Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Has truthiness come to French philosophy?

The Times reports that

When France’s most dashing philosopher took aim at Immanuel Kant in his latest book, calling him “raving mad” and a “fake”, his observations were greeted with the usual adulation. To support his attack, Bernard-Henri Lévy — a showman-penseur known simply by his initials, BHL — cited the little-known 20th-century thinker Jean-Baptiste Botul.

There was one problem: Botul was invented by a journalist in 1999 as an elaborate joke, and BHL has become the laughing stock of the Left Bank….

Mr Lévy admitted last night that he had been fooled by Botul, the creation of a literary journalist, Frédéric Pages, but he was not exactly contrite.

Appearing on Canal+ television, he said he had always admired The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant and that its arguments were solid, whether written by Botul or Pages. “I salute the artist [Pages],” he said, adding with a philosophical flourish: “Hats off for this invented-but-more-real-than-real Kant, whose portrait, whether signed Botul, Pages or John Smith, seems to be in harmony with my idea of a Kant who was tormented by demons that were less theoretical than it seemed.”

Granted I haven’t had any coffee this morning, but it sounds like Lévy’s argument is, “Yes the work I cite is fiction, but it says what I think, so I’ll continue to reference it.” Which sounds rather like an appeal to truthiness: it’s not true, but it kind of looks true, and confirms my own beliefs, so I’m going to find it convincing.

[To the tune of They Might Be Giants, “Lazyhead and Sleepybones,” from the album No! (a 3-star song, imo).]

1 Comment

  1. Really funny! One can wonder how a philosopher can survive such a blow… but, OK… He is French!

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