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Ana Marta González, Professor at department de Philosophy

Philosophy against the dominance of the trivial

Thu, 21 Nov 2019 10:25:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper, Diario Montañés, Las Provincias, Heraldo de Aragón

Those who oppose life and reason tend to forget that, far from being an inert School , reason has interests, and that it is precisely the interests of reason that lend human life its most characteristic dimension and relief. Kant concentrated the interests of reason around three fundamental questions: What can I know, what must I do, what can I hope for, and he considered that they could all be summed up in a fourth question: What is man? Although these questions ultimately concern every man, delving into them in a rigorous and consistent way is the proper thing to do in that activity we call Philosophy. 

That even in a pragmatic and short-sighted civilization such as ours, Philosophy still occupies a place in the Education can be considered, at worst, an inertia of the educational systems; at best, a conscious commitment to the only exercise of reason that can truly confront the "domain of the trivial" that today characterizes public opinion, where the most inconsequential issues coexist and replace, with the greatest speed, others that perhaps deserve more careful consideration, more rigorous and pondered reflection. 

Distinguishing the important from the unimportant is for many the task of a lifetime. The survival of the Philosophy, beyond the orientation that each particular philosopher gives to his reflections, is in itself a reminder, particularly necessary today, that human life cannot be considered a simple function of survival; an indication that reason is not satisfied with vain dialectical exercises, at the service of interests other than truth.

The degree scroll of this article, designed to commemorate the "Day of the Philosophy", partially evokes that of a book recently published by my colleagues Lourdes Flamarique and Claudia Carbonell, La posverdad, o el dominio de lo trivial, in which, taking its cue from the discussion on post-truth, which surfaced with virulence almost three years ago, the question of truth is openly raised, which is, in final, the great interest of the Philosophy.

Naturally, there are truths and truths. The philosopher, the scientist, the artist... each one pursues the specific truth of his field... just as we all pursue, with greater or lesser success, that truth that Aristotle once designated as "truth internship", the truth of action and ultimately the truth of life. However, the truths whose absence unleashed the alarm of broad sectors of society and the media, to the point of turning the term "post-truth" into a talking shop topic for the "whopping" of several months, are factual truths: precisely those that, wrapped in a more or less persuasive rhetoric, have relevance for political life: Did or did not such a thing happen? Did or did not the candidate tell the truth? Was he wrong or did he deliberately lie? 

In this context, what the term "post-truth" was intended to highlight is precisely the frightening nature of a cultural state marked by an apparent disregard for the truth: Does it really matter what he said? Does it not matter more how he said it? Undoubtedly, as Aristotle already pointed out in his Rhetoric, for an effective speech not only the argument is enough, but also the ability to reach the audience, the appearance of integrity... The problem arises when the attention is directed almost exclusively to these last two aspects, to extremes that border on the ridiculous, and in between the truth is sacrificed. Because, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in her famous essay on "Truth and Lies in Politics", this is lethal for the credibility of the system. 

Populisms are a deeply emotional reaction to the aseptic speech of a politically correct technocracy. Both sacrifice the truth in different ways and both end up resorting to similar rhetorical strategies to gain a place on the stage. To form a critical citizenry, capable of subtracting itself from the emotional dialectic and the superficiality of an empty speech requires more than rhetoric: it requires that class of freedom that only opens its way through a disciplined exercise of love for the truth. That, if nothing else, is what Philosophy is all about.