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After the End of Truth:

Beyond Post-Modernism

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  • The Debate

    After the End of Truth

    A generation raised on Foucault and Derrida has learned to distrust claims to objective truth. Yet the mantra that 'there is no truth' is a paradox. Do we need a new conception of fantasy and reality to free us from the tyranny of truthmakers and the paradoxes of postmodernists alike?

    The Panel

    American philosopher John Searle, post-postmodernist Hilary Lawson and Historian of Ideas at NCH Hannah Dawson untangle the truth.

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Hilary Lawson
    The Pitch
    There is no independent reality in which we can seek to find truth
  • John Searle
    The Pitch
    There is no objective truth but truth corresponds with reality.
  • Hannah Dawson
    The Pitch
    There is no truth, but convictions are necessary.
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    What is 'truth'?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Competing truths
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Beyond truth
Want to learn more about our speakers?
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Jon_Doran on 30/10/2015 2:33pm

There's lots of things to be mentioned here, but I just want to add, whats with the laughing at 23:50? This kind of disrespectful and childish retort, I would expect to see in a play ground, not on in a "cutting edge" debate by some of the "world's leading thinkers". Come on guys, lets learn how to disagree without descending into juvenile rudeness.

Helmet Barf on 21/08/2015 11:31am

So the Holocaust is a fact because in Germany it is against the law to deny that it happened? Forgive me, but I must ask you Ms. Dawson, are you interested in buying a bridge?

Maybe it's just me, but when a government creates laws that require it's citizenry to believe or not believe something, like a version of events, or which claims are facts and which claims are not to be spoken about,

it only makes the version of "truth" supported by such laws all the more suspect.

Eric Wayne on 27/07/2015 3:44am

The idea that language cannot express reality as a criticism of objectivity fails in that objectivity does not rely on language alone to examine the universe, or come to conclusions. Language is a common tool for grappling with meanings and interpretations, but the scientific method, and in particular the (sometimes unanticipated) results of experiments are not the consequence of mere postulating with unaided language, but rather incorporate physical interaction with an actual, external world.

The notion that "objective knowledge is not possible" is ridiculous. We objectively know the temperature at which water boils. What is impossible is to brand subjective opinion and interpretation as objective truth.

Objectivity does NOT claim that a word can wholly represent anything. That is again an attempt to reduce objectivity to only language. The word "atom" couldn't in and of itself possibly say anything objective about what an atom is. You need need quite a bit of education just to approach it, and endless words and sentences. Of course we can't fix an absolute, airtight meaning on something like an "atom", but we can get closer, and there's a scale of objectivity from not believing in atoms at all because we can't see them, and in knowing how they function in the subatomic world. The idea that history is a narrative is so obvious that probably nobody thinks any single account represents some objective truth.

I also find Hilary's notion closing the world bizarre. I see life as a continual exploring and opening of the world.

Hilary and Hannah merely seem to be arguing that all opinion is flawed and relative. Is there anyone that disagrees with that. The problem comes with then extrapolating that there is nothing outside of opinion, and Hilary cornered himself trying to deny that documents could undeniably substantiate that the holocaust happened. There is insurmountable evidence that it happened. Of course interpretations of the significance of it, and why it happened, and what the aftermath of it are, are always going to be incomplete and relative, though some accounts will be far more persuasive. broad, and inclusive than others. But interpretations or accounts of history are not considered objective truth to begin with. However, the fact that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (99.97 degrees if you want to be more accurate), isn't a matter of interpretation.

Hilary's example of terrorists exemplifying the threat of having a conviction in truth works better as an argument against his position. The terrorists' beliefs can't really hold up to rational argument in a debate, and they are examples of extreme ideology and even (pseudo-religious) fanaticism, which has never been associated with objective truths. He would have to make an argument of the threat of the objectivity of the scientific method to substantiate his vantage. However, he'd have to be very careful to separate science from the application of science by political bodies. It is an objective truism that splitting an atom causes an enormous explosion, but it is not objective that creating such an explosion is at all a desirable thing.

