Volume 36, 2011
A Really Short Refutation of the Pragmatic Theory of Truth
The pragmatic theory of truth (PTT) seeks to illuminate the concept of truth by focusing on concepts like usefulness or adaptivity. However, contrary to common opinion, PTT does not merely face a narrow band of (perhaps) rather artificial counterexamples (as in a case of empirically unfounded but life-extending optimism in a cancer patient); instead, PTT is faced with a vast psychological research literature which suggests that inaccurate beliefs are both (1) pervasive in human beings and nonetheless (2) fully adaptive in many cases. Call this the “pervasive adaptive illusions” (PAI) objection to PTT. According to PAI, the kind of connection drawn by PTT between the beliefs that we (intuitively or pretheoretically) regard as “true” and the beliefs we regard as useful is undercut by hard-nosed empirical work in psychology—work that no empirically-minded pragmatist can ignore. According to PAI, the connection drawn between truth and utility by PTT is subject to a simply overwhelming set of counterexamples (drawn from psychological research, and reviewed below). Thus, PTT is a theory any sensible theorist of truth must reject.