16 September 2006

Love of Truth (as Loveable)

A very valuable observation in Woolf's paper, I thought, was the suggestion that we are right to be especially devoted to some truths--I mean not merely truths that we regard as profound or elegant (such as a fundamental theory of the physical universe) but also, and especially, claims that are set apart from others because, if true, they serve as the basis on which anything is true at all.

For Plato, the theory of the Forms is like this. Thus (Woolf suggested) in both the Phaedo and the Parmenides it has the status, it seems, of a truth that is almost beyond calling into question. If this truth were jettisoned--Plato apparently believes--the game would be up, of looking for truth at all. We can't and shouldn't be disinterested and detached inquirers as regards a thesis that makes disinterested and detached inquiry possible.

(By the way, would it follow that there are some falsehoods that are beyond taking seriously, that we really can't and shouldn't be open to, except perhaps in a merely procedural way?)

But now consider a truth that one regards as providing the basis, not for the possiblity of there being truth at all, but rather for the value of truth, as something that it makes sense to love for its own sake. Suppose there were a truth which was such that it explained why it was admirable to love the truth in that way. Call this TV (for 'truth has value'). Presumably we should be especially committed to this truth as well. But my question rather is this: Why shouldn't we describe someone's commitment to TV as a commitment to 'truth for its own sake'? What would be lacking in that attitude? How could it ever fall short of a supposed ideal of love of truth for its own sake?

You see the point. Consider again the distinction that was drawn in the previous post, between two different attitudes toward truth:

  • Concern for the truth because what you take to be true is something that you regard as important and valuable--i.e. love for some particular truth. You indeed love it for itself, and not for what comes of it, but what you love is some particular doctrine or claim (theory, picture, vision).
  • Concern for truth wherever you may find it, whatever it happens to be, and come what may, because you simply love truth, generally, for its own sake.
Woolf was claiming that Socrates shows the first attitude but the second hardly at all. Yet suppose the particular truth that you love is TV? Then how does that attitude differ from the second? How could someone love the truth for its own sake any more, or any better, than someone who loves the truth that truth is loveable for its own sake?

Here's another way of putting the difficulty. At the beginning of his paper, Woolf states his thesis:
I want to suggest that there are at least two ways in which the dialogue proposes that truth may be valued: (1) for its practical utility, or (2) because its content expresses a state of affairs that we value. Position (1) belongs to Simmias, while (2) more closely resembles a position that can be attributed to Socrates. What I want to argue is that, as set out, neither of these models recognises a third possibility, namely truth for its own sake as a goal. Rather obviously, this is the case with a position like that of Simmias. But the point is applicable to Socrates’ outlook as well. For he acknowledges, in effect, that he will fight to defend the thesis of the soul’s immortality not out of a love of truth for its own sake but because of the value he places on the state of affairs that would obtain if the thesis were true. The truth is as it may be; and it may not coincide with the outcomes we are most invested in. In battling to make these two elements coincide, Socrates invites us to wonder where his deepest allegiance lies.
Consider the highlighted sentence, and especially the phrase in bold. Now consider TV and (we may suppose) Socrates' devotion to, or love for, TV. Since TV is the view that truth is valuable for its own sake, we may substitute 'truth's being valuable for its own sake' for 'the state of affairs that would obtain if TV were true', (and substitute also 'love for' for 'places value on') and rewrite the highlighted sentence as:
For he acknowledges, in effect, that he will fight to defend the thesis of the soul’s immortality not out of a love of truth [as valuable] for its own sake, but out of a love of truth's being valuable for its own sake.
And then it's not clear at all what sort of devotion to truth is being sought for here which is lacking in Socrates. Is there a difference between love of truth as valuable for its own sake, and love of truth's being valuable for its own sake? Or, if there is a difference, why is the second better?