Categories: English


By Andrea Günter

Climate change is “post-factual”, what the essence for example of women or otherwise of America, Turkey, Islam, etc. consists of, is a biological fact or divine will. Here, we have the uncanny epistemological alliance of fundamentalist currents with allegedly postmodern tendencies – and with gender theorems.

Let us be glad that fundamentalists today carry out epistemological discourses and since Hitler’s radio demagoguery favor media performances. They are arrived in postmodern times. However, our two examples show: the use of philosophical epistemology is arbitrary; everyone helps himself as it suits him or her. But isn’t this attitude maybe a characteristic of postmodernism, too? Dealing with epistemic theorems as one likes, alternating between absolute and relative determinations – just postmodern arbitrariness…

At this point one could begin to distinguish more precisely. Does Donald Trump confess to a woman’s biology? Do religious fundamentalists keep climate change a lie? Does Erdogan stand up for climate change? What is the position of the AFD, etc. However, by beginning with the concrete study of these constellations, the conflict around the epistemological problems is avoided.

Why do scientists not comment on the epistemological attacks that our society is exposed to and defend the knowledge gains of science, asks the renowned journalist Wulf Rüskamp in the newspaper Badische Zeitung (March 10, 2017). The Frankfurter Rundschau is concerned with the phenomenon of “post-factual”, too, and has dedicated its “supplement of the week” (4.2.2017) to the subject of “lie”.

Journalists grapple with the classification “post-factual”, because they are being attacked as a “lie press”. Academics do not concern with this epistemological reproach. Why? My thesis is simple. They have not done their intellectual homework. There is hardly any public discussion about the reproach made towards postmodern philosophy: the reproach of the relative, the arbitrary and the constructed. On the contrary, many proclaim constructivist perspectives as their own theoretical standpoint; others who do not, do not clarify and develop alternative views; the third who develop alternative insights are usually ignored.

Let us focus on the gender discourse as a central field of contention. “Gender is made,” namely “nothing else but made” (“also made” would suffice to sharpen the consciousness for gender roles as a social action): this statement is proclaimed by gender theorists. They are immediately attacked by fundamentalist of all kinds for many years.[1] With “nothing else but”, an insight is posited absolutely and, in the end, ontotheologized; using the relative “also” would instead emphasize relationality. The absolute of the argumentation structure counteracts the relativization of the determinist logic, provided that this is desired.[2]

Particularly, gender theorists prefer to legitimize their view by referring to Simone de Beauvoir. Beauvoir is quoted as saying that one would not be born as a woman, one would be “made” to one. This statement is consistently used as a quotation without being verified, neither it is clarified whether Beauvoir, an outstanding philosopher, takes a constructivist view at all.

In the beginning of the fifties, on the first pages of the introduction to “The second sex” (New York 1989) Beauvoir directly speaks against the philosophy of enlightenment, of rationalism and nominalism (philosophically-historically an antecedent of constructivism), because they lead to the assertion that

women are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word women. Many American women particularly are prepaired to think that there is no longer any place for women as such; if a backward individual still takes herself for a woman, her friends advice her to be psychoanalyzed and thus get rid of this obsession. (XXIV)

What is striking from today’s point of view is that Beauvoir counts an epistemology like constructivism as an aspect of rationalism and identifies this again with the philosophy of the Enlightenment (she has Kant in mind). Although constructivists are keen to overcome rationalism, in the view of Beauvoir’s critique, they merely replace it with a new now sociological variant.

Beauvoir’s prolegomenon is an introduction to an epistemological setting that is founded beyond rationalism and particularly constructivism. It proves to be postmodern, because Beauvoir emphasizes that relationality, relativity and particularity must be reconsidered. For this purpose, she follows Hegel and proposes to deconstruct the “substantial value” (XXXIV) of the verb “to be”. Transcending the dualism of “essential – inessential” induces an escape from the trap of classifying “woman” as inessential (XXIX).

Moreover, in the English translation the word “made” does not appear, in the French original not at all. The French wording is:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman [frz.: On ne naît pas femme: on le devient/AG]. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female [frz. femelle humane/A.G.] presents in society. (267)

Why is the citation “made” neither checked along the English or French translation? Of course, this should be the scientific practice. The fact that a thinker such as Beauvoir is exploited to support gender constructivism shows how much of its representatives are entrapped in their own belief systems. The otherwise differentiating epistemological position of Beauvoir and others cannot or should not be perceived. Do representatives of gender constructivism have a similar functional-religious attitude to creationists (see link)? Do they interact with each other by claiming an absolute one, occupying the other pole?

