Why should we care about believing what is true? Using Trivialism to Answer

2 minute read


I was recently asked how I motivate caring about what we believe (to students, but this applies to plenty of non-students). Likely most philosophers are already sold on believing what is true and holding consistent beliefs. And if someone already cares about being right, about being consistent, and about believing truly, your work is done as soon as you explain it what the issue is. But not everyone cares about believing truly and holding consistent beliefs. How do we sell them on it?

In my practice, I first state their position, ‘Alright, what if you don’t really care about believing truly and consistently? What if you just want to get through life and leave well enough alone? Who cares about a false belief here, or an inconsistency there? Does that really make much difference in the end? Nobody on their deathbed will mutter, “No regrets…oh, except that one inconsistent belief set from 1985. Drat!” Isn’t that right?’

This brings out what we are trying to counter: it is really an attitude about beliefs, namely, ‘I don’t care.’ Once folks propose norms for belief, they have tacitly admitted to caring about norms for belief. So what we need is a view that flies in the face of the ‘I don’t care’ norm.

In countering this attitude, I have used trivialism to motivate caring about believing truly and believing consistently, and so caring about norms of belief. Trivialism is the view that all well-formed statements are true. (See P. D. Kabay’s 2008 dissertation on trivialism.) I find it a quite useful toy example of, and a foil for, how the “I don’t care” attitude can go horribly wrong. To be fair, trivialism can be motivated by rational arguments. But the ‘believe everything’ consequence - trivialism as an end result - is what we care about in connecting it with the ‘I don’t care’ attitude.

So after defining trivialism, I say this: ‘Alright, if you really do not care about believing truths and believing consistently, then you practically may believe anything. So being a trivialist is alright, too.’ Most folks reject that someone may believe everything. And now you are in business: they have admitted to caring a little bit about what may be believed.

Then you can motivate all sorts of other norms for belief once the ‘I don’t care attitude’ has been connected with a consequence that most folks reject, namely, trivialism. The instant that someone has objected to believing everything, they have adopted a norm for belief that makes it wrong to believe anything. That is, the ‘I don’t care’ attitude lets you believe anything, including, as a trivialist does, everything.

This post was copied from my old website in 2022.