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Four-professor panel untangles truth’s parameters in College of Liberal Arts’ ‘Thinking Out Loud’ discussion series

What is truth? What makes something truthful? Is truth an objective reality or part of individual perception? The concept of truth is essential to the functioning of an effective society and one we generally think we understand.

However, anything more than a superficial look shows how complex and convoluted this topic is. In “Thinking Out Loud,” a new discussion series presented by the College of Liberal Arts, faculty from across Norwich University recently confronted truth — one of the most basic and challenging ideas that shape humanity.

When life and liberty are on the line, sorting through facts to identify truth becomes one of the most important functions of a democratic society.

Dr. Mark Boonshoft, an assistant professor of history, Dr. Patricia Ferreira, an English professor, and Dr. Edward Kohn, a history professor and dean of the College of Liberal Arts, participated in the panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Michael Thunberg, an assistant professor of political science. The panelists worked to disentangle and understand the concept of truth through open, civil discourse. About 150 students attended the session, which ran Jan. 23 in the Mack Hall Auditorium.

Students who attended witnessed faculty with multiple perspectives discuss, disagree and evaluate their own understanding of truth. Boonshoft said the best place to witness the search for truth is during jury deliberations. When life and liberty are on the line, sorting through facts to identify truth becomes one of the most important functions of a democratic society. This is not always easy, because people omit, present mistruths or blatantly lie. Ferreira defended the role of lying in society, though not in a courtroom; that’s perjury.

Ferreira argued the role of fiction has a significant function, making heated issues like racism, sexual assault and gender inequalities accessible to a wider range of people. Although the stories might not be the truth in the same way a biography is, the use of fiction helps get a larger truth that can address societal ills.

A student approaches the microphone to ask a question during the recent ’Thinking Out Loud’ series discussion on truth at Mack Hall Auditorium. (Photo courtesy Michael Thunberg.)

Diving deeply

Accessing a wide range of material, including works of fiction, is important for the search for truth, Kohn said. The world of 2020 is highly polarized and citizens retreat to the safety of their bubbles and gather information from people that think and look like they do, and share the same experiences as they do, perpetuating a single narrative of truth.

Throughout the panel discussion, Kohn argued that a liberal arts education’s role is to help overcome this societal flaw and push students outside of their comfort zone. Norwich faculty are there to challenge students, facilitate civil discourse and work through multiple perspectives so students know how to engage with a diverse set of ideas and develop a strong sense of empathy.

Students were eager to engage in this conversation about truth. They asked questions to challenge faculty and apply the components of the discussion to current events and left the panel thinking and discussing the topic on their own. They understood the need to question what people believe to be true and search out evidence independently to confirm those truths. In the days following “Thinking Out Loud,” the conversation spilled into classrooms, where faculty challenged students to think about the role of the truth in their courses.

The College of Liberal Arts is excited to continue the discourse with future topics in the “Thinking Out Loud” series. The next session will come early in the fall 2020 semester.

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    Cadet Joseph Marsh learns from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Washington.

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