Handout

Knowledge of Truth, i.e. Knowledge of Bullshit

How can knowledge be transformed into truth or bullshit – and does this matter?

Maud Gittens

This presentation uses a court case in order to explore how people attempt to perform and discern the truth from bullshit. The decision to use a discipline none of us are familiar with has enabled it to be a truly collaborative project – with each person bringing a different angle to the discussion and overcoming the segmentation of our usual studies as ‘discrete bricks’[1]. We are using the mediums of the court, the press and theatre, taking the preconceptions about these and turning them on their head. While we normally assume theatre to be false, the press to be (mostly) true and court cases to discover the truth – in this instance we have reversed this.

 Joseph McCarron-Shipman

 ‘It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.’[2]

 Francesca Nardone

 Locke says that in order to form a clear notion of truth, ‘it is very necessary to consider truth of thought, and truth of words’[3]. Is a judge expected to assess truth of thought? Truth of thought does not change even when we misrepresent. What counts is our intention to distort when we use the incorrect words to represent the correct ideas we have.

 Melissa Ashcombe

 Diversity and Multiplicity of Knowledge

Zeynep Doganci

 ‘The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.’[4]

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 12.20.52

Map of Innocence Network

 

 

 Cast

 Maud Gittens: Ms. Gold/the presenter

Joseph McCarron-Shipman: Mrs. Tramp (the mother in law)

Francesca Nardone: Ms. Fisher (the secretary)

Melissa Ashcombe: Harriet Frankfurt (the defence lawyer)

Zeynep Doganci: the newscaster/the judge

References:

[1]Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003), 63.

[2] Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit (Princeton University Press: 2005).

[3] Locke, John and Winkler, Kenneth P. Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996), 255.

[4] Innocence Project, 2017. Web. [Accessed: 28 March 2017] https://www.innocenceproject.org/

 

 

Gerald Graff: ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, notes.

In case it’s helpful to anyone, I’ve typed up my notes from the article to give you a snapshot of Graff’s ideas. It also gives you a very ‘Go Liberal Arts!’ feeling.

Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003):

‘In this chapter, I show how the disconnection of the curriculum not only obscures the issues and arguments that give coherence to academia, but compounds the problem by sending students confusingly mixed messages about how academic work is done… To put it another way, academia’s external impenetrability is a result of its internal disconnection’ 62.

Pyramid of knowledge, with subjects as ‘discrete bricks’ when it should be a ‘dynamic conversation’. 63

The Student as Double Agent: How we switch methods and mindsets between classes, not integrating the two at all. 63-4 This does allow you to experiment with different ways of thinking. 64. However, this does not encourage critical thinking, as the two modes of thinking never interact. 65.

The Student as Volleyball: mixed messages, even within a subject – old and new theories that don’t match up. 65-66 college as a series of instructor preferences. 67.

Contradiction and Compartmentalisation: This encourages students to ignore contradictions in their studies, and to assume authors are right out of hand. 68. This leads to a compartmentalisation that prevents students from applying academic ways of thinking i=to their everyday life. 69.

Redundancy Lost: ‘To put my point in the jargon of information theory, a disconnected curriculum tends to be low in redundancy, the reinforcement of convergent messages that enables us to map our environment and gain confidence in our ability to negotiate it.’ 70. ‘With the proliferation of methods and genres there is correspondingly less common ground in terminology’ 71. ‘The multiplication of methods, vocabularies, and -isms combined with the lack of a coherent conversation in which they can be compared and contrasted increases the likelihood of students’ feeling intimidated’ 72.

Who Cares? ‘Curricular disconnection, then, widens a gap between teachers and students’ 73. ‘I argued in chapter 2 that much of the oft-lamented relativism of today’s youth actually stems from the difficulty of imagining a world in which their arguments would make a difference. I would now add that this relativism is reinforced by students’ exposure to clashing course perspectives that never meet. The curriculum sends an implicit message that the institution does not care strongly enough about the intellectual differences between instructors to bother engaging them, so why should students be expected to care, either?’ 73.

Curricular Suburban Sprawl: ‘The American curriculum has evolved in much the same way as the American city: when threatening conflicts have erupted, they have been relieved by adding a new “suburb”—a new course’ rather than rethinking the whole. 74. Ensuring that professors and courses to not have to interact, preventing comparisons and development. 75.

Toward a Comparative Curriculum: need for collaboration in curriculums, share composition courses. Find ways to put courses in conversation. 78. ‘the more connected and focused experience provided by the thematically linked courses results in a higher proportion of students becoming insiders to the intellectual club, identifying with intellectual roles and becoming more independent and motivated. Students are no longer reduced to slavishly conforming to whatever individual instructors “want,” since the authority has been shifted from the individual instructors to the community of instructors and students’ 78-79.

