GOVT E-1058 Ignorance, Lies, Hogwash, and Humbug: On Truth and Knowledge in Democracies


We demand that our politicians tell us the truth and that our government be transparent. We expect policymakers to be knowledgeable and the public to be educated. We anticipate disagreements and depend on experts to inform our decisions. But are these demands, expectations, anticipations, and dependencies reasonable? What is the value of truth and knowledge in democracies? This course subjects various problems and policies in the political arena to rigorous philosophical scrutiny, with the goal of discovering the deeper principles and complications underlying them. What is the moral standing of various pathologies of public speech, such as lying, truthiness, spin, and humbug? Does free speech in the public sphere promote the acquisition of the truth? What intellectual and moral duties do we have when engaging in public disagreement? What is a transparent government, and do we have a right to it? What role should expert testimony, especially testimony from the hard and soft sciences, play when informing policy decisions? What are the differences between group knowledge and individual knowledge, and what is the importance of the difference for policymaking? What is willful ignorance, especially as it relates to racism and sexism, and what is the remedy?