Netherlands, Nijmegen

Philosophical Lessons from and for the 'Post-Truth Era'

when 5 August 2019 - 9 August 2019
language English
duration 1 week
credits 2 ECTS
fee EUR 600

This philosophy course investigates what it means to live in a 'post-truth era', in which emotional or ideological motivations are often considered more valid than objective criteria or facts.

In the aftermath of the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, both Oxford English Dictionaries and the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache declared 'post-truth' or 'postfaktisch' Word of the Year 2016. Ever since, political, sociological, and psychological analysts have tried to explain what it means for our society as well as our personal lives that "objective facts have become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (OED). Throughout this course, we will discuss the multiple facets of this 'post-truth phenomenon'.

In the first, introductory, part of the course, we will critically engage with 1) the politics of developing post-truth claims, 2) the journalistic tools and strategies for covering such claims, and 3) the psychological mechanisms of the public to process them. This means that we will view the 'post-truth era' as a matrix for the following cultural phenomena: the fabrication of scientific dissensus for the sake of economic and political ends, the popularity of both ‘news avoidance’ and conspiracy theories while serious journalism is labeled ‘fake news’, new forms of populism that threaten the pillars of democracy, the contemporary cult of ‘authenticity’, and the evolution of the internet from a tool for the democratization of knowledge to a generator of 'filter bubbles' and a forum for shouting matches.

In the second, main, part of the course, we will explore the philosophical dimension of the 'post-truth phenomenon' - the meaning and conditions of 'truth' are, after all, traditional philosophical topics. To this goal, we will consider three recent philosophical accounts of truth and truthfulness: 1) Harry Frankfurt's notion of 'bullshit' as "a greater enemy of the truth than lies"; 2) Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of 'Enlightenment pluralism'; and 3) Martin Heidegger's theory about the connection between truth, care, and authenticity. On this basis, we will map the differences and conflicts between the most influential modern and postmodern notions of truth. Finally, it will enable us to formulate (a) response(s) to the problematic features of the 'post-truth attitude'.

This course consists of lectures and seminars with group discussions. While these lectures/seminars will rely on insights from various disciplines, the main approach as well as the mandatory literature will be philosophical in nature.

Course leader

Simon Truwant
Postdoctoral Researcher FWO
Institute of Philosophy
KU Leuven
Leuven, Belgium

Target group

Advanced Bachelor

This course is designed for students who

1) are interested in philosophy as well as political science, sociology, history, or cultural studies;
2) are concerned about recent developments in politics, journalism, and education; and
3) wish to gain a better understanding of what truth can still mean in the 21st century.

Course aim

After this course you are able to:

Identify the causes and implications of our current 'post-truth era',
Comprehend the broader context of recent phenomena like fake news or filter bubbles,
Distinguish several philosophical and mainstream conceptions of ‘truth’ and ‘truthfulness’,
Formulate (a) response(s) to the problematic features of the 'post-truth attitude'.

Fee info

EUR 600: Normal fee


€ 540 early bird discount – deadline 1 March 2019 (10%)
€ 510 partner + Radboud discount (15%)
€ 450 early bird + partner + RU discount (25%)

Register for this course
on course website