 

Final Analysis

I’ve been going back through the original brief and the marking criteria of the project in order to re-edit my analysis. In light of Simon advising that we be as clear as possible, I’ve decided to expand my section on interdisciplinary and the narrative of our research/project. I have tried to address the challenges of interdisciplinary/team work.

I have particularly drawn on the essay by Gerald Graff that we were set right at the beginning of the course.

Here it is:

This presentation is concerned with the ownership and performance of knowledge. In particular, how this can be truth, false or bullshit.

We decided to base the presentation on the work of Harry Frankfurt, but have also drawn on other theorists and disciplines to expand our ideas. My team mates will go on to talk about how politics, philosophy and history in particular have contributed to our research.

One of the challenges of interdisciplinarity has been overcoming how our majors and minors are taught as what Gerald Graff calls ‘discrete bricks’ in the pyramid of knowledge and trying to approach the project as a ‘dynamic conversation’ instead. Our way of doing this have been to specifically choose a neutral discipline – theatre – in order to project each of our disciplines onto it as a blank canvas. The decision to put on a play was decided collaboratively, as we found the amount of meaning you can load into what was unsaid as well as spoken can make the most of the short performance.

Different mediums can be used to relay knowledge. With a courtroom, the press and theatre being explored here. Using many different mediums to relay knowledge is itself problematic, making it easier to twist or blur knowledge. This is in part because these mediums are each already loaded with preconceptions that structure how we interact with them. We assume that theatre will give us false information, while the press can be (mostly) believed, even in an era of ‘fake news’. Moreover, a court aims to discern the truth, with significant consequences.

We have turned this on its head, attempting to get at and establish the truth through theatre, whilst highlighting the falsity of the press and exposing the problems with attempting to establish the truth in the courtroom.

 

Graff, Gerald, ‘The mixed-message curriculum’, in Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind (New Haven, Yale: 2003):

My edited final analysis

I will be talking about Locke’s notion on truth. Locke insinuates that truth of thought and truth of words can merge into one category, that is the verbal proposition, when he says that mental propositions are “stripped of names” and “lose the[ir] nature […] as soon as they are put into words.”  Therefore, how is a judge supposed to choose the winning side of the case when their job is to determine what is true from what is false?  How are they to judge truth of thought in a person and is this even possible?  According to Locke, words are “signs” which represent our ideas and truth of words consists “in the putting together, or separating those signs, according as the things, which they stand for, agree or disagree.”  In other terms, allocating the right words to the thoughts we have.  But truth of thought, he says, as I put in my own words, is the action of us consciously ordering our ideas.  We are not talking about a skill, but a value.  This truth-value is the invisible relation between a thinker and their thoughts, and I am inclined to say that it exists at all times, even when we intend to misrepresent, as the mother-in-law does.  She claimed that Mrs Tramp ignored her and did not go to their tea time sessions, but just because we know, as the lawyer pointed out, that she was not ignoring her, it does not mean that she was not truthful in her thinking.  She was actually conscious of her own malicious set-up.  Her knowledge of the truth stayed the same, what changed is her intention to distort when she used the word ignore to represent Mrs Tramp’s busy lifestyle.  As philosopher Harry Frankfurt says, “I […] think that when bullshit is pretentious, this happens because pretentiousness is its motive rather than a constitutive element of its essence.”  So, in conclusion, truth of thought is a necessary part of the process of misrepresentation, but not an agent on which one can put blame.

Summary of meeting 24/03/17

Today we had a full run through of our play and together decided that we might need the following improvements:

– the newscaster to actually take the role of becoming a judge and wearing a wig when the court case starts

-introducing court calls before our court case starts and perhaps having a gavel

-introducing the roles of the witnesses either together before the first witness speaks or before each witness speaks

-potentially having more evidential material of the witnesses statement’s in our analyses so we make a clearer connection between our disciplines and the court case

– fully introducing Harry Frankfurt as a Princeton university professor and philosopher somewhere

-more jargon in the statements

-having more of a dialogic interaction between the lawyer and the witnesses.  The lawyer would address the witnesses as “you” rather than “he” or “she” and pose rhetorical questions to them.

-last and certainly not least we will need a sentence to generate doubt after the news flash towards the end (we are not going to say what we are trying to create doubt over as we are saving this for the official presentation) and we could all gasp.

We must also not forget to have the tune to the BBC news play!

