Philosophical & Ethical Issues in the Mass Media

Claudio Duran "Propaganda and The Press"
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AK/PHIL/ADMS 4295 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 the Gorgias:

Overhead of chapters in Part One:

a)     The nature of the Socratic dialogue, Plato’s view of ‘argument’: that is, the fundamental role of LOGIC. The relation between logic and TECHNOLOGY.

b)      The logical dialogue is about TRUTH.

c)      The logical dialogue must be committed to Rationality, and therefore EMOTIONS must be excluded from it.

d)      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.

Our academic 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, etc.

It is 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 include:

Emotions that had been excluded by Plato as we saw before.

Physicality, the range of the body, including here the visual aspect.

The kisceral, which relates to intuition, the spiritual, the religious, the uncanny, etc.

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.

III] Application 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.

a)      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.

       b)      Main images to show on the screen:

1)      Chart with themes. Explain Propaganda of Agitation/Propaganda of Integration.

2)      Explain Anguishing Portrait of the World/Marxist Violence.

3)      Image of Extremist attacking Police.

4)      High School for Girls No. 12/ Horrible murder…

5)      Same in Tribuna

6)      Black Jackets

7)      Quartered Man

8)      Traffic of Human Flesh

9)      Wife of Quartered Man Strangled

10)  Ad day of the election


c)      Now, how to study this Propaganda of Agitation? From our studies in the course so far, I dare say that we need an overall Multi-Modal approach.

1)      First, we should try to see what we could learn from a logical perspective.

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

And then:

            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 epithets.

2)      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…”:

            The graph may allow us to examine the location of the arguments.

3)      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 expressions:

We see the impact of the layout of each page, the juxtaposition of items, the influence of some individual items, being they headlines or pictures.


4)      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.


d)      Now, what can we conclude from the application of the M-M approach?

First, that the propaganda we are examining indeed lends itself to such approach.

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 democracy

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 the propaganda.

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 criterion here?

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?

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AP/ADMS 4295 6.0 Philosophical and Ethical Issues in the Mass Media
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.