The fact that they explicitly refer to Beauvoir shows how much they are trapped in their own belief systems. They do not seem to be able to perceive other differentiating epistemic positions. Must gender-constructivism be regarded as a fundamentalist and arbitrary attitude, too?

The “becoming” corresponds to the Hegelian idea of ​​”being” as a dynamic (finally genealogical) “becoming”. In addition, Beauvoir uses the two words “femme” and “femelle humane”, whereby in French, “femelle” is used as a pure zoological term. If we interpret Beauvoir’s zoological classification as a first determination of the specific biological form (today we would rather speak of morphology), we can consider that the development of a woman is the dynamic development of an open, biologically feminine human being, which is at the same time undefined, getting its further determinations “in the womb of society”.

For all sorts of areas of life and discourse fields, Beauvoir criticizes how this indeterminate determinant is carried out in society as pure determinant. In addition, she shows which possibilities women have to transcend that practice. She invites women to conquer determinations as human activities and possibility horizons – which she calls “justifications”. Accordingly, shortly before her final conclusions, these insights lead her to the statement

“The free woman [Frz. la femme libre / AG] is just being born” (715).

What we can deduce from Beauvoir’s epistemology is that there is no post-factum, but a trans-factum. Facts are taken up and shaped by people. These activities can differ; they can be practiced as determination or as freedom.

With this outline Beauvoir follows Kant more precisely than a rationalistic Kant interpretation would. Kant distinguishes between “thing-in-itself” and “appearance”. The fact that facts are objects to humans tells us something about the limits and possibilities of the capacity of human cognition and thought. It is not a statement about the facticity or non-facticity of a thing. Concluding from the limits of human knowledge achievement to the limits of facticity (and not to the limits of recognizing facticity) is a fallacy which leads to the assertion that the human cognitive faculty creates the facts and there is nothing beyond.

With the distinction between “thing” and “appearance”, Kant relativizes this point of view. If one follows, however, the short-circuit that the human cognition decides on the factuality of things, human cognition is made greater than what it is. As a consequence, its authority is taken away, because it fails to deal with facts. In the end, it becomes authoritarian. This effect is hidden behind the fear that there is no truth, that in postmodern epistemological self-conception, there are only post-factual opinions, especially if this inspection is suddenly claimed by the wrong side.

Authoritarian minded people like to use this effect. Reversing facts and opinions is a strategy of totalitarian power, Hannah Arendt impressively worked out during her visit to Germany in 1950. This strategy works. It achieves the longing for making oneself greater than one is. For being able to do this, Erich Fromm explains in his analysis “The authoritarian personality”, others must be become smaller. In this case one makes oneself greater by denying the facticity of a fact. Thus, others (and their assessments) can be made smaller than they are for ignoring them and their insights.

What the human cognitive power produces is that which is recognizable for human beings (Hegel, so to speak, opposes Kant). Humans are dependent on themselves and limited by themselves; this characterizes their knowledge achievement, too. Their knowledge is based on a relation, strictly speaking even on a double, potentiated relationality: on its relation to a thing and to other humans. This double relationality is inscribed in the knowledge about facts. This is the reason why knowledge is seen as relative. But this relativity is only bad or inadequate if one judges knowledge against an absolute. If one is not judging it against an absolute, one is confronted with the question of how to practice the knowledge relativity. The question of the factual and of dealing with facticity becomes an ethical question.

Then, the fact is not the relative (and therefore there is not knowledge), but the knowledge of the fact. Facts do not depend on cognition ability or on cognition will. Thus a person who is knocked down by a car and is dead will not appear to work the next day, even if the boss wants this to happen so much. If the boss says the employee is there this morning, his colleagues will tell him that he has gone nuts and must have seen a wraith.

Facts work regardless of what someone can or wants to recognize; this characteristic defines the concept “fact”. However, facts can be recognized by their effects. The German word “Wirklichkeit” deals with the semantic connection: thing and “Wirkung” (effect), especially to humans and their coexistence. But effects are also often not clear. Therefore it is important to pay attention to the examples which are given in order to establish or deny factuality. For example, the factuality of two human sexes is not decided by the colors of the clothes girls and boys wear. This is really irrelevant. But what matters is what we tell our children when they get into puberty and become sexually mature. At the same time, it is decided along the lines of what we want. Do we want to proclaim an allegedly “natural”, immediate procreation and pregnancy, which we at the same time prevent by cultivating a morality of abstention, holding up a corresponding, nowadays conservative and fundamentalist morality? If we render such a constellation as “natural”, we veil the cultural processing that the corresponding morality incorporates.

