Skip to main content

Relevant Realism - Truth, Power, and Action for 21st Century Societies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RELEVANT REALISM (Relevant Realism - Truth, Power, and Action for 21st Century Societies)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Have postmodernism and poststructuralism paved the way for “alternative facts” by weakening our truth-concepts? This has been sustained by many. However, a naïve insistence on and return to “hard facts” seems not suitable as this endangers some of the major political successes of postmodern and poststructuralist theories which lie in seeing a value in and in taking account of the constant complexification of cultures and ways of living. This is especially pressing in a culturally diversified space like Europe. Therefore, the question arises: Do we really need hard-boiled truth and realism to counter fake-news? While there are many sides to this question, RELEVANT REALISM intends to address the semantic part and takes the current debate as an opportunity to reflect anew on how our words latch on to reality, what the concepts of reality and realism exactly consist in, and what we should think they consist in. Do our words relate to the world or only to other words?
The overall objective of RELEVANT REALISM is to develop a way out of the current theory-crisis by providing conceptualizations of truth and realism which avoid both the current realist-backlash and the postmodern relativist trap. The project is collocated at the border between analytic philosophy of language and action and poststructuralist political theory. The two main objectives of the project are a) to interprete, elaborate, and further develop positions regarding objectivity which work beyond the realism-antirealism divide and b) to evaluate the political implications of this new conception.
The main achievement of the research consists in drawing on an existing debate in philosophy of language between Rorty, Brandom, and Ramberg to formulate the concept “relevant realism”. The content of the concept can be summarized thus: a) there is no truth without reliance on the outer-world, but, equally, b) there is no politically relevant truth without peers and power mechanisms. A) justifies the use of the term “realism”, b) justifies the use of the term “relevant”. If language is a tool we use to communicate with other people then we need to take account of their agendas and the norms of the discursive realm we are communicating in and contributing to. At the same time, communication takes place in our common causal environment which inescapably impacts our ways of coordinating our actions by linguistic means. RELEVANT REALISM accounts for both sides by entrenching insights from analytic and continental philosophy.
RELEVANT REALISM was hosted by the Department of Arts at the University of Bologna and during a secondment period at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Arts and Ideas at the University of Oslo.
The project engaged in a detailed assessment of a debate in philosophy of language between Rorty, Brandom, and Ramberg which centered around the use of certain objective notions. The research solved a puzzle that pervaded research on the topic so far by spelling out for the first time differences between the various notions championed by Brandom, Ramberg, and Rorty. The project systematically built on Ramberg’s and Rorty’s notions to develop the concept “relevant realism” by including insight on power mechanisms from poststructuralism.
Further, the research developed concrete proposals for how to deal with the post-truth-plight. Therefore, the project differentiated its own take with other pertinent approaches, e.g. Michael Hampe’s call for a Third Enlightenment.
The results of the action have been disseminated in academic circles through the organization of workshops, presentations at conferences and seminars, and select publications. Primary exploitation of the action covered the field of political activism and journalism through the organization of a public roundtable which connected the topic and results of the project with the concrete agendas of political activists and media-decision-makers, especially in light of the new challenges posed by Covid-19 and the potential changes the virus has added to how we perceive and deal with reality (https://magazine.unibo.it/calendario/2021/07/04/dove-finito-il-discorso-sulle-fake-news?d=2021-07-04). Further dissemination of the results to different target audiences was provided by the teaching of a panel on linguistic agency during the Summerschool of the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory in Bologna (https://aghct.org/huetter) and by writing for the Pop-philosophy journal Hohe Luft (5/2020) in Germany.

Main scientific events organized by the project:

Workshop: Truth versus the Rhetoric of Truth: Authority, Realism, and Power (June 27-29, 2019, https://www.hf.uio.no/ifikk/english/research/news-and-events/events/conferences/2019/truth-versus-the-rhetoric-of-truth-authority-reali.html)

Workshop: Conceptual Engineering and Pragmatism (July 8-9, 2021, https://conceptualengineeringpragmatism.yolasite.com/)

Main publications (open-access):

2020a: Two Forms of Realism – Making Sense of Rorty’s Controversy with Brandom and Ramberg over Objectivity. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, XII-1, 2020, DOI: 10.4000/ejpap.1868
This article covers the analytic aspects of the project.

2020b: Rationalität und Solidarität – intensive Existenzen in möglichen Sehnsuchtsräumen. In: European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, XII-2, 2020, DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejpap.2167.
This article addresses first concrete political implications.
Elucidating the ineffectiveness of “unchangeable facts” in the fight against authoritarianism, and offering a new, adapted concept of truth and realism, the project offers new perspectives on the entanglement of truth, power, and political communication. The project is of utmost interest for EU-Citizens because it offers first concrete solutions for fostering meaningful debates and strengthening democratic values and practices.
Innovative and original aspect of the project include the following points: RELEVANT REALISM challenges and disrupts dominant readings of postmodern truth-concepts by reconstructing Rorty’s position vis-a-vis Brandom’s and Ramberg’s objective notions. Therewith, the research makes an important contribution to the scholarship on Rorty, in particular on a point which to date has been cryptic to many, and supports a radical rethinking of the realism-antirealism-debate. The project offers insights into how to overcome the realism-antirealism-dichotomy by advancing the position of RELEVANT REALISM. The research facilitates the understanding of the importance, function, and functionality of truth in language and politics without losing sight of the power-mechanisms inherent in every truth-claim. Therewith, the project takes account of the shortcomings of postmodernist concepts without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Examining the possibilities of theory-fusions and fertile cross-theory influences, between positions in analytic philosophy of language and action and poststructuralist theory, RELEVANT REALISM offers stimuli for theory after Postmodernism and Poststructuralism. The research directly contributes to igniting theory-discussion beyond the common Foucault-Derrida-Deleuzian master-narratives, which have dominated in continental theory since the 1980s and have reached the limits of their applicability. The project enriches the debate by entrenching continental and analytic positions.
next stop reality