6.0 Philosophical and Ethical Issues in the Mass Media
Points and Notes for Class of February 1, 2006
I] Start with a review of important issues in
Overhead of chapters in Part One:
nature of the Socratic dialogue, Plato’s view of ‘argument’: that
is, the fundamental role of LOGIC. The relation between logic and
The logical dialogue is about TRUTH.
The logical dialogue must be committed to Rationality, and
therefore EMOTIONS must be excluded from it.
Now, Gorgias’ RHETORIC is an activity that intends
to PERSUADE: but, his view of persuasion is not related to the
truth, to logic, to rationality to techne. It has to do
with MERE PERSUASION.
We could then say
that Plato inaugurates a most important, actually essential, trait
of Western Civilization:
Knowledge, argumentation included, should be about Truth, Logic,
both related to Technology. Later on, at the times of the
Renaissance (15-16 centuries AC), Natural Science is added to this
powerful tradition: all of these together, as a collective whole,
constitute the very ‘heart’ of our Civilization.
tradition is still deeply involved with this view.
Now, from this
perspective the tendency is to regard activities like Rhetoric (in
Gorgias, sense) as negative, intrusive, false, misleading,
irrational, even UNETHICAL.
Perhaps, we may
think here of activities like: PROPAGANDA, IDEOLOGY, ADVERTISING,
extraordinary to realize that between Plato and Aristotle, his
major disciple, they established this very basis of our academic
Western tradition. Aristotle’s works on Logic inaugurates the
beginning of Western Logic. It is also important to acknowledge
that at that time GEOMETRY had also been established: this is the
so-called EUCLIDEAN geometry (because the person who finally
produced the first major geometry treatise was EUCLID).
In our course we
have seen before one crucial logical principle discovered by
Aristotle: the principle of SOUNDNESS, not to mention the
beginning of SYLLOGISTIC LOGIC.
II] Now, Michael
Gilbert is proposing an ‘opening’ of this traditional view that he
characterizes as ‘reductionist’. His theory of Multi-Modal
Argumentation proposes that we enlarge, extend the range of
meaningful intellectual, academic and argumentation activities to
Emotions that had
been excluded by Plato as we saw before.
range of the body, including here the visual aspect.
which relates to intuition, the spiritual, the religious, the
Let us have a
look to the way in which he introduces his theory: ( KIT, pages
109 and 111, text page 79).
We must be clear
that this is not a way to reverse things such that the logical
mode is excluded , but that this mode is seen in the full flow of
argumentation: that we now learn to recognize the fundamental and
substantive roles played by all the modes.
We shall focus
more specifically on the Emotional Mode. (See page 113, KIT).
Finally, a quick
look at the other 2 Modes.
of the material gathered so far in the course (Plato’s views;
formal/syllogistic logic; informal logic/fallacy analysis; Shelby
Hunt’s view of the science of marketing; and M. Gilbert’s theory)
to the study of cases.
Today the focus
will be on Political Propaganda in the Press.
A} My Research on
the Chilean Press.
Provide a brief historical background: Chile, 1970-73,
Salvador Allende, leader of a broad coalition of Marxist, Liberal
and Christian political parties and movements: first Marxist
elected president in the world. Main enemies: Chilean upper class,
landowners, entrepreneurs: that is, the whole of the capitalist
class. The Government of the USA, its agencies, CIA, Pentagon,
etc. Some American multi-national companies. The middle classes
were in great doubt about Allende, but for a while, willing to
give him a chance. The idea of Allende was to advance to Socialism
through, and with respect for, the liberal-democratic process. The
USSR, and other Soviet inspired socialist countries, due to the
realities of the cold war, could not provide any significant help
to Allende. His basis of support was constituted by the working
class, and other sections of the lower classes; and not
insignificant sectors of the middle classes, in Chile very
powerful social groups. Allende had enormous sympathy around the
world, especially from Western European countries where
social-democratic parties and governments were interested in a
process of radical reforms through a democratic process. After 3
years of a most intense, disruptive, disturbing internal process
with heavy support from the USA, both political, and
entrepreneurial, finally the Chilean military broke a long
tradition of non-political interference and staged a coup d’etat.
