From the Editors

The virtues we need in a post-truth world

Telling the truth requires more than right thinking. It requires being a particular sort of person.

In order to describe a world in which widely available facts seem unable to dent the appeal of attractive falsehoods, political commentators have reached for a new adjective: post-truth. As in: “We live in a post-truth world.” The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary picked post-truth as the 2016 word of the year, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There have always been instances of political propaganda, and of leaders (and publics) adjusting the truth to suit their perceived self-interest. In the 2016 presidential election, however, the blatant disregard of facts reached an unprecedented level. Also new was the capacity of the Internet to accelerate the spread of falsehoods, to cocoon people in communities of misinformation, and to dismantle old hierarchies of credibility.

Truth telling is intertwined with the exercise of other moral virtues.

The specter of a post-truth world calls for a renewed commitment to truth telling as essential to democracy. As the New York Times declared, “Media organizations that report facts without regard for partisanship, and citizens who think for themselves, will need to light the way.”