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Philosophical Lessons from and

for the 'Post-Truth Era'


Preliminary course programme
5 – 9 August 2019
Contents

Course overview .............................................................................................................................................. 3


Course description ...................................................................................................................................... 3
Learning Outcomes ..................................................................................................................................... 3
Level of participant ..................................................................................................................................... 4
For whom is the course designed ............................................................................................................... 4
Admission Requirements ............................................................................................................................ 4
Admission Documents ................................................................................................................................ 4
Date ............................................................................................................................................................. 4
Course Leader ............................................................................................................................................. 4
Certificate ........................................................................................................................................................ 5
ECTS credits ..................................................................................................................................................... 5
Study Load ....................................................................................................................................................... 5
Course organisation ........................................................................................................................................ 5
Literature ......................................................................................................................................................... 6
Assignments .................................................................................................................................................... 7
Assessment...................................................................................................................................................... 7
Overall Schedule Radboud Summer School .................................................................................................... 8
Preliminary day-to-day programme ................................................................................................................ 9
Contact information ...................................................................................................................................... 10

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Course overview

Course description
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.

Learning Outcomes
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'.

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Level of participant
Advanced Bachelor
Master
PhD

For whom is the course designed


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.

Admission Requirements
Applicants must have a sufficient background in philosophy: either at least two years of studies in
philosophy, or at least a Bachelor/undergraduate degree in another subject (preferably from the
humanities) that entailed multiple philosophy courses. Applicants should explain their background and
their interest in the course topic(s) in their motivation letter.

Admission Documents
Motivation letter (max. 1 page, mentioning study background)

Date
5 – 9 August 2019

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

Simon Truwant is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of KU Leuven (Belgium). His
research project Narratives of truth in Cassirer and Heidegger: A philosophical analysis of the 'post-truth
era' (2018-2021) is funded by the Flemish Research Council (FWO).

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Simon obtained his PhD in 2016, with a dissertation titled The philosophical stakes of the ‘Davos debate’:
Cassirer and Heidegger on Kant, the human condition, and the task of philosophy (also funded by FWO). He
has published on Kant, Cassirer, Heidegger, and Levinas in reputed philosophy journals, and is the editor of
the 2019 volume Interpreting Cassirer: Critical Essays with Cambridge University Press. Simon has taught a
variety of courses at KU Leuven, Duquesne University (USA), and Leiden University (NL).

Certificate

You will be awarded a certificate of attendance for actively participating and successfully completing
all assignments. The certificate will state the amount of ECTS credits earned.

ECTS credits

Student workload at Dutch universities is expressed in ECTS credits. ECTS stands for European Credit
Transfer and Accumulation System, a system widely used throughout the European Union. In the
Netherlands, each ECTS credit represents 28 hours of work. We would like to point out that recognition
of credits is at the discretion of your home institution. For this course you will be able to obtain 2 ECTS
credits.

Study Load

• Pre-course reading 26 hours


• Class attendance 20 hours
• Assignments 6 hours
• Presentation 4 hours
56 hours (total)

Course organisation

This course consists of lectures as well as reading seminars with group discussions in various formats.
Active participation is required during the seminars. For the sake of profound and productive
discussions, all students must have read the mandatory literature prior to the relevant session.
While this course provides a setting for the exchange of thought-provoking ideas, behavior or
comments that are disrespectful to other students (i.e. insulting, paternalizing, or silencing) will not be
tolerated.
During Radboud Summer School, you will have access to our online learning environment Brightspace. One
month before the summer course starts you will receive more information about Brightspace and how to
access it. In your online course you will find the schedule and course related documents and or reading
materials.

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Literature

Mandatory reading:

• Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 30-68.
• Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. by Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1996. (selected passages TBD)
• Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man. An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture, New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1992. (selected passages TBD)

Recommended reading (one item from each header would already be great!):

a) Books on the 'post-truth' phenomenon

• James Ball, Post-truth: How bullshit conquered the world, London: Biteback Publishing, 2017
• Evan Davis, Post Truth. Why we have reached peak bullshit and what we can do about it, Little
Brown, 2017
• Matthew D’Ancona, Post-truth: The new war on truth and how to fight back, Ebury Press, 2017
• Michiko Kakutani, The death of truth. Notes on falsehood in the age of Trump, New York: Tim
Duggan Books, 2018
• Daniel Levitin, Weaponized lies: How to think critically in the post-truth era, Dutton, 2016

b) Politics

• William Davies, 'How statistics lost their power' (The Guardian)


• William Davies, 'The age of post-truth politics' (The New York Times)
• Ezra Klein, 'Trump's real war' (Vox)
• Christopher Robichaud, 'Facts aren't enough to save liberal democracy' (Niskanen)

c) Journalism & Social Media

• Susan B. Glasser, 'Covering politics in a 'post-truth' America (Brookings)