Main images to show on the screen:
Chart with themes. Explain Propaganda of
Agitation/Propaganda of Integration.
Explain Anguishing Portrait of the World/Marxist Violence.
Image of Extremist attacking Police.
High School for Girls No. 12/ Horrible murder…
Same in Tribuna
Traffic of Human Flesh
Wife of Quartered Man Strangled
Ad day of the election
Now, how to study this Propaganda of Agitation? From our
studies in the course so far, I dare say that we need an overall
First, we should try to see what we could learn from a
Indeed some core arguments of the propaganda could be dealt with
from a syllogistic frame:
All criminals are violent
All communists are violent
All communists are criminal
An invalid 2nd figure argument.
While we have obtained this syllogism from a specific page, it
does reflect an important aspect of the propaganda as a whole.
Moreover, we go further and produce a syllogistic argument
focusing on the quartered man;
All quarterers are criminal
All communists are criminal
All communists are quarterers
All cannibals are quarterers
All communists are quarterers
All communists are cannibals
We could apply here Churchill’s Principle of Charity, and try to
make of these better arguments. F. ex., we could say that in fact
there is a strong connection between communists and criminals in
that in fact they both undermine the fabric of a democratic
society in that they are both prepare to exercise violence to
achieve their ends…But, somehow I feel that this is not a good and
realistic assessment. Of course, the relation between communists
and quarterers, and cannibals is even less plausible.
Then, at this stage, we could extend our analysis and claim that
the issue concerns rather emotional and kisceral issues. Emotional
in that the propaganda seems intended to arise deep fear of
communism, and actually hatred so that the middle classes could be
psychologically prepared to support military action in order to
get rid of Allende. We could then argue that fallacies of appeal
to emotions are committed here, and certainly question-begging
Thus we are now involving the emotional mode. This mode
seems predominant in this propaganda. The themes of the propaganda
are essentially destined to arise deep emotional reactions in the
middle classes especially. We could now utilize Gilbert’s chart as
it appears in the paper “What is an emotional argument…”:
graph may allow us to examine the location of the arguments.
Before we move to the kisceral mode, it is necessary to
indicate the input of the physical mode, in this case in its
visual dimension. Needles to say, this seems evident in this
propaganda. The pages serve as the background for actual visual
We see the impact
of the layout of each page, the juxtaposition of items, the
influence of some individual items, being they headlines or
Finally, let us explore the kisceral mode. I believe this
mode also manifests itself in the propaganda. Consider that the
attempt has been to induce a profound connection between crimes,
accidents and natural catastrophes, this on the one hand; but
also, on the other hand, the connection between those and Marxist
violence. These connections indeed have an emotional basis, and
also they seem mysterious enough to claim that something else is
at stake, something whose basis is intuition.
Now, what can we conclude from the application of the M-M
First, that the propaganda we are examining indeed lends itself to
The 4 modes allow us a more comprehensive understanding than the
mere logical evaluation.
Second, overall, the M-M study seems to provide a description of
the propaganda, but, not an evaluation of it. And, how exactly
should we proceed to such evaluation? We need to notice that we
said before that the logical mode does provide a way to evaluate.
Thus, we could feel tempted to say that this propaganda is
irrational in that it is not logical.
However, what would be a logical way of articulating messages
destined to prepare people for military violence? Let me try:
The communists always manage to destroy democracy
Allende and his people are communists
Allende and his people are managing to destroy
If Allende and his people are destroying democracy then they
should be stopped with military violence. Etc. Etc.
Well, yes this was also an important part of the propaganda, so
the logical mode has been at stake here. But, it is not enough,
for military violence seems to need much more than a purely
logical evaluation. Those emotions of fear and hatred are
essentially needed together with the logical arguments. And the
pages of the papers need to present clearly persuasive visual
claims. And deep kisceral connections may contribute to strengthen
In the final analysis, though: How should be evaluate it? By its
success as measured in the fact that the middle classes ended up
supporting the coup? Or maybe we need to introduce an ethical
Gilbert himself, last week, many times used such ethical dimension
to decide on the worth of several emotional arguments.
A final issue: Is it possible to evaluate from an ethical
perspective independently of an ideological position?