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Academic warns of fake news threat

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Fake news threat, Notre Dame University’s Prof John Ozolins
Notre Dame University’s Prof John Ozolins says truth is becoming an optional extra in our society. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Hope lies in the Catholic intellectual tradition, says professor

Truth has been eclipsed by personal opinion and fake news to the point that people are losing the ability to discern if they are being swayed by emotional arguments or outright manipulation, an Australian academic has said.

Prof John Ozolinš of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle, said that truth has become an optional extra and this is crippling important public debates.

Speaking at the Truth, Lies, Fake News and Moral Education conference hosted by Notre Dame University Australia’s Sydney campus last week, Prof Ozolinš said that the rise of post-modernity and post-structuralism has resulted in an increasingly sceptical stance about the possibility of truth.

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Filipinos walk past a newspaper stand in Manila, Philippines. PHOTO: CNS/Mark R. Cristino, EPA

“The idea of ‘fake news’, the manipulation of public opinion through social media, the blatant misuse of data in order to deny, obscure and mislead the use of marketing to persuade and the abuse of democracy to impose particular allegedly politically correct ideas are all only possible if there are no clear standards of truth to which all persons are held accountable,” he said.

The international conference for the World Conference of Catholic University Institutions of Philosophy featured a top line up of speakers including Professor Peter Roberts from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and Emeritus Professor Alfredo Co from the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

Speakers addressed different ways in which the concept of truth can be revived in the areas of philosophy, education, media and theology. Speaking to The Catholic Weekly, Prof Ozolinš, who organised the conference, said it was troubling that truth has become an “optional extra”.

“People are a little bit cavalier about the truth,” he said. “They are no longer concerned whether something is true or not, and we need to educate people in its importance because it has got to the point where it’s a matter of whether you’ve got enough power to make your view the dominant one.”

In his keynote address, Prof Ozolinš argued for a return to a position of philosophical understanding of truth bolstered by a theological one, as shown by St Augustine.
“We can retrieve a much more substantive concept of truth if we draw on the Catholic intellectual tradition,” he said. “Without God in the picture, everything collapses into abstraction”.

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