What to Do with Post-Truth


  • Lorna Finlayson University of Essex




post-truth, speech acts, Trump, brexit, J.L. Austin


Recent political developments have made the notion of 'post-truth' ubiquitous.  Along with associated terms such as 'fake news' and 'alternative facts', it appears with regularity in coverage of and commentary on Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, and the role – relative to these phenomena – of a half-despised, half-feared creature known as 'the public'.  It has become commonplace to assert that we now inhabit, or are entering, a post-truth world. 

 In this paper, I issue a sceptical challenge against the distinctiveness and utility of the notion of post-truth. I argue, first, that the term fails to capture anything that is both real and novel. Moreover, post-truth discourse often has a not-fully-explicit political force and function: to ‘irrationalise’ political disaffection and to signal loyalty to a ‘pre-post-truth’ political status quo. The central insight of the speech act theory of J. L. Austin and others – that saying is always also doing – is as indispensable for understanding the significance of much of what is labelled ‘post-truth’, I’ll argue, as it is for understanding the significance of that very act of labelling.

Keywords: post-truth, speech acts, Trump, brexit, Austin

Author Biography

Lorna Finlayson, University of Essex

Lorna Finlayson teaches philosophy at the University of Essex. She is the author of The Political Is Political (Rowman & Littlefield 2015) and An Introduction to Feminism (CUP 2016).