Analysis

None of our witnesses have lied. Frankfurt defines a liar as someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. For a statement to be deliberately false the individual must have knowledge of the truth. Therefore as the witnesses did not know the truth they were instead trying to convince others of what they believed to be the truth ergo they were Bullshitting.

The Bullshitter’s objective is to sell their own version of the truth, they may or may not tell the truth in their statement but it is of little regard to them. Frankfurt outlines the three methods as to how one may bullshit: to misrepresent, the mother-in-law; to obfuscate, the accountant; and to omit, the secretary.

Society sees lying as the most grievous form of deception, however Frankfurt argues that it is bullshit which is far more damaging. For the reason that the liar has some respect for the truth, because they deliberately try to present an alternative, however when one bullshits there is no respect for the truth whatsoever.

So what does this mean for politics and political economy? According to Frankfurt, social interactions rely on trust, they can only function if there is a reasonable degree of confidence that others in the society are reliable. The disregard for the truth by politicians has led to a mistrust of established sources of power and information, therefore it takes for an individual to sell their idea which opposes the untrusted status quo to win an election.

Twelve Angry Men and theatre staging

When I was nineteen, my parents took me to see a production of Twelve Angry Men at the Theatre Royal in Bath. I was familiar with the story and so although plot was still interesting, it was something else that gripped me. The staging of the play had all twelve jurors sat around a rectangle table in the middle of the room (reminiscent of the film). What was unique was that the table itself was imperceptibly turning around – so slowly that I only registered it at the intermission. This ended up being the most exciting feature of the play for me – as the table literally turned as the plot did.

It is fitting, therefore, that when producing my own courtroom drama that some of this stagecraft be integrated. The two more unique aspects of our performance are the Newscaster and the Narrator (a Lemony Snicket type character). Both of these characters are supposed to be both within and without the story, and so their place on the stage reflects this.

The newscaster sits at the back of the room – potentially partially covered by the projector’s image and indicating her presence by turning on her lamp. Their position at the back enables them to see the whole play – just as the press is all-seeing. They are also literally standing back from the action, suggesting an emotional detachment and a lack of loyalty.

Our Narrator paces in front of the action, preparing the audience for what is to come. Acting as the bridge between the play an the audience, it is fitting that they should stand between them. This ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and allows the Narrator to come out of the play and have a thought-provoking dialogue between them and the audience.

Finally, at the end of the play we shall all step forward to perform our analysis – signally an end to the drama. This also means that the scene is still visible behind us as a point of reference.

Staging

My First Analysis

In our last meeting, we decided on the order of the analyses.

1. Maud – provide the link between the play and the analysis, centring on mediums.

2. Joe – Explaining how we have used Harry Frankfurt’s ‘On Bullshit’.

3. Fran – Locke’s ideas on truth.

4. Melissa – a historical perspective on sources and points of view.

5. Zeynep – concluding by highlighting the importance of finding the truth.

Here is my analysis and the main theorist I have used.
This presentation is concerned with the ownership and performance of knowledge. In particular, how this can be truth, false or bullshit. For this project, we have specifically chosen a neutral discipline in order to project each of our disciplines onto it as a blank canvas.
Different mediums can be used to relay knowledge, with a courtroom, the press and theatre being explored here.
Two theorists, Keloğlu-İşler and Bayram, have explored how the accessibility of information from different mediums in today’s world has led to the ‘unchecked interaction of the information’, creating ‘‘disinformation’, ‘misinformation’, ‘uncontrolled information’ and ‘manipulated information’.’ Therefore, the use of many different mediums is in itself problematic when trying to relay knowledge.
This is in part because these mediums are each already loaded with preconceptions that structure how we interact with them. We assume that theatre will give us false information, while the press can be (mostly) believed, even in an era of ‘fake news’. Moreover, a court aims to discern the truth, with significant consequences.
We have turned this on its head, attempting to get at and establish the truth through theatre, whilst highlighting the falsity of the press and exposing the problems with attempting to establish the truth in the courtroom.
Esra İlkay Keloğlu-İşler and Özlem Gökkurt Bayram, ‘Commodification of Knowledge Communication Mediums: From Library to Social Media’ Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 147, 25 August 2014, Pages 550-553.
“Thanks to richness of second generation information technologies (Web 2.0), creation and sharing of the information take place at a faster pace and in a much more participative scale. On the other hand, free and unchecked interaction of the information, paved the road for emergence of ‘disinformation’, ‘misinformation’, ‘uncontrolled information’ and ‘manipulated information’.”
“While, on one hand, use of information and knowledge is encouraged, on the other hand, both these phenomena became fully integrated into consumerist culture by transforming into a commodity, which is easily consumed by the society.”