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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 21, 2020

“The Earth Is Flat!” The Literary Complexity of Truth, Lies and Fake Knowledge

Svend Erik Larsen
From the journal Pólemos


Truth is never self-evident or based on ocular proof alone. It has to be based on an argument and, thus, to be shaped for communication, which makes knowledge with a truth-claim a social phenomenon that can only be obtained through a complex mediation of theoretical preconditions, research technology, interdisciplinary collaboration and significant financial investments. Moreover, it is always disseminated in a politically charged context through complex media platforms, today ranging from journals and monographs to social media. The contemporary debate on truth-claims, and thus on ontology and epistemology, often lacks historical perspective beyond its contemporaneity nurtured by the debates about fake news. Yet, the awareness of the lies and fake knowledge this modern complexity may release was clear already in the emerging modern entanglement of science and culture during the Enlightenment, before electronic media. A reading of the comedy “Erasmus Montanus” (1731) by Ludvig Holberg serves as a case in point.

Published Online: 2020-04-21
Published in Print: 2020-04-28

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