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I’ll start off with moral values as an example. I think it is pretty obvious that moral values are socially constructed and don’t have any sort of ontological basis to them. Nature is full of examples of a complete lack of care or lack of meaning when it comes to suffering and people or animals being in pain.

Given this, if say you agree with the idea that morals are constructed, isn’t it more practical to think this is not the case? Wouldn’t believing in morality being objective or perhaps even meaning being objective instill a greater happiness in your life? If everyone stopped believing in moral truths, society would crumble

Let’s take uncertainty as another example. Tons of studies have shown that uncertainty is uncomfortable. Fear stems from uncertainty and uncertainty very often leads to anxiety and depression. Philosophy often gets you to recognize that you can’t know many things. This in turn often has the side effect of making you question things that you never thought were questionable, things that made you happy.

Even in certain day to day things in life, such as competing in a sport, trying to be the best at something, approaching a partner, it is clear that being a little delusional or overconfident can get you better results than vice versa. As an example, women have been shown to like men who seem like they’re in control, not men who are wishy washy. But you can’t feel like in control if you’re an evidentialist. It must come often through a leap of faith, which is arguably…against truth.

So overall, is it sometimes better to just assume certainty in things, and believe in things with your entire heart instead of always trying to reason through things?

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  • some people have evil passions. i won't pretend to know anything about this
    – user67302
    Aug 19, 2023 at 17:43
  • 5
    "it is pretty obvious that moral values are socially constructed", "If everyone stopped believing in moral truths, society would crumble" "women have been shown to like men who seem like they’re in control"... Lots of very unwarranted assumptions in this question.
    – armand
    Aug 19, 2023 at 20:57
  • how can you feel in control if you resort to faith and accept that a higher power has decided morals for you?
    – njzk2
    Aug 20, 2023 at 9:41

3 Answers 3

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Objectivity is just reified intersubjectivity. Consider: money is socially constructed; is it then, purely subjective..? Obviously not! Morality and meaning are like that too. Sure it's bad to act as a solipsist, and society cannot operate on pure selfishness of every member aiming to be a free-rider.

Donald Hoffman talks about how we cannot trust evolution to shiw us reality, like summarised in this Ted talk: Do we see reality as it is? The TLDR is evolution does care about truth, it cares about procreation, and distortions that support that will prevail - we can understand a lot about egotism by that.

Uncertainty can be stressful, but it can also be creative. The psychological axis of ambiguity tolerance/intolerance has been related eg by Jonathan Haidt, with feeling secure from threats during critical development years of teens to early twenties, suggesting we can relate a higher tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, to not having to face threats. Secure-attachment theory relates to a similar dynamic. Kahneman's system-1 and system-2 is also comparable. We allocate available resources, to occurring problems.

But what is 'better'? The concerns of a salesman, and a scientist, are different. A salesman probably doesn't take a big risk if they overstate their product, a scientist might lose everything. Science, with it's honing and refining of intersubjectivity (double-blind trials, repeatability etc etc) has been the cornerstone of the modern age. I think Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit can help us understand why - fooling others may have benefits, fooling ourselves, opens up to catestrophic systemic errors that destroy people and entire societies that find their foundations were built on lies. Money has laws that transcend individuals, and the first is without trust all you have is fancy paper, and bank-runs.

That attitude of assuming certainty, only succeeds if the swan above water, is motivated into furious paddling below. People comment on the refusal of men to accept directions, but that's based on a strong need to remember understand and make sense of the landscape. Look how men geek-out over things they can flaunt expertise or knowledgibility in, to demonstrate being in control. It is for humans what tail feathers are for peacocks, not an end but a means to demonstrate healthy engagement with and competance in the environment. Don't mistake a healthy means with pathologic ends - a peacock still needs to escape the fox, confidence should not become overconfidence and arrogance.

The salmon that saves some of it's energy, won't make it past the waterfall. Many situations in life reward those who take risks, and commit to a challenge, we can see this in sports performance, but it also manifests in problem gambling. Another proverb goes: The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. It's not up to us to shape what evolution will choose, we can't know, and it's crucial that there be a range of strategies to be selected between.

This is all a long way of saying, there is no single universal answer for all people. The best option is, be your best you, rather than a bad someone else.

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It's quite an open ended set of reflections this, but one take on it might be that you think that "truth" represents a value system that says one can only count on the things that one has proven. This value system would be comparatively debilitating if one could only act on the things that one could prove to be true.

That's actually not a terrible evaluation of some forms of talking about logical truth. For British philosopher Michael Dummett (IEP article), Proof was very much the mechanism by which the logical connectives received their semantic sense - the reason a sentence like "A AND B" is true, if it is, is that the two separate proofs for A and for B can be combined as a proof of "A AND B".

