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Wilful construction of ignorance: A tale of two ontologies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a report

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeliberate ignorance: Choosing not to know
EditorsJ R Lupp
Publisher or commissioning bodyMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press
DateAccepted/In press - 2020

Publication series

NameStrüngmann Forum Reports
PublisherCambridge, MA: MIT Press


From Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to Donald Trump’s record of more than 10 daily false or misleading statements, deception and false claims have been an integral part of political discourse for quite some time. Nonetheless, Trump’s blatant disregard for the truth has given rise to much concern about the dawn of a “post-truth” era. I argue that there are striking differences between the tacit ontologies of truth underlying the WMD deception and Donald Trump’s false claims, respectively. Whereas the WMD campaign contested a single reality, Trump’s false claims often repudiate the very idea of external truths that exist independently of anyone’s opinion. I consider this ontological shift from realism to extreme constructivism to be the most critical aspect of the current “post-truth” malaise. I note that an extreme constructivist “truth” has formed an essential aspect of historical fascism and Nazism, as well as of contemporary populist movements, and that those conceptions are incompatible with liberal-democratic norms of truth-seeking. I conclude by pointing toward potential solutions of the “post-truth” crisis.

Additional information

Author Note: Revision of a contribution to the Ernst Strüngmann Forum on Deliberate Ignorance, 17–22 March 2019, Frankfurt, Germany. Do not cite or circulate without permission. I thank Kent Peacock, James Ladyman, Ralph Hertwig, Gordon Brown, Anastasia Kozyreva, and the participants of the Strüngmann Forum for comments on an earlier draft. Author’s personal web page: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephan Lewandowsky, School of Psychological Science, 12A Priory Road, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TU, U.K. E-mail:

    Structured keywords

  • Memory
  • Cognitive Science

    Research areas

  • Misinformation, agnotology, ontology of truth, populism, fascism, deliberate ignorance



  • Lewandowsky-S

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