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Jason Stanley

Dear Eric,

Thank you so much for these posts, from which I am learning a terrific amount. They are meaty and substantive challenges that came at a crazy time in the semester, and for some reason I have now re-discovered them. I had best reply to some before the semester begins. A general point that I want to make is that you seem to be an internalist about justification and knowledge. I am externalist. I think substantive non-circulation justifications end somewhere, and one place they can end is at the principles of rationality. One can indirectly target various principles of rationality; one can show that with the use of an alternative semantics, e.g. supervaluations, one can solve certain problems that are hard to solve without them (e.g., some have argued, vagueness). Or one can show that the principles of rationality fit into a successful and useful social or political theory. And if my theory of propaganda and ideology is successful and useful, then it provides some element of justification for the principles of coherence between ideal and practice that it presupposes. But that's only indirect justification.

I definitely agree that I haven't provided substantive justification that would produce knowledge by internalist standards for the kind of rational structure presupposed by the theory, which is that there ought to be some sort of coherence between ideal and practice. But my failure to provide a substantive explicit justification doesn't matter as much for me, because knowledge cannot be held hostage to this criterion, or we almost never have knowledge.

Be that as it may, I argue that Tarski is in the exact same predicament. He presupposes excluded middle in the meta-theory in order to derive bivalence. So my theory of propaganda faces a problem no more or no less severe than that. Now, there is a complication here, and I think it's the one you raise, but I'm not sure. Tarski's theory of truth is supposed to be a mathematical definition of truth; so Tarski can be taken just to be engaged in a definitional project. But then it's not a project that can justify principles of rationality stated in a given language, since it is an empirical fact that the language means what it does. Hence Putnam's charge that "it fails as badly as it is possible for a theory to fail" in "A Comparison of Something with Something Else". But we can and should avoid this.

Let's take a Davidsonian absolute truth predicate, and consider the kind of justification a semantic theory that employs such a predicate would yield for a formal theory of logic, or arithmetic (in my old paper "Truth and Metatheory in Frege", I argue that this is a good characterization of Frege's metatheory in Part I of the Grundgesetze; I still think this is correct). Such a theory does not provide a substantive justification of logical laws. It presupposes them. Similarly, I do not provide a substantive justification of the contradiction structure between ideal and practice, but presuppose it. The theory can still produce knowledge, if the presupposition satisfies some externalist condition, perhaps safety. And if knowledge requires more than that, an available and explicit "substantive justification", I'm skeptical we have much of it (Roger White's "You Just Believe it Because" is good on this). That's not to say that one cannot provide another structure, or challenge the logic of the relation between ideal and practice I am presupposing. Of course one can challenge it. I take this book to be somewhere in the middle of inquiry, with lots of people before me and lots of people after me. I expect to be wrong. I see that one can argue that dogmatic adherence to an ideal can lead to injustice just as much as undermining it could. But I deny that I have the responsibility of defeating every challenge to a presupposition of the theory of propaganda before the theory of propaganda can produce knowledge.

I think the challenges have to come in the form of persuasive examples. I will say this tersely because it's late. Some examples are going to be able to be cases where one explicitly mentions one ideal (say objective rationality), using it dogmatically to critique others. But in many such cases, one is also making as if such a stance is *reasonable*, that it's the way to take every perspective into account. It isn't, it undermines reasonableness. That's the kind of explanation I would gesture at for some of the cases I think you are considering in the remark about "firm adherence" to an ideal.

That said, I reject any conception of ideals that demands "firm adherence" (I think). My discussion of what our relation to ideals should be is on pp. 171-7, at the end of chapter 4. I reject any model that says we should have *faith* in ideals (isn't this firm adherence?) because it will lead us to "overlook their violations". So I agree with you here. And since I think that being guided by a norm of objectivity requires "systematic openness to the possibility that one is swayed by bias", I fully agree that we "should keep exploring conceptualizations of propaganda and ideology that fit with alternative or different mix of ideals." This is consistent with my theory of propaganda being knowledge-producing.

James Dennis

Just a few speculative and tentative observations about definitional matters (since at the moment I happen to be concerned with the phenomenon called "propaganda").

The term 'ideology', like the term 'theory', refers to a conceptual structure (a logical structure of categories and rules of application to reality) that is used to interpret experience of the world and allow us to understand it; but an ideology, when it comes to critique of this structure, is subject to a lesser standard of evaluation (from the point of view of the "metatheory"), one belonging to the practical sphere of the political, governed by opinion (as you pointed out with relation to Arendt and Madison), effective persuasion and the interplay of the power- seeking of political interests; a lesser standard as compared to the ideal principles of truth- seeking (rationality) that govern (ideally) the critique of scientific theories in the sphere of the construction of scientific knowledge. I take it that we are engaged in truth-seeking, and that we are looking at political ideologies as a problem and an object to be understood out there in the world. We can talk about the differences between the principles that govern the critique of ideology (as a praxis) and the principles that govern the critique of scientific theories.

Obviously I haven't yet read Jason's book, but to me the key property of what is called "propaganda" is that it is put out to the world without the expectation that it will be subjected to critical scrutiny, but is rather to be accepted without critique. The acceptance of messages that are problematic is achieved by coercion, by pressure of power. On the other hand, a claim (e.g., a knowledge claim) in normal discourse (just normal, let alone scientific) is put out there with the expectation that it will be subjected to critique (e.g., wrt its truth). A problematic assertion is only accepted after a dialogic process of rational argument. So it would be possible to have a well-meaning and sincere propaganda; it might be interesting to compare such cases with religious dogma.

I agree with your observation that the uptake of Tarski's explication of "truth" has made it hard in practice "to understand and discern genuinely alternative approaches to truth". Even Putnam, in the article Jason mentions, says he has been "dissatisfied for many years with almost everything written about the notion of truth", in particular with Tarski's work. I would guess that Putnam's problem with Tarski's approach is in part that Tarski's "metalanguage", and the formal mode of language use in general, lacks the ability to refer to intentional objects in the manner of natural languages. It may be that it would be possible to critique the axioms of the formal objectlanguage only if the metalanguage is a natural language that can genuinely refer to those axioms and definitions and describe their effective operation. The principles of rationality implicit in the "U-language", to use Haskell Curry's term, are another matter, and a possible object for exploration. This is a huge area of problems, however, and this is all I have time to say right now.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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