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The Post-Truth Era: Fact or Fiction?  

Linda J. Pulliam Some say we are now in the Post-Truth Era. What exactly does that mean and is the claim valid? Trying to pin down truth in a fast-paced, ever-changing world is a tricky enterprise at best. So why pursue it? This class provides provisional answers to these questions by relying on historical, philosophical and cognitive perspectives. We’ll look at ways in which Western societies have sought knowledge and ultimately, truth. These ways include monotheistic religions and revelations from God; human reason and rules of logic; argumentation and debate; scientific observation and experiments; legal standards for evidence and proof; and social science research methods. Next, we’ll look at post-modern theories that challenge the notion of truth and all of the above methods. We’ll consider post-modernist proposals that no difference exists between fact and opinion, that values are relative and subjective, and that “privileging” traditional methods of establishing truth is a political move by one group to maintain their dominance. Finally, we’ll look at what happens when postmodernism, originally a tool of the Left to advance social change, becomes appropriated by the Right. Lectures will be followed by small group exercises and whole group discussions. Week 1. The early beginnings of humans’ quest for knowledge and truth to guide their communities. The contributions of Judaism. Week 2. From the Greeks to collegiate debate teams: using reason to establish truth. Legal reasoning. Week 3. Science and objectivity: using observation and experimentation to test hypotheses and produce evidence. Week 4. Social science methods for generating knowledge about human action: surveys, experiments, ethnography and fieldwork. Week 5. Sociology and the social construction of reality: the beginnings of the postmodernist challenge to the above ways of establishing truth. Week 6. Challenges from deconstructionism in philosophy and English departments: academia turns on itself. Consequences of postmodernism for Western societies and politics. Linda Pulliam earned a PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University and an EdD in Language, Culture and Cognition from the University of Cincinnati before spending 16 years as a university professor and researcher at Cal State San Marcos, Connecticut State and others. Currently, she brings the discussion of social issues to the general public through solo performance, monologues, written commentary, and lecturing at OLLI programs and senior centers.


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