Dialectician Socrates and Post-truth Web

In a post-truth world ‘maybe’ gives me a semblance of peace. I’m not an adherent of truth per se. I just want something dependable.

‘Post-truth’, almost an era vis-à-vis information broadcast media derives its conception from literature much like ‘post-colonial,’ an era ushered in by the collapse of the British Empire, or ‘post-modern,’ an era ushered in by the explosion of information and broadcast technology wherein older modes and methods were employed and theories, in general, were distrusted. Are we really living in a post-truth world? Was there really an era of truth in the world?Truth costs a lot, sometimes life. What is the use of it? Nobody wants to buy it, but everybody wants to acquire it. Socrates (469–438 B.C.), in a quest for truth set about the Agora in Athens with his classical method of dialectical enquiry, wherein he would ask the other party engaged in conversation to first define the terms on which they would set out to engage in conversation or debate, depending upon the issue and the mores and mood of the people. The fault in conception of the arguments would become almost instantly apparent to the prejudiced or uneducated lot. Then, Socrates would help them understand how misconceived their arguments were. For the intelligentsia of Athens, Socrates was unforgiving. First, a definition, then flocking the entire debate to an absurd inference, Socrates would ‘deliver truth as a midwife delivers a baby’ as he himself proclaimed. This is known as ‘Reductio ad Absurdum’. This ferocity in delivering truth earned him fame, and as time went by the veracity of dialectical method made him a compulsive conversationalist and a sensational debater. He would roam about streets and ask pointed questions to people of high order to turn their attention to the fact that what they knew or what they thought they knew was not a mark of knowledge but rather a sign of ignorance. People when made aware of their ignorance would, in frustration, utter ,“Socrates knows it all!” Socrates, driving the audience to even worse states of despair would proclaim, “The only thing I know is I know nothing.” Such was the rigour of his method wherein the dialectician set about his task by first defining his terminology and then went about probing implicit assumptions and revealing inadequacies, ignorance, and downright falsities.Perhaps, rhetolological fallacies were pointed and defined using Reductio ad Absurdum and dialectics. Else, there were no tools as incisive to point out such nuanced flaws in reasoning and persuasion. Dialectics and Rhetorics are polar opposites. Aristotle, with a view to offer a comprehensive method, went so far as to say they both complement each other and thus reconciled the tussle between dialecticians and rhetoricians.The present set of values that drive political discourse is based on a highly virulent strain of populism. All rhetolological fallacies, appeals to logos, ethos be kept aside, politicians particularly those belonging to the far-right, and alt-right subscribe to brute appeals to pathos. They evoke raw emotions to their cause. Thus, this era of post-truth politics and philosophy demands giant, whimsical synthetic leaps of propositions and inferences which although unsound and invalid in the strictest logical sense will win you elections what with the global tide of right-wing nationalism sweeping poll results in the US, Europe, and Asia. The lackadaisical and callous attitude towards fact-checking is due to their being an overabundance of information. Data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning are going so far as to change the paradigm in which statistical inferences were made. Social media running on artificially intelligent algorithms disseminate fake news. These disseminations amount to some politicians using them as loophole or alibi termed as ‘alt-facts.’ There is no tried and tested measure to test alt-facts. Some investigative journalists go only so far to test viral videos by doing background checks on the makers and by corroborating facts based on pre-existing facts and present effects. The question arises then when humanity is growing over the past paradigms of knowledge, what will define the epistemology of present and future? Apparently, the industry runs on the Machiavellian paradigm, “The end defines the means.” Truth, as a result, is no more objective, but a manufactured reality.

-Dr. Prathamesh Seth

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