Archive for September, 2007

Propaganda (3) – Why not?

September 29, 2007

So, now suppose that we have convinced ourselves that there is a real difference between propaganda and argument along the lines outlined in propaganda (2). The question now becomes: is there any reason to refrain from using anything that would fall into the category of propaganda? For clarity, let’s take a case where what you are trying to get your audience to do is not in itself evil. You don’t try to get them to kill somebody, but to put up solar panels, for example.

Propaganda can certainly be effective in influencing your audience, so it does not seem imprudent to use it. If you are a Kantian, you can reject it on moral grounds, because you are presumably not sufficiently respecting a person’s humanity when you are trying to manipulate them. But what about the non-Kantians? Is there a good reason not to use propaganda for them?

Propaganda (2) – Manipulation and Reasoning

September 27, 2007

Can there be a difference between manipulating and reasoning? Both aim at changing the opinions or actions of the audience. Is one difference that manipulation can happen through various means, such as images and music, whereas reasoning can only happen through words, written or spoken? But can words not also be used to manipulate? So what is the difference between a manipulative speech and an argument? Don’t try truth as a criterion – an argument might contain false premises, a speech may contain only truths and nevertheless be manipulative (think about the use politicians make of statistics, or the famous strict either – or distinctions that seem to leave you with no alternative but to agree with the speaker). If anything, the difference might be in the attitude taken by the speaker.  Take two speakers, S1 and S2, both convinced that what they preach is right.  S1 chooses to include only elements in her speech that she herself has been convinced by, S2 decides to include also elements she does not herself find convincing, but assumes to be convincing to others. The suggestion would be, then, that S1 reasons, while S2 manipulates. Will that do?

Propaganda (1) – What it is and why it is a problem for philosophy.

September 26, 2007

Of key importance: to show that there is a difference between fact, argument and propaganda. Not just propaganda in the narrow political sense. What is propaganda in this wider sense? Here is a quote (taken from wikipedia, admittedly, which also provides a number of amusing and not so amusing examples)

Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. – Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda And Persuasion

It is easy to see why this is not so helpful, at least for distinguishing propaganda from argument. After all, argument is also usually deliberate, systematic (well, we’d hope) attempt to influence other people in the above mentioned ways. Nevertheless, at least as philosophers, we’d be inclined to think that it is ok to try to persuade somebody by means of an argument, but not ok (or at least: much less ok) to persuade somebody by means of propaganda. Now, it also seems reasonable to think that the difference between argument and propaganda is just that argument attempts to reason, not to manipulate. But that just pushes the question further back: what is the difference between manipulation and reasoning?

Is there a better way to die?

September 25, 2007

International news sources today report the death of André Gorz (84), philosopher and social critic, who committed suicide together with his wife in their home yesterday. His wife had long been ill. His letters to her, collected in his last book, tell the story of a deep love and affection. Choosing to die side-by-side, without any belief in an afterlife is a witness to that. It seems to say: what makes life worth living is you. It is a very modest, but deeply moving answer to the question: what is the meaning of life?

Here’s the article from The Nouvel Observateur.

Note: this post is not advocating suicide in general.

Being jaded

September 24, 2007

Being jaded, as in “Oh, I don’t doubt the science of climate change. I just doubt that we will succeed in doing anything about it.” It’s easy. Finding examples of failures when it comes to international treatises and global action is not that hard. The same holds for a great deal of human endeavors. We fail an awful lot.

The only way to counteract being jaded is realizing that staying in place is a failure as well. It is easy to see that heading in the wrong direction is not going to get us where we want to be. It seems equally obvious that not moving at all does not get us where we want to be, either. Unless, of course, where we are right now is where we want to be. So what you say, when you say: “Oh, I’m just jaded.” is actually: “Oh, I’d just rather stay here.”

From the index to “A Secular Age” by Charles Taylor

September 23, 2007

Nietzsche, Friedrich


Nike Running Shoes


(There will hopefully be more substantive comments about this book on this blog in the near future…)