David Lanius

David Lanius

I am a researcher at DebateLab at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the interim professor of didactics of philosophy at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and the co-founder and managing director of Forum für Streitkultur (with Romy Jaster).

Populism, fake news, and hate speech

The rise of populism is currently threatening democracy in many Western societies. Populism may simply be the symptom of a general disappointment in democracy or the changes in political and societal communication brought about by the internet. But it certainly is fueled by a social divide in our societies and a lack of inclusive debate and democratic deliberation.

I strongly believe that argumentation and debate are the best means to solve conflicts, to coordinate (doxastic) differences, and to bridge the gap between people with different interests and convictions. In other words, I believe that argumentation and debate are our best chance to counter political polarization, populism, fake news, and hate speech.

My aim is to strengthen both deliberative and participatory democracy by uncovering the conditions for constructive conflict. I am particularly interested in how (and whether) people change their convictions based on rational argumentation.

Are good arguments ultimately convincing also to someone who does not share one’s beliefs already? How are we to argue with people who believe in “alternative facts?” Are there specific argumentative practices tied to modern populism? But the question that contains all the others is: How can the quality of public debates be improved? I work at DebateLab with Gregor Betz to answer this question.

Public debate and constructive conflict

I believe that we need debate, argument and constructive conflict

  • in academia to facilitate scientific progress,
  • in politics and society to recognize and respect other people’s opinions,
  • in companies to promote innovations, and
  • in private life to get along with and learn from each other.

We (again and again) need to be confronted with different beliefs, perspectives, and ways of life. Only then can we treat each other with tolerance, openness, and respect. This has tragically become evident once again in the recent rise of populism in Europe and the United States.

I am convinced that inclusive and interdisciplinary approaches in industry, society, and science are the key to the most pressing problems of our time. No single person, party, or discipline can solve them single-handedly. The (academic) study of philosophy has taught me that the way to truth is constructive conflict.

Academic affiliations

I’m the interim professor of didactics of philosophy at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz at the moment. I’m also part of DebateLab at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and a member of the European Network for Argumentation and Public Policy Analysis (APPLY: Cost Action 17132), trying to improve the way European citizens understand, evaluate and contribute to public debate and political decision-making. Finally, I’m a member of DFG’s Arguing in the School network organised by David Löwenstein.

Areas of specialisation

My main area of specialisation is philosophy of language, epistemology, logic, and argumentation theory. I am interested in how to make philosophy fruitful to societal issues and in how to teach philosophy to students in universities and schools. Part of my research concerns thus questions of applied philosophy, philosophy of education, and the didactics of philosophy.

At the moment, I am particularly interested in the didactics of argumentation. How can we teach students philosophical skills such as argumentation, conceptual analysis, and critical reasoning?

Strategic indeterminacy in the law

I wrote my dissertation in philosophy under the supervision of Geert Keil at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Ralf Poscher at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg and Andrei Marmor at Cornell Law School.

My dissertation has been published with Oxford University Press and is on vagueness and indeterminacy in the wording of laws, verdicts, and contracts. Legal texts are particularly interesting insofar as they address a widely heterogeneous audience, are applied in a wide variety of circumstances and must, at the same time, lay down clear and unambiguous standards. Sometimes they fail to do so, either by accident or by intention. In my dissertation I try to answer three, related, questions. First, what are the sources of indeterminacy in law? Second, what effects do the different forms of indeterminacy have? Third, how can and should they be intentionally used? The dissertation examines the various forms of indeterminacy as they are actually found in legal texts and scrutinises (i.a. by way of game theoretical models) the conditions under which they can be strategically used in laws, verdicts, and contracts.

Current research focus: Teaching argumentative and epistemic competences

I am particularly interested in how (and whether) people change their convictions based on rational argumentation. Are good arguments ultimately convincing also to someone who does not share one’s beliefs already? How are we to deal with people who believe in “alternative facts?” Are there specific argumentative practices tied to modern populism, or is it all rhetoric?

At the moment I am examining how argumentative abilities can be effectively acquired and taught in schools and universities and how the teaching of the epistemic and reflective competencies of philosophy can help to counter fake news and populism.

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