Olsson (2007), David (2005), and Goldman (1999).

  2. 2.

    See, e.g., Whitcomb (2007), Kvanvig (2005), and DePaul (2001).

  3. 3.

    For prominent alternatives, see Zagzebski’s (1996) virtue-theoretic approach and Clifford’s (1866) deontological approach.

  4. 4.

    In addition to the references in footnote 1, see Lynch (2009, p. 76), Alston (2005, p. 30), BonJour (1985, pp. 7–8), and Moser (1985, p. 4). See also David (2001) for an overview, and Stich (1990), for a dissenting voice.

  5. 5.

    If the bearers of non-instrumental value are restricted to states of affairs, as is common in the Mooeran tradition, this notion of non-instrumental value coincides with that of intrinsic value (see, e.g., Bradley 2006). However, given that axiological discussions in the Kantian tradition often ascribe such values to objects (see, e.g., Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen 2000; Kagan 1998; Korsgaard 1983), rather than to states of affairs, we will henceforth talk in terms of non-instrumental rather than intrinsic value, to avoid confusion.

  6. 6.

    The components in question correspond to the conditions included in a correct analysis of the state in question. If a state has no analysis—as Williamson (2000) has argued is the case for knowledge—it has no components, but may still be of fundamental value.

  7. 7.

    Consequently, Goldman (1999, pp. 94–96)—a card-carrying truth monist—suggests that true beliefs are of non-instrumental epistemic value in so far as they pertain to matters deemed interesting by some relevant set of inquirers, even if the reasons that they find some particular matters interesting might be practical rather than purely intellectual.

  8. 8.

    That, at least, is the position of a great many epistemologists, including Whitcomb (2007, p. 18), Alston (2005, p. 30), Bishop and Trout (2005, Chap. 6), Audi (2004, p. 15), Kvanvig (2003, p. 203), Kitcher (2001, p. 65–82), Haack (1993, pp. 199–203), Nozick (1993, pp. 67–68). However, see Feldman (1988) for some reservations.

  9. 9.

    A analogous concern is raised by Mill (2001/1861) commitment to the ideas that only pleasure is of intrinsic value, even if some forms of pleasure are of greater such value than others.

  10. 10.

    See Whitcomb (2007) and DePaul (1993) for two arguments along these lines.

  11. 11.

    For example, Goldman (1999, pp. 94–96) suggests that true beliefs only are valuable if they pertain to questions that the inquirer, or the society of inquirers that she is part of, wants answered, rendering all true belief that do not pertain to such questions epistemically worthless.

  12. 12.

    Sosa (2003, p. 157).

  13. 13.

    See Hempel (1965, p. 333) and Laudan (1977, p. 225), respectively. To talk about intellectual curiosity is not to rule out that our curiosity might sometimes be motivated by our practical goals. Using a distinction from Grimm (2008, pp. 725–744), we may distinguish between prudential and epistemic curiosity, and identify intellectual curiosity with the latter.

  14. 14.

    See Hume (2003, /1740, bk. II, sect. X). The main historical challenger to this view is Plato, who in the Republic took it that facts about significance are extra-mental, transcendent facts about Forms. We will not consider this view presently, but see Whitcomb (2007). See also Kitcher (2001) for a critique of more recent, anti-psychologistic accounts of significance.

  15. 15.

    Kitcher (2001, p. 81).

  16. 16.

    Frankfurt (2006, 190 and 199, respectively).

  17. 17.

    Notice that, since truths pursued through sheer intellectual curiosity are pursued independently of any considerations about conduciveness whatsoever, such truths may not only be of fundamental (non-instrumental) epistemic value, in so far as they are evaluated qua fruits of inquiry, but also of non-instrumental value simpliciter, or final value (see §2). That said, no part of the present investigation presupposes that any true beliefs are of final value. It suffices for the purposes of monism that some true beliefs are of fundamental (non-instrumental) epistemic value.

  18. 18.

    DePaul (1993, pp. 77–78).

  19. 19.

    See Plantinga (1993).

  20. 20.

    See, e.g., DePaul (2001, pp. 177–179).

  21. 21.

    For one thing, when Kvanvig reads DePaul as suggesting that justification is intrinsically valuable (see Kvanvig 2003, p. 53), DePaul does not protest—rather, he goes on to argue that Kvanvig’s arguments against the idea that justification is valuable thus are no good (see DePaul and Grimm 2007, pp. 504–508).

  22. 22.

    DePaul and Grimm (2007, p. 504).

  23. 23.

    Feldman (2002, p. 379).

  24. 24.

    Feldman (2002, p. 382).

  25. 25.

    Feldman (2000, p. 685; emphasis added).

  26. 26.

    What about (mere) significant true belief? Feldman is skeptical about significance being relevant to whether or not you have fulfilled your epistemic obligations (see Feldman 1988, p. 249). To Feldman, the question relevant to such obligations is the question of whether I should believe, disbelieve, or suspend judgment vis-à-vis p, given that I am pondering the question of whether p. As such, the question of significance does not factor into this picture.

  27. 27.

    As such, there seems to have been a shift in Feldman’s views on epistemic value, from Feldman (1988, pp. 247–248), where he accepts that true belief is a goal of inquiry, and simply denies that true belief has anything to do with value, to Feldman (2002) where he denies that true belief has anything to do with epistemic value by denying that it is a goal of inquiry. See Ahlstrom-Vij (forthcoming) for further discussion.

  28. 28.

    See, e.g., Goldman and Olsson (2009) for two proposed solutions. These responses would also apply to DePaul’s (1993, pp. 77–80) swamping objection to the idea of true belief as a goal of inquiry.

  29. 29.

    See, e.g., Goldman (2011).

  30. 30.

    See Conee and Feldman (2008).

  31. 31.

    Conee and Feldman (2008, p. 98).

  32. 32.

    BonJour (1985, p. 157). BonJour has since surrendered his coherentism, but not the idea that justification needs to be truth-conducive. See, e.g., BonJour and Sosa (2003, p. 6).

  33. 33.

    See, e.g., Lipton (2004) and Lewis (1986).

  34. 34.

    The term “the propositional model” is borrowed from Grimm (forthcoming).

  35. 35.

    Lewis (1986) is explicit about the object of the relevant kind of knowledge being a proposition, as is Kim (2010/1988).

  36. 36.

    Pritchard (2010, p. 81).

  37. 37.

    See Carroll (1895).

  38. 38.

    This line of reasoning has been pursued independently by Georgi Gardiner.

  39. 39.

    Thanks to Duncan Pritchard for raising this objection.

  40. 40.

    See, e.g., BonJour (2005).

  41. 41.

    Invoking this principle does not commit us to taking simplicity to be of fundamental epistemic value, as opposed to of instrumental epistemic value, or non-epistemic value (e.g., simplicity brings tractability, which is practically valuable). However, see Sober (2001) for a skeptical take on the possibility of understanding the value of simplicity in terms of other values.

  42. 42.

    One nice implication of species pluralism being compatible with axiological monism in the manner outlined here is that it makes sense of a position like that of Michael Lynch, who is both attracted to (albeit not necessarily committed to) truth monism and a defender of a functionalist pluralism about truth. See, e.g., Lynch (forthcoming).

  43. 43.

    Kvanvig (2005, p. 287).

  44. 44.

    Kvanvig (2005, p. 287).


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Correspondence to Stephen R. Grimm.

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Ahlstrom-Vij, K., Grimm, S.R. Getting it right. Philos Stud 166, 329–347 (2013).

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  • Epistemology
  • Value
  • Epistemic value
  • Epistemic goal