The Cautionary Use of Fakes

Peter Niesen


In recent years, academic fakes have routinely been planted in order to discredit academic genres and subdisciplines. In line with Richard Rorty’s late pragmatist attempt to identify ‘cautionary’ and ‘metalinguistic’ uses of the truth predicate, I suggest we ascribe such fakes a ‘cautionary’ function, thereby explaining and partly defusing them. The predicate ‘is true’ highlights both the justification-transcendence of truths as well as their relativity to a specific language or vocabulary. While the cautionary use of ‘true’ reminds us of possible errors, the cautionary use of fakes reminds us that we may have invested in a problematic vocabulary. Academic fakes point out a lack of critical self-correcting procedures in academic vocabularies, yet at the same time can obstruct their innovative potential at too early a stage. Fakes highlight the fact that academic discourse is not just an industry that produces truths (or falsehoods), but should also be seen as an endeavour to generate new truth value candidates.