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“An Optimistic Bet”

The relationship between truth and social progress is then an optimistic bet. I hope that knowing the truth is part of what sets us free. But that’s an empirical hunch that could well turn out to be wrong. That’s Elizabeth Barnes, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, in a wide-ranging interview by Richard Marshall at 3:16. I draw particular attention to that line because I think it gets at an underexplored element of philosophizing: philosophers’ hopes or “optimistic bets” that certain things turn out to be true. The contents of these hopes aren’t assumed to be true, but they aren’t thought of as mere possibilities, either, as they have a kind of motivating power towards doing philosophy, and towards exploring some lines of inquiry and answers over others. The diversity and distribution of such hopes affect what people philosophize about, and what the overall picture of philosophy looks like at any time. Professor Barnes continues on the connection between truth and social progress, and what she takes to be her responsibilities as a philosopher: It could be that people aren’t motivated by the truth in any way, or that a noble lie would’ve been more politically effective. It’s also, of course, an open question that the truth could turn out to be politically inconvenient for people like me. I hope it’s not, but it might be. And I think any open and honest philosophical inquiry needs to countenance that otherwise it feels [More]

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