Skip to Content

Certainty and Uncertainty, Fascism and Conspiracy Theory

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Gabriel Horowitz

Contact the Seminar Organizers

In recent decades questions of certainty and uncertainty have taken on the epochal character of potentially defining an era. The postmodern turn of the 1980s was defined in part by the growing preeminence of the simulacrum, a displacement of the original by the copy that implies an overturning of causality and “truth” as they have traditionally been defined. In recent years a feeling of uncertainty has come to define contemporary political discourse in particular, with an increase in claims that the news is fake, widespread belief in conspiracy theories, and a proliferation of online disinformation campaigns. Technology including the internet and artificial intelligence have made it more difficult for people to discern what is genuine and what is not. 
The possibility that uncertainty defines our era raises questions about its relationship to the certainty and uncertainty taken by Rene Descartes as a key framework for the acquisition of knowledge at the outset of modernity. Descartes’ wish for epistemological certainty—related to a desire for proof of God’s existence—ultimately and ironically strengthened profound uncertainties about the distant past previously explained by religious discourse. The kind of certainty secured by a scientific method, which phenomenologists understand to be strongly linked to Cartesian thought, comes at the cost of modern exile –a feeling of uprootedness associated with the secularization of knowledge. Romanticism, fascism, and other nationalistic-reactionary hearkenings to an idealized past come into existence through their desire for, and pursuit of certainty amid the advent of a secular doubt associated with Descartes, a need to recuperate lost identity, imminent subjectivity, and community. 

Is there a relation between uncertainty today and Cartesian doubt? If so, is contemporary uncertainty in fact epochal? Can contemporary political phenomena be better understood by investigating 19th and 20th century reactions to uncertainty? If so, how?  If not, why?
This seminar proposes to explore these and other questions through examinations of the philosophical and cultural production during and between these times to make sense of the ongoing importance of a historical dialectic between certainty and uncertainty. 
Possible topics of discussion:
Fascism, Descartes, and the desire for certainty
Conspiracy theory
The aesthetics of uncertainty 
The limits of subjectivity
Anxiety and uncertainty
Colonialism and uncertainty

«Back To Seminars