The Lecture is arranged with support from Literature as a Leading Research Area at Stockholm University.

About Martin Jay

Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught Modern European Intellectual History and Critical Theory. Among his works are The Dialectical Imagination (l973 and 1996), Marxism and Totality (l984); Adorno (l984); Permanent Exiles (l985), Fin-de-siècle Socialism (l989); Force Fields (l993); Downcast Eyes (l993); Cultural Semantics (1998); Refractions of Violence (2004); Songs of Experience (2005); The Virtues of Mendacity (2010), Essays from the Edge (2011); Kracauer: l’exilé (2014); and Reason After its Eclipse (2016).


Although philosophers and theologians have speculated on the ability of timeless, ontological truth to manifest itself in the flux of history, most working historians have focused on epistemological questions concerning the relationship between history as what actually happened and history as its present representation. Two extreme positions – naïve positivism and radical constructivism – have proven equally untenable. This paper examines three alternatives: falsificationism, the new experientialism and institutional justificationism. It defends the last of these, which posits a self-reflective community of competence, morally obliged to be truthful and engaged in an endless quest for plausible narratives and compelling explanations of past occurrences, as the most persuasive answer to skepticism about historical truth.