From the September 2017 Desktop News | Dr. Chase Wrenn, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, is working to confront some of humanity’s most difficult-to-answer questions; namely, Wrenn is exploring the value of truth and why we care about it.
In March and April of this year, Wrenn traveled to Scotland to the University of Edinburgh to join some of the world’s top scholars in conversations about truth. His trip was supported by the Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743.
While in Scotland, Wrenn, the author of Truth, continued to evolve his working definition of truth and the rationale behind it. He specifically focused on truth through the lens of expressivism by working with Matthew Chrisman of the University of Edinburg, the world’s top expert on expressivism as it applies to intellectual value, and Michael Ridge, a leading expressivist in ethics, among others.
“My goal is to develop an account of truth’s value that is compatible with the idea that there is no ‘nature of truth’—no single thing that all true claims have in common, that makes them true rather than false. The approach I prefer says concern for truth is a moral virtue, even if truth doesn’t have a nature,” Wrenn explained. “According to expressivism, words like ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘correct’ don’t describe the world, they just express our attitudes. To an expressivist, ‘Truth is valuable’ just means, roughly, ‘Hooray for truth!’”
Wrenn’s exploration into expressivism and what it means for the value of truth is intended to give him a better understanding of both subjects, both of which he’ll address in an upcoming book. His time in Scotland was critical to the progression of his work. “One motivation for my trip was to put my ideas to the test by working with people who disagree with me,” Wrenn said. “The trip was important because it enabled me to deepen my expertise on expressivism, helping me to give it the nuanced and careful criticism it deserves.
“Philosophy doesn’t happen quickly, and this part of my project has involved many cycles of reading, writing, discussing my work with other scholars, reading more, writing more, discussing more, and so on,” he continued. “The grant meant that I had very easy access to experts who were able to give me good advice and raise helpful objections to the arguments I was making. If I hadn’t been able to spend those two months in Edinburgh, it probably would have taken me a year or more to write my book’s chapter on expressivism, and it wouldn’t have been as good.”