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

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?


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