Which topics make the search for truth politically incorrect?

Philosopher Sophie Loidolt: "Facts are reformulated into opinions"

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What happens to the truth in times of omnipresent fake news allegations, filter bubbles and alternative facts, which are not only dealt with in the White House? When the line between objective information and subjective opinion is becoming increasingly blurred? In any case, it is a political and social challenge that has the highest relevance in the context of education. The lecture series "Fachdidaktik controvers" - organized in cooperation by philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann and STANDARD - is therefore dedicated to the question "Fake News - Education and Truth in the Media Society". At the beginning, philosopher Sophie Loidolt will speak on Wednesday, March 20 (5 pm, NIG, lecture hall 3D, Universit├Ątsstra├če 7) on the subject of "Judging 2.0. With Arendt on the conditions of judgment in a culture of digitality".

DEFAULT: If US President Donald Trump has changed something in everyday discourse, it is probably that he made the word "fake news" suitable for the masses. He would have liked to have invented it, but there is evidence that he did not, because it was documented in American newspapers as early as 1890. Why now this boom, this battle term?

Loidolt: Yes, fake news is not a new phenomenon. This has been around since there was news that someone wanted to manipulate news. It is surprising and unsettling that we used to associate this with totalitarian states and dictatorships and that in our western democracies we considered the free press to be a high value. What is happening now is the dismantling of this pillar of democracy, which is fundamentally under attack. It also has something to do with the internet. One of the most dangerous things is starting to ruthlessly transform facts into opinions. The really bad thing is not lying per se, but the constant questioning and trivializing of the difference between truth and lies. It's all an opinion, isn't it?

DEFAULT: What are the consequences?

Loidolt: It simply means: Yes, well, your opinion is that there were a thousand people, my opinion is that there were 2500. As if one had no means at all to determine things objectively. This causes an erosion of the concepts of fact and opinion. This is really dangerous because it gives the general impression, well, you can't really say what's right or wrong anyway.

DEFAULT:What is the opposite of truth? The lie? Or, one gets the impression from time to time, is it the "opinion" that affects the truth the most?

Loidolt: From a logical perspective, the opposite of truth is falsehood. Two plus two is four, that's true. Two plus two is five is wrong. But we have to distinguish between rational truths and factual truths. Also a factual truth - what happened in this place yesterday at 4:47 p.m.? - you can describe it in different ways, but you can't just say anything. Lying - we can learn that from Hannah Arendt - is a certain type of action, including political action. When I lie, I consciously want to eradicate a factual truth. If I say to a truth of reason: two plus two is five, then I run more of a risk of making a fool of myself than with a truth of fact that is much more fragile. Because when many say that it didn't happen at all, I didn't see it, I wasn't there at all, that was different, then we become unsure because we have no evidence. In this respect, the lie is not simply the neutral opposite of the truth, but a very specific action-oriented attack on the world as a factual state - and of course a political argument with not very fair means, but that's politics sometimes.

DEFAULT: Hannah Arendt writes in "Truth and Politics": "To blur the dividing line between facts and opinions is one of the forms of lying." What does that mean for our everyday life, politics, democracy? How can we reattach this dividing line?

Loidolt: If we look at Donald Trump, we see: The constant uncertainty that there is actually no longer any source of truth, nothing that we can supposedly rely on, has become a very explicit concern for everyday life. Keyword filter bubble or echo chambers. Yes, you used to sit at your regulars' table and surround yourself with people who had similar opinions to yourself. In the past, we weren't constantly confronted with different opinions either, we were looking for homogeneous environments. But it is an increase if I can now have my own news feed put together without control over how the algorithms preselect and only consume that. If I only get filtered out what corresponds to my view, then that too unsettles the view of the world. How is it really? This uncertainty caused by the huge range of information is the point where the question of judgment and education comes up. How can young people in particular keep an overview here? What can we do?

DEFAULT: What can we do?

Loidolt: It is important that we take care not to mix factual statements and opinions in everyday practice, even in the smallest, even private, conversations. It's not that easy at all, you have to practice that too. To say it is so and so, and I relate to it in such and such a way. This is also very helpful when you want to include other perspectives. Otherwise the conflict arises immediately: we don't even live in the same world. We can't even come to terms with what happened in the first place. That divides us a lot more than if I say: Okay, that happened, but I really see it differently. That doesn't mean that harmony then breaks out, but agreeing on at least one common ground to refer to is a much stronger link.

DEFAULT: How do our experiences in a digital culture change our ability to judge, judge what politicians say, what is in the media or what someone in our digital bubble says? Was it easier to judge or judge whether something is true or false, because it used to be automatically easier? Or wasn't it always a question of education?

Loidolt: Yes. In general, the following applies: Many problems that are now becoming acute in the digital world have either not fallen from the sky or are completely new. We just have to deal with them under different parameters, such as an incredibly expanded communication space. But even 250 years ago, the ability to make judgments had something to do with practice and education. If I judge whether something is true or false, then according to Immanuel Kant that is a determining judgment. To do this, I can visualize the facts and try to see whether something is actually the case. The other form of judgment, which Hannah Arendt is particularly interested in, appears in Kant in aesthetics: the reflective judgment, for example about works of art. The exciting thing is that there is no single judgment as to whether something is beautiful or not. The aesthetic judgment is always a dynamic back and forth between my relation to the thing or the object and the intersubjective communication community. Arendt says a lot in politics is similar to that.

DEFAULT: In which form?

Loidolt: There are many issues where it is not so easy to decide whether it is morally good or bad. For example classic discussions about abortion or euthanasia. There are various aspects that can be weighed up, but no clear-cut judgments. I take a position with my judgment and say: Okay, I am for it, because I see it this way and that, but, and this is the most important point, I cannot say that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Politics can deform truth with lies, but when politics says I have the only truth and the others are all wrong, then we are far from the principle of reflective judgment. A fact can be true or false, but the opinion is not just true or false, it can be different. That is then judging.

DEFAULT: In the wake of the fake news debate, science has also found itself in a legitimation crisis. What can or must it do to counter the erosion of the truth or the concept of it? When suddenly politicians say, yes, there is this and the study on climate change, but you can believe it or not ...

Loidolt: Climate change is the big issue on which this front crystallizes. The natural sciences are not used to suddenly being drawn into the realm of opinion. Philosophy is more used to that. Ultimately, natural science usually had the advantage that technical applications were on its side, and so did the pragmatic argument. Now the natural sciences are in a position where they, quite rightly, want political action to be taken, and are clashing hard with politics. Just like Galileo Galilei, who made claims that the Catholic Church did not agree with. Here, too, it was said: wrong, heretic, not true. I'm not worried about science. A completely different question is whether humanity will be able to react globally to the phenomenon of climate change. I'm not really optimistic about that. Now it is very clear that if we really want to act politically, then we are not guided by the rationality of the natural sciences. But much more problematic than a political argument about it is the infiltration of the sciences by economics in all areas. That universities are turned into companies that are run according to an economic logic. Here I see, at least with us, much more likely that the search for truth in science will be undermined from within. (Lisa Nimmervoll, March 19, 2019)