• Hannes Grassegger & Mikael Krogerus, 'How our likes helped Trump win' (Motherboard)
• Nathan Jurgenson, 'Chaos of facts' (Real Life)
• Daniel Kreiss, 'Social media did not give us Donald Trump and it is not weakening democracy'
(Medium)
• Frédéric Lordon, 'Post-truth politics or post-political journalism?' (Verso)
• Jon Martindale, 'Fake news and filter bubbles' (Digital Trends)
• Tabatha Southey, 'The term 'fake news' is quickly losing meaning in the Trump Era' (The Globe and
Mail)
• Catharine Viner, 'How technology disrupted the truth' (The Guardian)

c) Psychology, Sociology, and Education

• Klemens Kappel, 'There is no middle ground for deep disagreement about facts' (AEON)
• Maria Konikova, 'Trump's lies vs. your brain' (Politico)
• In comic and video

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• Michael Schermer, 'How to convince someone when facts fail' (Scientific American)
• Eleanor Beardsley, 'Fighting fake news in French schools' (nprEd)
• Bruce McComiskey, Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition, Colorado: Utah State UP, 2017
• Sam Woolfe, 'In a post-truth society, children need to learn philosophy more than ever' (The
Canary)

d) Philosophy

• Hannah Arendt, 'Truth and Politics’. In: Between Past and Future: Eight Exercices in Political
Thought, London: Penguin Books, 1968, 227-264.
• Roland Barthes, 'The World of Wrestling'. In: Mythologies, tr. by Annette Lavers, New York: Hill and
Wang, 1986, 15-25.
• Friedrich Nietzsche, 'On truth and lies in a non-moral sense’, in: Selections from Nietzsche's
Notebooks of the Early 1870's, ed. by Daniel Breazeale, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979, 79-
100.

Assignments

Course participants must complete four assignments that are fairly small in scope but demand critical
thinking and some creativity (one could thus call them 'fun'). The first three assignments will pertain to the
mandatory reading material for the next days (Tuesday-Thursday). The fourth assignment is a short oral
presentation about a chosen topic relating to the overall theme of the course (Friday). The course leader
will provide detailed information about each assignment at the end of the preceding course day.

Assessment

Student assessment is based on three criteria: 1) attendance (required for all sessions); 2) informed
participation in group discussions (this requires reading the mandatory literature in advance); 3)
completing all assignments (see above).

The students will not receive a grade, the course is assessed on a pass/fail basis.

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Overall Schedule Radboud Summer School

We will provide you with coffee and tea three times a day and arrange lunch for you. The time slot allocated
for lunch is 12.00-14.00, usually lunchtime lasts somewhere between 1–1½ hours.

Radboud Summer School is more than an academic event, it also provides you with a unique opportunity to
meet other international students and to broaden your horizon. Our participants come from all over the
world and all have a different cultural and academic background. More than 650 participants from 80
different countries joined the summer school in 2018. The summer school organization has carefully selected
various social activities to bring you in contact with each other and to introduce you to the beautiful city of
Nijmegen.

Below you will find some useful links to the Radboud Summer School website:
• Social Events
• Accommodation

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Preliminary day-to-day programme

Monday
Topics: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story?

Time Table:
09.30-11.00 Opening Event
11.00-12.00 Introduction to the course
12.00-14.00 Lunch
14.00-17.00 Non-philosophical accounts of the 'post-truth era' (politics, journalism, psychology)

Tuesday
Topics: Bullshit

Time Table:
09.30-12.00 Harry Frankfurt's 'On Bullshit'
12.00-14.00 Lunch
14.00-17.00 From 'bullshit' to 'post-truth'

Wednesday
Topics: Let's agree to disagree?

Time Table:
09.30-12.00 Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms
12.00-14.00 Lunch
14.00-17.00 'Enlightened pluralism' and the 'post-truth era'

Thursday
Topics: Authenticity

Time Table:
09.30-12.00 Heidegger's existential phenomenology
12.00-14.00 Lunch
14.00-17.00 Authenticity in a 'post-truth society'

Friday
Topics: Lessons from and for the 'post-truth era'

Time Table:
09.30-12.00 Presentations by participants
14.00-15.00 Final group discussion
15.00-15.30 Coffee/Tea Break
15.30-18.00 Farewell Ceremony and drinks afterwards

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Contact information

Radboud Summer School


P.O. Box 9102
6500 HC NIJMEGEN
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)24 8187706
E: radboudsummerschool@ru.nl
W: www.ru.nl/radboudsummerschool

Visiting address:
Berchmanianum, Houtlaan 4, Nijmegen

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