Hilary's point seems to be that if someone says "the clock tower is a 5 minute walk going North" it is not most other people's truth. He may further say that minutes are an arbitrary measure of time, and the clock tower is really the mayor's trophy erected to aggrandize himself, when it is a frivolous monument when everyone has a cell phone with the time. This is all perfectly obvious, and part of Postmodernism is making the obvious inscrutable, whereas John attempts to make the complex plain. It is more objective to say that the Earth revolves around the sun, rather than that the sun revolves around the Earth, and without confidence in the former position, we wouldn't have been able to land on the moon.

Un-realism is far more dangerous than "realism" because, ultimately, it allows POWER to define reality, because the story that is most accepted will the one delivered with the most fanfare and repetition, and the real counter to that would be an objective, rational dismantling of its message.

I've written about the problem of Postmodernism, and it's impact specifically on art in some depth here: http://artofericwayne.com/2015/02/04/how-postmodernism-has-worked-against-us/

rivaq on 22/07/2015 12:25pm

Is Hilary Lawson suggesting, (not that his thumb was dangerous, . . . but), that the ability of the mind to communicate via a metaphor was danger?

And yet how without metaphors?

I think he is deserving of a few weeks of no metaphor recognition to learn why realism is more useful than dangerous. Of course it is dangerous for anybody to claim having absolute truth, that was why the Jews crucified Jesus, because he claimed absolute truth. And maybe all that Christians need be eventually, is those who rely on his story of defying their defying absolution. But really, nobody else, not even realists, claim to be capable of absolution.

Terence Williams on 16/07/2015 9:02pm

There is much sound reasoning by great minds to suggest that Lawson, Searle, and Dawson, are being overly optimistic in such extraordinary and exotic claims devised to undermine the notion of 'truth'. In my own work on 'being while existing' I am to be found firmly in the camp of opposing all three.

Unless the 'jumping off spot' for denying the existence of truth as incorporate to any persuasive realityscape, begins with committal to a materialistic world view, such a denial lacks a plausible logic, and if it does spring from materialism it emerges from an unjustifiable and unsubstantiated notion.

Entities of abstraction like justice and beauty are not under any circumstances to be ignored, and without such universals human life could not possibly be fully experienced. But as abstractions they are not experienced by brain function but by intuitive knowing - something more of the 'mind independent reality' domain of which Roger Penrose speaks. Although in this brief space allotted, I cannot enunciate on what would amount to a lengthy exposition on this matter, I do wish my objection to the denial of 'truth' as incorporate to the realityscape to register, even though being so confined here, it is without my giving all the reasons that I could.

Parmenides instinctively and so long ago spoke of two ways of advancement- that of 'opinion' and that of 'truth', To cut to the chase by obligation here, I put it that denial of 'truth' belongs decidedly to the realm of mere 'opinion', and is therefore of little in depth concern.

Terence Williams on 16/07/2015 8:58pm

There is much sound reasoning by great minds to suggest that Lawson, Searle, and Dawson, are being overly optimistic in such extraordinary and exotic claims devised to undermine the notion of 'truth'. In my own work on 'being while existing' I am to be found firmly in the camp of opposing all three.

Unless the 'jumping off spot' for denying the existence of truth as incorporate to any persuasive realityscape, begins with committal to a materialistic world view, such a denial lacks a plausible logic, and if it does spring from materialism it emerges from an unjustifiable and unsubstantiated notion.

Entities of abstraction like justice and beauty are not under any circumstances to be ignored, and without such universals human life could not possibly be fully experienced. But as abstractions they are not experienced by brain function but by intuitive knowing - something more of the 'mind independent reality' domain of which Roger Penrose speaks. Although in this brief space allotted, I cannot enunciate on what would amount to a lengthy exposition on this matter, I do wish my objection to the denial of 'truth' as incorporate to the realityscape to register, even though being so confined here, it is without my giving all the reasons that I could.

Parmenides instinctively and so long ago spoke of two ways of advancement- that of 'opinion' and that of 'truth', To cut to the chase by obligation here, I put it that denial of 'truth' belongs decidedly to the realm of mere 'opinion', and is therefore of little in depth concern.

rayjwilson on 16/07/2015 12:13pm

This prooves there are things which are unreal they are called Hilary Lawson

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