From False Opinions to “False Facts” and Back Again: A Phenomenological Besinnung on Mindfulness and Mindlessness

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Abstract

This is a time of “false facts.” It was not always so. It used to be generally accepted that there are true opinions and false opinions and that it makes no sense to speak of “true facts” and “false facts.” Yet it has now become common, even normal, to speak of “false facts” and to regard “true facts” and “false facts” as “alternative facts.” This paper examines this problematic development and its philosophical implications. It investigates the conceptual shift from the distinction between true opinions and false opinions to the difference between “false facts” and “true facts.” It indicates that the Classical philosophical approach to the difference between opinion and knowledge was to distinguish between true opinion and false opinion as a first step to distinguishing between true opinion and knowledge. It outlines how a certain contemporary culture has substituted the difference between “false facts” and “true facts” for the distinction between true opinions and false opinions. It argues that evidence is the essential element that distinguishes knowledge from true opinion. To achieve its goals, the paper applies Husserl’s phenomenological method of sense-investigation (Besinnung) to the philosophical problem of “false facts” and “fake news.” Sense-investigation aims at what is genuine, and what is genuine is what is justified by evidence. The point of the paper is that the distinction between true opinion and false opinion is a genuine distinction, whereas the difference between “true facts” and “false facts” is a pseudo-distinction. The factual may have some normative power, but the falsely factual must have no power at all.

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