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Truth is an ethical relation. Facts, whether descriptions of the physical world or of historical events, are necessarily mediated by our frames of reference. This contingency opens a space for disagreement that cannot be adjudicated by an absolute standard of truth. For those seeking power or profit, the temptation to exploit this state of undecidability is strong. When many question the institutions that broker meaning – science, the professions, the media – rumors, misinformation, deliberate distortions and falsehoods all proliferate. In the digital age, the ‘made’ is swiftly supplanted by the made-up. The remedy for this predicament is not technological or factual, but ethical and social. The normative resources for this project lie in our everyday ethic of communication and in the ideal of democracy as shared authority. Whether we can address this predicament effectively is uncertain. But the nature of the problem is clear: It is not that we live in a ‘post-truth’ age, but rather that we are facing a crisis of democratic society as such. It is not so much that we lost sight of truth, as that we have lost sight of one another.


Applied Ethics | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Law | Law and Philosophy | Law and Politics


Copyright @ Steven L. Winter © 2022. Originally published in Philosophy and Social Criticism at, deposited per request of the author.

The author is grateful to Lance Gable, Mark Johnson, Sam Levine, Frank Michelman, Hillel Nadler, Ben Neumann, Jeremy Paul, and David Rasmussen.