Alethic pluralism and the value of truth


I have two objectives in this paper. The first is to investigate whether, and to what extent, truth is valuable. I do this by first isolating the value question from other normative questions. Second, I import into the debate about the nature of truth some key distinctions hailing from value theory. This will help us to clarify the sense in which (and to what extent) truth is valuable. I then argue that there is significant variability in the value of truth in different areas of discourse. I shall call this the axiological variability conjecture (AVC). I illustrate and substantiate AVC by contrasting the occurrence of disagreement in two paradigmatically evaluative areas of discourse, viz. matters of taste, on the one hand, and morality, on the other. I claim that there is a reasonable tendency to care much more about settling moral disagreements than taste disagreements and that this difference has to do, at least partly but significantly, with the different value that truth exhibits in these two areas of discourse. I then turn to the second objective of the paper—namely, to discuss how pluralistic accounts of the nature of truth may deal with the value of truth in light of AVC. I will argue that AVC is a problem for all versions of truth pluralism that are committed to the following two theses: (1) that truth is a value concept; and (2) that this characteristic of the concept has to be reflected in the metaphysical nature of any admissible truth properties—i.e., all the various properties that are admissible (qua truth properties) in the pluralist account are value-conferring properties and thus intrinsically valuable. In so doing, I will focus primarily on Michael Lynch’s functionalist incarnation of truth pluralism. Lynch terms this “Manifestation Alethic Pluralism” (MAP). My reason for this is twofold: first and foremost, MAP is a paradigmatic exemplification of a model of truth pluralism that is committed to both (1) and (2); second, MAP has, to date, enjoyed the most discussion, and currently provides the most developed account of truth pluralism. However, I argue that MAP lacks the resources to account for AVC. Owing to this, I suggest two ways out for an advocate of MAP, which force various structural changes in her view.

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  1. 1.

    A notable exception is, of course, Michael Lynch who will play a prominent role in what follows.

  2. 2.

    Pluralist accounts of truth have been on the market since Crispin Wright’s publication of Truth and Objectivity (Wright 1992).

  3. 3.

    Edwards (2011, 2012, 2013, 2018), Ferrari et al. (2020), Lynch (2001, 2004b, 2006, 2009a), Pedersen (2006, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2020a), Pedersen and Wright (2013), Sher (2004, 2005, 2013, 2015), Wright (1992, 1998, 2001, 2013).

  4. 4.

    By axiology I mean, as generally understood, value theory—i.e. the philosophical study of value.

  5. 5.

    Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen and Cory Wright take predication to be our guide in domain-individuation: in order to understand what is the subject matter of a given sentence, and thus what is the domain to which the proposition expressed belongs to, we have to look at the predicative expression in it—see Pedersen and Wright (2018). See also Edwards (2018).

  6. 6.

    As Wright argues at length, this much is not sufficient to engender a commitment to realism—see especially Wright (1992).

  7. 7.

    See, e.g., Cappelen and Hawthorne (2009), Ferrari and Wright (2017), MacFarlane (2014).

  8. 8.

    For the purpose of this paper we can understand enquiry as the practice of gathering, weighing and assessing evidence which is aimed at forming, managing, and relinquishing beliefs and sharing true information. It is widely accepted within the philosophical community that, so conceived, enquiry and its characteristic products—beliefs and judgments—are subject to alethic norms—see, for instance, Dummett (1959), Gibbard (2005), Horwich (2013), MacFarlane (2014), Shah and Velleman (2005), Wright (1992).

  9. 9.

    For a discussion of these different aspects of truth’s normative profile and how they relate to each other see Ferrari (2018a).

  10. 10.

    One may wonder—as an anonymous referee from this journal has done—whether this is a legitimate move: can we really separate the axiological aspect of truth’s normative function from the other aspects mentioned above? I’ve dealt with this important question in some other works—Ferrari (2016) and Ferrari (2018a). See also McHugh (2012), McHugh and Way (2015), Thomson (2008). It would lead us too far astray to argue for this in the context of this paper, so I will just assume that the axiological function of truth’s normativity is independent of the other functions.

  11. 11.

    Cf. Lynch (2020).

  12. 12.

    The expression ‘to have the goal’ in C should be understood in dispositional terms—i.e. it does not have to be always manifested and transparent to the subject in pursuing enquiry.

  13. 13.

    For a discussion of wide versus narrow scope normative principles see Broome (2007), MacFarlane (2004), Shpall (2013).

  14. 14.

    Let me briefly mention the fact that the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction is orthogonal to both the conditional/unconditional category—as Bader (2013) argues, happiness is for Kant intrinsically and finally valuable but its value is only conditional on the presence of the good will—and also of the final/instrumental category—as Korsgaard (1996) has shown, a rare object like a Gutenberg Bible, although it is valued for its own sake, has its axiological source in relational properties (its rarity) with external things.

