Truth as convenient friction

In Mario de Caro & David Macarthur (eds.), Journal of Philosophy. Columbia University Press. pp. 167--190 (2010)
In a recent paper, Richard Rorty begins by telling us why pragmatists such as himself are inclined to identify truth with justification: ‘Pragmatists think that if something makes no difference to practice, it should make no difference to philosophy. This conviction makes them suspicious of the distinction between justification and truth, for that distinction makes no difference to my decisions about what to do.’ (1995, p. 19) Rorty goes on to discuss the claim, defended by Crispin Wright, that truth is a normative constraint on assertion. He argues that this claim runs foul of this principle of no difference without a practical difference: ‘The need to justify our beliefs to ourselves and our fellow agents subjects us to norms, and obedience to these norms produces a behavioural pattern that we must detect in others before confidently attributing beliefs to them. But there seems to be no occasion to look for obedience to an additional norm – the commandment to seek the truth. For – to return to the pragmatist doubt with which I began – obedience to that commandment will produce no behaviour not produced by the need to offer justification.’ (1995, p. 26) Again, then, Rorty appeals to the claim that a commitment to a norm of truth rather than a norm of justification makes no behavioural difference. This is an empirical claim, testable in principle by comparing the behaviour of a community of realists (in Rorty’s sense) to that of a community of pragmatists. In my view, the experiment would show that the claim is unjustified, indeed false. I think that there is an important and widespread behavioural pattern that depends on the fact that speakers do take themselves to be subject to such an additional norm. Moreover, it is a..
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DOI 10.5840/jphil200310048
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