It's one thing to say, however, that Logical deduction works like that, and another to say that this is all there is to say about Truth. One could be a verificationist, that what constitutes the truth of a statement is what it would take to verify that statement or demonstrate its truthfulness. We might say that things are true (or not true) in as much as there is a way to show that they are (or are not) the case, and about much else we must suspend judgement until such demonstration can be given in concrete terms, or dismiss as meaningless if no such demonstration is even in principle possible.

But there's also a kind of pragmatist element to this - that statements are not only to be shown to be true through demonstration, but also that statements have a practical use, and this usefulness is also a contributing part of what it might take for a statement to feature in proofs and demonstrations. Where the verificationist would take the demonstrations of truth as prior, a pragmatist might take this same line but with a posterior conception of such demonstration - some principle might be true because it is a principle that gives rise to the demonstration of valued consequences.

The problem, of course, is that one could simply presume whatever things one wanted to be true, and this has a tendency to come apart not only from reality but from coherence and from rationally predicable relationships between component parts of reality. Logic, where it is useful, is about the way in which the relational, compositional structure of our propositions about the world connect and relate together to one another. And so while the Verification-only principle might be too conservative a principle for logical understanding, the Consequences-only principle is too liberal.

For Dummett, the point about a coherent, real logic was that logical principles about how the premises of a logical connection are joined together in logical constructions (the introduction rules) and about how those logical constructions combine to allow the evaluation of distinct conclusions from those constructions (the elimination rules) had to in some way connect to each other in the right way. This is what Dummett called the idea of Logical Harmony - that meaningful, logical Truth related both the verificationist and pragmatic aspects of truthful practice through meaningfully constrained definitions of its connectives. One can show that something could consistently be the case, using the same logical principles as we use to demonstrate that something is an existing consequence of what has been shown to be the case, as long as the former and latter mechanisms of our logic are in harmony with one another.

Dummett himself was a fairly conservative thinker, and very much favoured the "introduction-rules first" verificationist model of logic. But this is by no means the only way to take his idea of truth as a value system where one can apply the concepts of proof and demonstration - one can make something true by acting to bring about its consequences, just as one can show something to be true by demonstrating it from prior grounding.

Of course, the more practical mode often takes a bit more courage, but you don't need to see this courage as a deviation from concepts of truth in order to find it in yourself! Things you make happen can be just as true as the things that happened before you. There's less certainty in it, to be sure, but that doesn't mean it's not true - just that the proof of its truth is something you've got to work on yourself rather than something you can expect to be given to you already fully formed by others.

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The core dilemma goes deeper

Philosophically, when we talk about morality, we aren't necessarily only talking about things like "Should I be nice?" or "Is it wrong to kill?" but also to deeper questions like whether or not we have a rationally justified impetus to do anything.

isn’t it more practical to think this is not the case?

When you ask this, you are presuming that there is some objective standard for "practical", or some implied goal. Would believing in morality and meaning being objective instill a greater happiness in your life? Yes, it certainly would, but that's not really the question. If morality and meaning are not objective, then there's no reason to presume that having greater happiness in your life or even having society not crumble is somehow a better outcome. Rationally, without non-constructed or objective meaning, those things would not be better.

What you seem to be noticing here is that you have an intuition that life does actually have meaning and that there are objectively better outcomes. This seems to also follow your intuition that being "good" in some objective sense is the way to reach these outcomes. This seems to conflict with your notion that morality has no ontological basis.

Your options

Therefore, you have to make a choice. Do you live as though your intuitions are correct and there is an objective morality which gives life meaning and seeks a better society and life based upon your emotion and intuition, knowing that it has no rational warrant? Do you ignore the question as unpleasant and fall back to trusting your intuition on the meaning of life but trust your reason for the rest? Do you side with your current reasoning and reject goodness, society, and a happy life, and perform your daily actions acknowledging that those are all illusory? Alternately, do you consider that this conflict from lack of clear impetus from your current set of beliefs (Naturalism, perhaps?) fails to satisfy your philosophical and rational needs and search for an alternate belief system which is equally predictive but which provides greater prescriptive force?

Truth is not something that is unique to Naturalism/Materialism/Evidentialism. In fact, the truth those provide is only truth relative to those systems, not necessarily relative to actual reality. This is the case also with almost all belief systems. Worse is that in systems like Materialism, there is no actual such thing as truth because truth is not material. The fact that you are seeking truth seems to imply that what you are really doing is questioning the robustness and practicality of your core beliefs themselves. You will probably have to either tack on some additional beliefs ad hoc, or you will have to find a more robust system of beliefs.

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