  15. 15.

    See Bader (2013) and Witmer et al. (2005). For the purposes of this paper, I’m ignoring the distinction between possessing intrinsic value and being valued intrinsically which plays an important role in the dialectic of Bader’s paper in order to allow for cases of things possessing intrinsic value but which are valued both intrinsically and extrinsically. This could be the case for the value of truth as well—however, this would make no difference for the dialectic of this paper. That said, two alternative models of intrinsicality are, among others, the duplicate model due to Lewis and Langton, and the relational model due to Francescotti. The duplicate model says that a property P is an intrinsic property of a thing O if and only if no O-duplicate is such that it lacks P—Lewis (1986): pp. 61–62; Langton and Lewis (1998). It is perhaps worth noticing that it may not be straightforward to adjust the duplicate model to cover the kind of cases I’m interested in for the project of this paper—namely the case of intrinsic/extrinsic characteristics of properties rather than of objects. In fact, when we are talking about the intrinsic characteristics of properties it is rather unclear what would count as property-duplicate. Thus, for the purposes of this paper, the duplicate model may be the least adequate among the various model. The relational model says that intrinsic properties are those properties which, in instantiating them, the bearer does not stand in some relation to a distinct thing or to its surroundings. Thus, suppose O has property P; then, as we modify things other than O, and thereby modify the relations O bears to other things, O will continue to be P—Francescotti (2014). Although this model may be more flexible than the Lewis and Langton one in accounting for the application of the concepts ‘intrinsic’/‘extrinsic’ to properties, overall the in-virtue-of account seems to offer the best model for the case at hand. Many thanks to an anonymous referee for helping me in clarifying this issue.

  16. 16.

    See MacFarlane (2014), Chapter 6.

  17. 17.

    Note that this is the case also within standard versions of truth relativism—e.g. Kölbel (2003), MacFarlane (2014)—which endorse a non-relativised object-language truth predicate which is unrestrictedly disquotational. I will not discuss truth relativism in this paper.

  18. 18.

    Alethic fault has to be kept distinct from the kind of epistemic fault associated with the normative function(s) that justification exerts on judgements—this is because truth and justification potentially diverge in extension (it may happen that a belief is true but unjustified or false but justified). As I’ve argued elsewhere, since truth may exert different normative functions (criterial, axiological, deontic, teleological) depending on the subject matter at issue, the notion of alethic fault comes in a variety of forms: thus we will have a notion of criterial fault—which may be legitimately attributed to a contrary opinion in the context of a disagreement whenever truth exerts its criterial function—a notion of axiological fault—which may be legitimately attributed to a contrary opinion in the context of a disagreement whenever truth exerts its axiological function—and a notion of deontic fault—which may be legitimately attributed to a contrary opinion in the context of a disagreement whenever truth exerts its deontic function—see Ferrari (2018a). Whether we can make sense of the idea of a disagreement in which no (alethic) fault whatsoever can be legitimately attributed to a contrary opinion in the context of a disagreement depends on whether we can make sense of a normatively inert notion of truth (I discuss this issue in Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020).

  19. 19.

    I here draw an intuitive distinction between matters of basic taste which are based on our gustatory reaction to a given object of gustatory experience—e.g. the taste of oysters—and more refined aesthetics judgements concerning, e.g. matters of fine art or music, for which some kind of expertise and knowledge might play an important role. I don’t want to claim that there’s always a neat separation between these two subject matters—there may be many borderline judgements falling in the intersection of these two areas. For my purposes it is sufficient that there are some clear cases of basic taste judgements as opposed to judgements about matters of refined aesthetics.

  20. 20.

    See Ferrari (2016) and Ferrari (2018a) for further details. It's worth flagging out at this point that the comparison between taste and moral disagreement that I offer should not be understood as based on some empirical data. I don’t have such data (at least, not yet). The comparison is based on intuitive judgements—in the philosophical sense of ‘intuitive’, i.e. based on rational intuitions concerning fairly idealised scenarios—about what we would typically expect as legitimate reactions to situations of disagreement in these two domains.

  21. 21.

    On this issue, see Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020), Kölbel (2003), MacFarlane (2014), Wright (2006, 2012). If it turns out that there is at least a domain where we have cases of fully faultless disagreement—i.e. in which truth exerts none of the aforementioned normative functions, with the exceptions, perhaps, of the teleological one—then this would require an even more radical adjustment in the structure of alethic pluralism. I discuss this possibility in Ferrari and Moruzzi (2019).

  22. 22.

