On May 28, 2021, the seventh lecture in the Academic Frontier series was held online. The lecturer was Futoshi Hoshino (星野太), an associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, specializing in aesthetics and studies of culture and representation.
At the beginning of the lecture, responding to the overall theme of this year’s Academic Frontier series, “Looking Ahead Thirty Years: The Liberal Arts in the World,” Hoshino asked: How do we inherit what happened thirty years ago in thirty years’ time? The theme of his lecture was the “death of truth,” exploring the critical theory suitable for the twenty-first century. By reconsidering twentieth-century French philosophy, which has been criticized for paving the way for post-truth, he gave us an opportunity to think about the state of scholarship thirty years from now.
What is Post-Truth?
In the first half of the lecture, Hoshino explained the meaning of post-truth, a concept prevalent since around 2016, following the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. Post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” According to Hoshino, post-truth emerged from attacks on science, cognitive bias, the decline of traditional media and the rise of social media, and the influence of postmodernism. The latter is blamed for ushering in post-truth because of its relativist way of thinking. Critics have insisted that its relativism can be used in right-wing discourse.
Is Twentieth-Century French Philosophy to Blame?
In the second half of the lecture, the discussion moved on to whether or not the above claim is valid: that postmodernism caused post-truth. Hoshino insisted that the criticisms of twentieth-century French philosophy are based on the popular image of postmodernism as “French theory” mutated in the United States, rather than on the original discourses of 20th-century French thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard. As such, Hoshino concluded that the criticism that twentieth-century French philosophy caused post-truth is ungrounded.
In the question-and-answer session, lecturer and students discussed some essential topics related to the question of “What is truth?” and the relationship between scholarship and ideology.
Reported by Moeka Ishii (EAA Research Assistant)