“Only in 2021 do we get the first full, edited volume on fake news from philosophers,” he said. “Over the last 20 years or so, philosophers have become increasingly occupied with applied questions, especially in social and political space.”
At one point, Oswald divided his nine students into two groups to discuss how philosophers justify definitions of “fake news.” Afterward, they presented their thoughts on how concrete cases of fake news inform how philosophers defend their proposed definitions. After extensive investigations into how scholars’ definitions differ, Oswald sensed his students’ frustration.
“This is how philosophy works,” he said. “It is annoying to some, but this is how it works.”
Oswald has been involved with academic philosophy for about 10 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Alma College in Michigan and earned a masters’ degree from Western Michigan University.
“I knew that there were philosophers out there and that I was interested in exploring various questions and then asking questions about those questions in an effort to enhance my own understanding of the world and ourselves,” Oswald said. “As my education has progressed, it’s revealed more and more just how complicated and complex some of these issues are and how arriving at a single, definitive answer as to what social and political dynamics involve is a very significant challenge.”
Examining fake news is part of his dissertation and Oswald draws upon his interest in social and political philosophy, epistemology and philosophy of language.
“The topic of fake news has been of immense interest to me because it is a pressing worry for healthy democratic discourse and decision-making, which is already weakened in our current, highly polarized, social-political context,” Oswald said. “As for the class, I think it’s a valuable subject for students to engage with and hopefully appreciate how philosophy cab help clarify some of the main issues, even if we still struggle with arriving at definitive answers.”
Casey Chadwick of Charlotteville, a rising first-year student who wants to study foreign affairs with ambitions of becoming a diplomat, signed up for the course through “Hoos Getting Ready.” The program offers incoming first-year students an opportunity to earn up to six credits the summer before enrolling at UVA.
“I have a deep passion for politics,” he said. “My family is politically divided, but I enjoy political discussions.”
Chadwick said he learned that his critical thinking skills were better than he thought.
“I thoroughly enjoy the class,” he said. “There has not been one dull day and it has exceeded my expectations.”
Vicky Salazar, another rising first-year from Elizabeth, New Jersey, plans to study political science and is concerned about the implications of fake news. She said the class has motivated her to the point of discussing the issues from the course with her family and friends.
“I have learned that I had preconceived notions of fake news,” she said. “I have changed my mentality on the world entirely from what I thought two weeks ago.”