    It may be worth drawing a distinction here between (alethic) fault/faultlessness and other kinds of normative fault/faultlessness that an agent may be subject to in the context of a dialectical confrontation. In addition to alethic fault/faultlessness we may have the following notions: epistemic faultlessness (the subject has been epistemically responsible in the way she has formed her belief and managed the evidence in the context of the confrontation); conversational faultlessness (the subject has by and large abided by the conversational maxims operating in the context of the confrontation); prudential faultlessness (the subject has by and large respected the social conventions pertaining to the situation of dialectic confrontation); moral faultlessness (there’s nothing morally reproachable in the way the subject has behaved in the situation of dialectic confrontation). All these kinds of faultlessness are, perhaps in different senses, normative kinds of faultlessness. Moreover, they are all, at least to a certain extent, normatively independent of each other in that they respond to different conditions of legitimate attribution in the context of a dialectical confrontation. Surely, a subject in the context of a confrontation may be legitimately regarded as alethically at fault (under some precisifications of the notion of alethic fault) because she holds a false judgement, without being at fault in any other sense—she may have been epistemically responsible and she may have behaved impeccably from a conversational, prudential, and moral point of view. In this respect, there would be nothing to blame the subject for. Or, a subject may be alethically faultless in judging, e.g., that foie grass is delicious even though she may be blamed for issuing such a judgement on moral grounds. With this in hand, one may introduce the notion of faultlessness simpliciter and stipulate that a subject S is faultless simpliciter just in case S is faultless in all these different dimensions of faultlessness—in other words, alethic faultlessness would just be a necessary but not sufficient condition for faultlessness simpliciter. Many thanks to an anonymous referee for bringing this issue to my attention.

  23. 23.

    See Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020) for a fully worked out epistemology and metaphysics of taste along these lines.

  24. 24.

    Thanks are due to an anonymous referee for pressing me on this issue.

  25. 25.

    See, e.g. Treanor (2018).

  26. 26.

    See Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020).

  27. 27.

    See Ferrari (2020) for a detailed discussion of a metaphysical and epistemological picture that offers an explanation of the peculiar axiological function that truth exerts in the moral domain.

  28. 28.

    See Lynch (2009a) for a detailed discussion of the scope problem. As Horwich (2018) points out, deflationists about truth can’t be intrinsicists about truth’s value so they are forced to adopt an extrinsicist strategy—see also Ferrari (2018b), Wrenn (2010, 2015).

  29. 29.

    See Wright (2013) for an opinionated overview of the plurality of alethic pluralism.

  30. 30.

    The term ‘truism’ is used by Lynch to replace the term ‘platitude’ which is employed by Wright who follows the more entrenched terminology in the tradition of the so-called Canberra Plan—see Nolan (2009). I will use these terms interchangeably.

  31. 31.

    On this, see Ferrari and Moruzzi (2019), Lynch (2009a), and especially Wright (1992).

  32. 32.

    The label is first introduced in Ferrari and Moruzzi (2019), although the concept of strict requirement is extrapolated from the discussion in Nolan (2009).

  33. 33.

    Lynch (2009a).

  34. 34.

    The argument I'll develop in the next section is to a certain extent orthogonal to the debate internal to alethic pluralism concerning whether strong or moderate forms of pluralism should be preferred. As a matter of fact, no strong pluralist I know of includes among the platitudes implicitly defining the concept an axiological principle on the line of VT—they are thus, de facto, immune to the specific argument developed in the next section targeting Lynch's MAP. However, if they were to include an axiological principle among the platitudes, they would encounter similar difficulties. Nevertheless, there are reasons to suspect that moderate pluralists have to face extra challenges in relation to normative issues due to the metaphysical structure of their proposals. The thought, in brief, is that the thinner generic truth becomes (metaphysically) the harder it gets to cook up a robust enough notion of metaphysical conferral.

  35. 35.

    See Lynch (2009a): p. 74.

  36. 36.

    Lynch (2009a): pp. 74–75. For a detailed criticism of the metaphysical structure of the manifestation relation, see Pedersen (2020b).

  37. 37.

    See, for instance, Lynch (2009b, 2015).

  38. 38.

    Lynch (2015): p. 277.

  39. 39.

    Lynch (2020): p. 6.

  40. 40.

    See, for instance, Ferrari and Moruzzi (2019).

  41. 41.

    See Ferrari (2018b) for a more detailed extrinsicist account of the value of having true and only true in the context of a discussion of Horwich’s minimalist conception of truth.

  42. 42.

    Recall that this strategy also denies truth monism, so if moral truth is constructed as some anti-realist property then no presupposition of moral realism is triggered by talking in terms of “settling the disagreement in accordance with the moral truth”.

  43. 43.

