After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is ‘post-truth’ – and adjective 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’.
Such is the entry to be found on the Oxford Dictionaries website. Socrates would, no doubt, be turning in his grave if he only knew the extent and triumph of the present doxa (or opinion) over truth or alethia. The latter is revealed through parrhesia, which means ‘speaking freely’, that is, speaking the truth for the common good, even at the risk of jeopardising one’s personal safety. Socrates and Plato were well acquainted with the demagogic speeches of Athenian politicians and Sophists, all bent on pursuing their own selfish interests. It is, after all, because of such a state of affairs that The Republic stands as a scathing indictment of the democratic regime and its constant flow of vain, transient promises traded for reliable facts and sober judgements.
The nightmarish political order, described in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, owes a great part of its success to the imposed use of ‘doublespeak’, a language which distorts and debases the very foundations of human dignity, by celebrating ‘Peace’ when it really means ‘War’ or ‘Love’ when it actually implies ‘Hate’.
In the present world context, Philosophy appears as one of the very few bulwarks against the invasion of a new ‘doublespeak’ spreading like wild fire through uncontrollable social media. Learning how to distinguish fact from fiction and truth from lies is the very first stage of a philosophical education. It is only though the search of impartial truth that natural and political sciences can find universal answers to our understanding of our environment as well as propose solutions to a variety of growing societal issues. Such an endeavour requires courage and tenacity in a public sphere given to bland feel-good messages and lopsided information. Parrhesia or the free search for truth, is our only hope to make sense of a complex, divided world as reason remains our most invaluable tool to debunk sweeping judgements and half-baked opinions.