Or do we want to prevent getting mothers and fathers who still are themselves children, and therefore explain to them how procreation and pregnancy arise? Not for the question of clothing, but in dealing with sexual maturity we decide about the facts of human sexuality. This is a decisive starting point for our acting. In the categorizations of Beauvoir, we decide facts in relation to what is existential for people, in the situations in which we are confronted with their effects. This is why Beauvoir emphasizes the situation as the origin of inducing decisive criterion.

In this example, I speak of a “we”. Relating to a “we” shall make obvious the political dimension of the debate about facts (not about “facticity per se”). What has to be considered as a fact and how the effects of something are judged depend on politics; it does not necessarily depend on the cognitive performance of an individual. Hannah Arendt pointed out that in many cases, to recognize interdependencies of effects and to distinguish facts and prescriptions of meaning need a discourse about the facticity of a thing. In many respects, Arendt does similar epistemological considerations to Beauvoir, and has also written important epistemological essays about “Truth and Lie in Politics” (Munich, 1987)[3]. Concerning the realization of the real, she takes a political assessment:

To men, the reality of the world is guaranteed by the presence of others, by its appearance to all; “for what appears to all, we call Being” [Aristotle, AG] and whatever lacks this appearance comes and passes away like a dream, intimately and exclusively our own but without reality.[4]

As far as values are concerned, one speaks of “shared values” in the sociological discourse for similar reasons. Factual – as well as values – is transcended at the moment when people are in relation to it. When Arendt reverts to “all”, she also refers to Kant’s public use of reason, for which the whole world must be asked, that especially includes the voices which come to other conclusions.

Reality is a human dimension. The classification “fact” is the human judgment about the special effect of a thing realized by human experiences. The reality of a thing forms as the result of a specific facticity, human knowledge and the public dialogue of people in diversity.[5] The thing’s effect again can be narrower than it is possible, especially it is perceived as determinant, or it will become larger. A mode of interaction, whether or not it is narrowing or expanding, does not abolish the factual core; the antithesis carries the thesis (Hegel), a stricken factum remains recognizable as the point of departure (Lacan).

Therefore, it cannot be spoken of a “post-factual”.[6] In order to take the epistemological problematic seriously, that a fact is not obvious for the human eyes, but human beings investigate and inspect it by virtue of its effects, and according to the importance which Beauvoir gives to “transcendence”, I suggest we speak of a “trans-factual”.[7] For how this “trans” now affects a fact, its perception and its effects, we bear human responsibility – as single persons, always engaged in the discourse with others, in order to distinguish between lie, dream, fact and reality.


[1] Vgl. Strube, Sonja: Rechtsextremismus und Christentum,

[2] Günter, Andrea: Konzepte der Ethik – Konzepte der Geschlechtergerechtigkeit, Wien 2014, 13-46.

[3] A similar English essay book is: Arendt, Hannah: Crises of the republic, New York 1972.

[4] Arendt, Hannah: The human condition, Chicago 1998, 199. The German and the English version of “Vita activa” are quite different texts developing different accents.

[5] Scholars of Radical Constructivism relativize the constructive part of human doing by speaking of human beings as co-constructers of reality and autopoetic systems, vgl. Maturana, Humberto/Varela, Francisco J.: Der Baum der Erkenntnis. Die biologischen Wurzeln des Erkennens. Goldmann, München 1987, 83ff.

[6] The pre-fix „post“ is pretty ambivalent, cf. Andrea Günter „Postkonventionalität, oder: Ist Feminismus ent­wicklungsfähig? PostFeminismus revisited“, in:­konven­tio­na­li­tat-oder-ist-feminismus-entwicklungsfahig-postfeminismus-revisited/

[7] Vgl. Günter, Andrea: „Der Sternenhimmel in uns“: Transzendenz, Geschlechterdifferenz und die Suche nach Rückbindung bei Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray und den Philosophinnen von DIOTIMA, Königstein/Ts. 2003; dies.: Mit Transzendenz gegen oberflächliche Geschlechterkonzepte. Simone de Beauvoir feiern, in:; Dry­gala, Anke/Günter Andrea: Paradigma Geschlechterdifferenz. Ein philosophisches Lesebuch, Sulzbach/Ts. 2010