    Although I think that this option might be the most economical one for advocates of MAP, Lynch himself might not be satisfied with it since, as it can be evinced from some of his works on the value of truth—especially Lynch (2004a, c, 2009b, c)—he has strong sympathies for an intrinsicist account of the value of truth—in fact, he argues at length that deflationary conceptions of truth are inadequate because they cannot account for the peculiar value that truth exhibits in enquiry and this can be the case only if the value of truth is taken to be intrinsic. Moreover, depending on how the view is cashed out in detail, the extrinsicist strategy may fall prey to Lynch’s normative anti-particularism argument developed in some on his work on the value of truth.

  44. 44.

    This principle, in its most general formulation, is false for, e.g. natural properties, since there are cases of such properties having intrinsic characteristics that are not reflected in the (ordinary) concept associated with that property. A much-discussed example is the property of being water for which the relation between the property and the concept is opaque (or, at least, it has been historically opaque) since being composed of H2O is an intrinsic characteristic of the property which is not reflected (or, was not reflected) in the ordinary concept of water.

  45. 45.

    Lynch, however, seems committed to deny this transparency principle since he thinks that among the essential, and thus intrinsic, characteristics of the nature of (GT) there is a feature—i.e. that of being multiple realisable—that is not among the truisms characterising the concept. This is not the appropriate venue for a detailed discussion of this point, since, from a purely functional point of view nothing really substantive hinges on whether Lynch is right in denying the transparency principle—as I have said, if that’s the case, then the two options explored in this section would functionally collapse without changing much concerning either the importance of the axiological scope problem for MAP or the effectiveness of the strategy(ies) offered here. However, there are reasons to think that Lynch is wrong in denying that multiple realizability is not part of the truisms (if it is part of the essence of the generic truth property). In fact, it is not clear at all why you can’t just reflect on the truth concept in the pluralist framework and, through a purely conceptual exercise, reason your way to multiple realizability. Of course, whether truth is multiply realised won’t be transparent since it will depend on (perhaps contingent) features characterising the various domains of discourse which are not accessible via purely conceptual reflection from the nature of the truth concept. Thanks are due to Nikolaj Pedersen for helpful discussion on this issue.

  46. 46.

    If that were the only substantive aspect of truth that advocates of MAP need renounce to it wouldn’t be too problematic. However, one may think that similar concerns to those discussed in this paper in relation to (VT) also apply to the case of another core truism—namely Norm of Belief (see, for instance Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020) which argues that given certain metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that seem palatable in the domain of taste, Norm of Belief (NB) too might have to go). If this were the case, it would have the consequence of deflating the nature of generic truth even further, calling into question the inherent stability of MAP and its alleged advantage over other models of truth pluralism—in particular over the strong variety of alethic pluralism.

  47. 47.

    Wright (1992), Wright (2020).

  48. 48.

    Lynch (2004c, 2009b, c)

  49. 49.

    See Ferrari and Moruzzi (2020) for a critical assessment of Wright’s argument in the context of alethic pluralism.

  50. 50.

    Among the various other challenges to deflationary accounts of truth, the so-called ‘success argument’ plays a prominent role—see Gamester (2018) for a discussion of the argument and Horwich (1998) for a reply.


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Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at various workshops and seminars, including: Pluralism Network Final Workshop (Yonsei University); DISUM Philosophy Research Seminars (University of Catania); Philosophy Colloquium (University of Düsseldorf); Chair of Logic Research Colloquium (University of Bonn); Philosophy Research Seminar at COGITO (University of Bologna); The Value of Truth Workshop (Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest); Philosophy Colloquium (University of Erlangen). I would like to express my gratitude to the various audiences at these events for their invaluable feedback which helped me improving the paper. In particular, I would like to thank: Elke Brendel, Giovanni Camardi, Andrew Chignell, Alexander Dinges, Douglas Edwards, Antonio Ferro, Will Gamester, Ákos Gyarmathy, Péter Hartl, Paul Horwich, Filippo Liscica Rizzo, Clayton Littlejohn, Stefano Pugnaghi, Markus Schrenk, Erik Stei, Elena Tassoni, Giorgio Volpe, Cory Wright, Jeremy Wyatt, Luca Zanetti. Very special thank are due to Michael Lynch, Sebastiano Moruzzi, Nikolaj J.L.L. Pedersen, and Crispin Wright for their terrific support and challenges to my work on pluralism. Last, but not least, many thanks to two anonymous referees for their (numerous) comments and suggestions which contributed to significantly improve the paper.


Part of this study was funded by Università degli Studi di Padova (Grant No. STARS-StG_SH_AMPLog).

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Correspondence to Filippo Ferrari.

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Ferrari, F. Alethic pluralism and the value of truth. Synthese (2020).

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  • Truth
  • Value
  • Pluralism
  • Disagreement
  • Normativity
  • Michael Lynch