July 22, 2005

Why Truth Is the Primary Norm of Assertion

My previous long post about the norms of assertion concluded thus:

What I should say is that the norm that your assertions should be true, enforced by the loss of credibility, is defeasible. The defeater comes if the assertion can be shown to be justified or unjustified. As to why truth should be considered the primary norm--I think I can use that term--well, you'll have to read the paper. When I write it. Unless you've heard me give it as a talk, or want me to e-mail you the version I gave, or something.

But I can give this sneak preview: The question is, if an assertion that's known to be true but unjustified hurts your credibility, and an assertion that's known to be false but justified helps your credibility, then why does the loss of credibility enforce a defeasible norm of truth rather than an (indefeasible) norm of justification (on some conception of justification)? The answer is that it's usually much easier to figure out whether an assertion is true than whether it's justified. If you want to assess someone's credibility, you're much better off comparing their assertions with the facts than trying to figure out how justified each assertion was. It's just--usually--an easier judgment.

It also gives you a, well, talking point when an intellectually dishonest interlocutor tries to muddy the waters with talk about what was justified when. Though trying to sort that out is often useful, it really does concentrate the mind to focus on who was right and who was wrong.

Posted by Matt Weiner at July 22, 2005 02:03 PM