“If you do not really believe in the existence of truth, what is the passion for truthfulness a passion for? In pursuing truthfulness, what are you supposedly being true to?”
— Bernard Williams
In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams reconsiders the connection between assertions, beliefs and the truth.
A commitment to truthfulness, according to Williams, is: “an eagerness to see through appearances to the real structures and motives that lie behind them.”
Both beliefs and assertions, says Williams, are involved with the idea of truth. Assertions are connected to the truth insofar as they follow the norms required for belief.
Rather than think of a belief as something that supports knowledge, we might think of knowledge as a more straightforward antecedent to belief.
A machine or a computer can arrive at “knowledge” insofar as it can “learn truths” and spit them out.
Beliefs, on the other hand, rely on an internal state of human psychology that is connected to knowledge, though the manner in which it is connected is difficult to articulate.
To aim at truth does not have to mean: to aim at stating something true about the world — or something that can be matched with epistemic reality.
In everyday situations, if a speaker intends to make a statement about the truth or falsity of a fact, then the belief statement will typically reflect epistemic reality.
But a belief can aim at truth even when a speaker chooses to maintain the integrity of a belief system over aligning that belief with knowledge.
A speaker might just as easily assert something that he or she knows to be false, not necessarily to fool the listener about epistemic reality, but because the statement in itself is sufficient to make the point.
Whether or not the statement can be verified is irrelevant to the purpose of the assertion in these contexts. Beliefs are entertaining…