The Power of Truthiness: Thinking and Writing Empirically in a Post-Fact World

Fall 2016
Owen Cantrell
ENGL 1101

In nearly every hour of every day, we are bombarded with arguments and statements meant to persuade us. Whether on television, social media, web sites, or directly from media figures and politicians, persuasive arguments based in “truth” are the coinage of the world we live in. This English 1101 course focuses on the ways in which the “truthiness” of arguments often trumps their verifiable, empirical reality. This epistemological dilemma will be explored in psychological and neuroscientific literature that presents the cognitive make up of our minds as one of the problems to our understanding of complex issues. Additionally, we will discuss the ways in which “truthiness” has infected our social and political discourse, as well as the often dramatic results that come from allegiance to “truthiness” over empirical fact. Topics will include metacognition, anti-intellectualism, political and social issues, and the tradition of anti-rationalism. Class discussions will focus on a mix of evaluation of class readings, application of concepts from class to contemporary debates, and student presentations utilizing “truthiness” as it relates the issues of the day. This course addresses sustainability by pointing out the intellectual and political unsustainability of "truthiness" as a mode of living and as a mode of discourse. Students will learn how to evaluate and create arguments interested in having political and intellectual debate based on creating a better world.

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