In this issue of IAI News we look back over the biggest ideas of 2015. The key question this year has been how to move beyond the old postmodern arguments about objective truth.
In July we introduced a brand-new format: the Head to Head. Philosopher and director of the IAI, Hilary Lawson, took on John Searle, one of the world’s most influential analytic philosophers. At stake: the very possibility of objectivity and truth.
If, as Lawson argues, independent reality is a fantasy, then how can we understand and effect changes in the world? In September, mathematician-turned-philosopher Nancy Cartwright, tackled this question head-on. The idea of universal laws is false, she argues; truth is far more diverse and contingent. Likewise, in November, consultant psychiatrist Mark Salter asked: can we hope to diagnose illness accurately or is all knowledge fantasy? Here he outlines his new theory of psychiatry after postmodernism.
October’s Head to Head also questioned the relationship between science and truth. Do scientists have a monopoly on truth? Or are there some things science can never know. In The Limits of Science, Oxford chemist Peter Atkins took on the UK’s most brilliant moral philosopher Mary Midgley
These Head to Heads prove that the world’s experts hold wildly disparate views. Yet we rely on them in every field: from economics to climate science and, as the events of 2015 showed, military intervention. But if the very idea of objective knowledge is illusory then is expertise simply a form of institutional power? In the light of Jeremy Corbyn’s shock elevation to the Labour leadership, September saw political heavyweight Norman Lamont challenge the role of the expert in contemporary society. Similarly, in March, writer, broadcaster and former Conservative MP, Matthew Parris, argued that the “rule of experts might be considered a threat to democracy”.
2015's most-read on IAI News
1. Searle vs Lawson, After the End of Truth
2. Nancy Cartwright, Unnatural Laws
3. Atkins vs Midgley, The Limits of Science
4. Norman Lamont, A Dangerous Dependency
5. Mark Salter, Psychiatry After Postmodernism
6. Matthew Parris, Expert Lies