(Worth reading article about how blurring the lines between skepticism and falsehoods created the post-truth. Are philosophers responsible for this? f. sheikh)
Interview of Julian Baggani, Author of many books, by 3:AM Magazine
3:AM: A Short History of Truth, should help us endure the apparent crisis of truth. You write: ‘If there is a crisis of truth in the world today, the root of the problem is not the inadequacy of philosophical theories of truth.’ Yet, you suggest philosophers aren’t entirely blameless in that crisis, how so?
JB: To a certain extent all philosophers have been involved in a systematic questioning that undermines confidence and certainty. Philosophy as a whole unleashed skeptical forces which, outside of the tightly controlled environment of a rigorous philosophical debate, led a lot of people to throw their hands up in despair and think ‘what’s the point?’. A lot of the public perception of philosophy is that it leaves you with no answers, and more confused than you were at the beginning.
More specifically, there have been a number of philosophers – perhaps more in continental Europe than in Britain – who have reveled in the dismantling of truth. I think they did so with good ethical motives, and for good philosophical reasons. I can see the sense in what they were talking about; the idea that, as a matter of fact, truth is often claimed by elites in order to further certain agendas. They crowd-out alternative perspectives – particularly those of the powerless. But the undermining of truth contributed – in the weird, indirect way that philosophy contributes to the culture – to a rejection of the idea of truth as having any kind of proper meaning at all.
I think a lot of these people, Foucault for instance, would have been horrified that Trump has emerged as a person taking advantage of this skepticism. But that is what happened. It’s a wake-up call.
3:AM: The book is structured in terms of different brands of truth – encouraging a more nuanced understanding of truth. Are you combatting the misappropriation of those skeptical ideas?
JB: I thought the one thing that wouldn’t be useful in addressing the issue would be to give people sketches of the dominant competing theories of truth. I didn’t think that was where the problem was. By the time I’d finished the first draft I realized what I was really saying was: more than having the right theory, it’s important to have the right attitudes towards truth.
This is exactly what Bernard Williams said in his Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton 2002). There are these virtues of truth, which he identified as sincerity and accuracy. Williams’ view was: if you begin with a sincere desire to arrive at the truth and you are as scrupulous as possible about trying to get your facts straight, then you have a basis for arriving at a more truthful conception of the world. I think that’s right – and I’d broaden it out a bit to include other virtues (e.g. skepticism, rather than cynicism).