Truth versus the Rhetoric of Truth: Authority, Realism, and Power

Truth and authority come as a package—but which of the two is the source of the other? Is truth a source of a special kind of authority? Or is what is true decided by whoever has the power and authority to dominate discourse? In recent years, theorists in the postmodernist and poststructuralist tradition have been accused of paving the way for the post-truth era in public discourse by weakening our conception of truth. Our intent in this workshop is not primarily to assess the rightness or wrongness of accusations made against theory in postmodern and poststructuralist tradition. Rather we are looking for theoretical positions that go beyond the dichotomous view of truth and power. To meet the backlash challenge, we need to acknowledge the constraints of a discourse-independent world while still keeping in view the power-mechanisms that structure truth-claims.


Thursday 27 June

14:00: Coffee, welcome

14:30-15:30: Veronica Tozzi: The Rhetoric Dimension of Truth

16:00-17:00: Tracy Llanera: Pernicious Truths: Pragmatism and Language Games 


Friday 28 June

10:00-11:00: Giacomo Marramao: Towards an Ontology of Contingency

  11:30-12:30: Yvonne Huetter-Almerigi: "Getting Things Right" without Substances or      Essences—On Truth beyond the Scheme-Content Dividision 

12:30-14:00: Lunch (at Georg Sverdrup)

14:00-15:00: Gabriella Bonacchi: Feminist Thought in Italy in the Last Decades

15:30-16:30: Federico Penelas: Post-Truth and Post-Verisimilitude: Strengths and Weaknesses of Conversationalism Facing the Decline of Public Opinion

17:00-18:00: Kristian Bjørkdahl: Back to the Future? What Fifth Century Pre-Truth Can Do for Our Post-Truth Present

19:30: Conference Dinner


Saturday 29 June in GM652

10:00-11:00: Elin Danielsen Huckerby: What Literary Studies Might Teach Us About Public Discourse in a Post-Truth Society

11:30-12:30: Bjørn Torgrim Ramberg: Truth versus the Rhetoric of Truth

12:30-13:00: Closing Session



  • Veronica Tozzi, University of Buenos Aires, Philosophy of History and the Social Sciences
  • Tracy Llanera, University of Connecticut, Philosophy
  • Giacomo Marramao, University Roma Tre, Theoretical and Political Philosophy
  • Yvonne Huetter-Almerigi, LMU Munich, Literary studies
  • Gabriella Bonacchi, Fondazione Basso, Social History
  • Federico Penelas, CONICET, Philosophy of Language
  • Kristian Bjørkdahl, University of Oslo, Rhetoric
  • Elin Danielsen Huckerby, University of Cambridge, Literary studies
  • Bjørn Ramberg, University of Oslo, Philosophy


Truth versus the Rhetoric of Truth: Authority, Realism, and Power

The first shock over Trump’s victory and the political effectiveness of “alternative facts” has passed and the debate around “Post-truth” seems to have lost some of its polemical momentum in academia and the wider public. Yet, the crisis in theory is far from resolved. Theorists in the postmodernist and poststructuralist tradition have been accused of paving the way for blatant lying by weakening our conception of truth. At the same time, a naïve insistence on and return to “objective facts” may endangers some of the major political successes of postmodern and poststructuralist theories, which lie in seeing a value in and in taking account of the constant development of cultures and ways of living.

Our intent in this workshop is not primarily to assess the rightness or wrongness of accusations made against theory in postmodern and poststructuralist tradition (though we think they are often simplistic and misdirected) but to use this moment of crisis to challenge dichotomies which structure the discussion on both sides. Truth and authority come as a package in both camps and it depends on your training and your inclination which of the two you take as the source for the other– whether what is true is decided by who has the power and authority to dominate the discourse, or whether truth is a source of a special kind of authority. Respectively, there is the call for more truth, and the call for more deconstruction of power-mechanisms. We want to go beyond these possibilities, break open the package, and search for genuinely new possibilities that depart from the well-trodden paths of these polemics. Therefore, we intend to individuate approaches that avoid both the current realist backlash and the postmodern relativist trap. We hope to develop theoretical positions that take account of the resistance of the human-independent world, but also of the power-mechanisms that structure every truth-claim. This also seems the perfect moment to finally move past the analytic-continental divide, and we are especially interested in seeking fruitful dialogues between these two traditions.

We start from the assumption that deciding between realism and antirealism, truth and relativism, subjectivity and objectivity, and further alleged counter-positions are not exhaustive of the options for intellectual progress. We intend, therefore, to strive for a fusion of realist, materialist and adjacent perspectives with poststructuralist investigations into power-mechanisms and investigate positions which strengthen the entanglement of description and prescription, of objective truth and political agendas. Our aim is to use the workshops to produce a volume of papers that move past the polarity that now seems to characterize much of the debate regarding Post-truth.

The two pillars of the workshop are theoretical elaborations and the evaluation of the political effectiveness and practical applicability of the respective theories. We assume that the current rise of authoritarianism with its rhetorical strategies speak to the ineffectiveness of current truth-concepts, both in their strong, realist and their weak, poststructuralist and postmodern forms. We believe that it is time for a change of vocabulary, and our workshop strives to be a first investigation in this new semantic territory.

The participants are coming from philosophy, social history, literary studies, and rhetoric and we are interested in strengthening the specialness of each of these disciplinary perspectives. Interdisciplinary exchange and mutual theoretic reinforcement are at the core of the workshop. The unity of the diverse approaches lies in their target to produce genuinely new and useful responses to what we call the backlash challenge. 



Published June 13, 2019 1:20 PM - Last modified June 13, 2019 1:22 PM