Summary of The Constitution of Knowledge

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All politicians occasionally bend the truth. Brookings Institution fellow Jonathan Rauch argues, however, that United States President Donald Trump has broken with established norms by spreading falsehoods regularly and with a strategic purpose: to undermine the very concept of objective truth. Trump’s behavior, Rauch claims, is symptomatic of a larger trend. In recent years, internet propagandists have chipped away at a long-held, informal social consensus on how to derive facts – a process he refers to as the “constitution of knowledge.” getAbstract recommends this article to those concerned with the rise of disinformation in America.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How Western societies form a consensus on truth, and
  • How online disinformation campaigns are disrupting this process. 
 

About the Author

Jonathan Rauch is an author and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. 

 

Summary

During the Age of Enlightenment Western societies developed a mechanism to identify truth modeled on the scientific method. The first pillar of this “constitution of knowledge” is freedom of speech, which allows anyone to state a hypothesis. Experts then evaluate the hypothesis’s validity. Society as a whole accepts knowledge derived by this method as official. There is no central intellectual arbiter, but rather, a wide network of institutions, professional bodies and peer-reviewed journals that keep adding to people’s understanding of reality. Only the most persuasive theories prevail in this marketplace of persuasion.


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