MEGAN HYSKA

PHILOSOPHY | LANGUAGE | POLITICS

mhyska pic_edited.jpg

ABOUT

I'm an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Northwestern University. My current research concerns the nature and value of communication, and the character of propaganda, polarization, and political organizing.


I received my PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 2018. My doctoral dissertation applies formal models of discourse structure to mass public discourses. 

RESEARCH

TOWARD A THEORY OF SOCIAL ORGANIZING

In progress

This paper lays some groundwork for a theory of what it is to organize people. While scholars of, and participants in, social movements, electoral politics, and organized labor are deeply engaged in contrasting different theories of how we should organize, and while social ontologists are deeply engaged in characterizing the targets and products of such organizing (e.g. social groups and movements of varying kinds), less has been written recently about what organizing itself is.


It might be supposed that a theory of organizing would fall straightforwardly out of an account of what it is to be an organized group. If, for instance, you think that such a group is constituted by a structure of individuals connected by certain (functional) relations (e.g. Ritchie 2013, 2015, 2020; Fine 2020) then surely organizing is just whatever brings it about that individuals bear these relations to one another. Certainly this is part of what organizing is. However, note that if we leave the account there, organizing would just be the activity of bringing about a token of any organized group-type, and there would be no principled way of describing some group-types as more organized than others. This in turn means that there will be no principled way of describing a movement, group, or other social system as becoming better organized over time. Nor will it do to briskly equate greater organization to a greater number of nodes in the structure, or a greater diversity of relations, since both of these are compatible with alterations to the system that are intuitively described as making it less organized. A theory capable of generating comparative organization judgments is needed in order to accommodate the way that social movement theorists, for instance, talk about organization as a gradient.

Given that it is natural to think about organizing as enabling more ambitious collective actions, one might alternatively think that a theory of organizing would fall out of an account of group agency. Organizing, one might think, is whatever brings new collective agents into existence, or somehow augment the agency of an existing collective agent. Such a view must of course be able to say what it is to augment group agency. But the more fundamental issue is that some systems paradigmatically described as organized, like social movements, are often populated by a heterogeneous range of individuals and constituent groups, who do not always engage in the sort of extensive tactical coordination, deliberation, views about one another’s intentional states, or swearing of reciprocal commitments that  theories of collective agency tend to demand (e.g. List and Pettit 2011).

By drawing attention to the space between theories of group ontology and agency and a theory of organizing, I hope to make clearer what the desiderata on a successful theory of organizing will be.

LUCK AND THE VALUE OF COMMUNICATION

Under Review

A familiar question in epistemology concerns what epistemically relevant value is added to true belief by justication or by any further Gettier-proong conditions. This article demonstrates that there is an isomorphism between knowledge and the state characteristic of the audience's side of a successful Gricean communication event such that similar puzzles arise concerning the value of several conditions on communication. A novel understanding of the value of one of these conditions, audiences' attribution of informative intentions to signalers, is offered. However, it is argued that, although communication does also seem

to require the satisfaction of a further anti-luck condition, this condition has no signaling-relevant value. It is concluded therefore that communication is not a uniquely valuable signaling event.

PDF

RESEARCH

TOWARD A THEORY OF SOCIAL ORGANIZING

In progress

This paper lays some groundwork for a theory of what it is to organize people. While scholars of, and participants in, social movements, electoral politics, and organized labor are deeply engaged in contrasting different theories of how we should organize, and while social ontologists are deeply engaged in characterizing the targets and products of such organizing (e.g. social groups and movements of varying kinds), less has been written recently about what organizing itself is.


It might be supposed that a theory of organizing would fall straightforwardly out of an account of what it is to be an organized group. If, for instance, you think that such a group is constituted by a structure of individuals connected by certain (functional) relations (e.g. Ritchie 2013, 2015, 2020; Fine 2020) then surely organizing is just whatever brings it about that individuals bear these relations to one another. Certainly this is part of what organizing is. However, note that if we leave the account there, organizing would just be the activity of bringing about a token of any organized group-type, and there would be no principled way of describing some group-types as more organized than others. This in turn means that there will be no principled way of describing a movement, group, or other social system as becoming better organized over time. Nor will it do to briskly equate greater organization to a greater number of nodes in the structure, or a greater diversity of relations, since both of these are compatible with alterations to the system that are intuitively described as making it less organized. A theory capable of generating comparative organization judgments is needed in order to accommodate the way that social movement theorists, for instance, talk about organization as a gradient.

Given that it is natural to think about organizing as enabling more ambitious collective actions, one might alternatively think that a theory of organizing would fall out of an account of group agency. Organizing, one might think, is whatever brings new collective agents into existence, or somehow augment the agency of an existing collective agent. Such a view must of course be able to say what it is to augment group agency. But the more fundamental issue is that some systems paradigmatically described as organized, like social movements, are often populated by a heterogeneous range of individuals and constituent groups, who do not always engage in the sort of extensive tactical coordination, deliberation, views about one another’s intentional states, or swearing of reciprocal commitments that  theories of collective agency tend to demand (e.g. List and Pettit 2011).

By drawing attention to the space between theories of group ontology and agency and a theory of organizing, I hope to make clearer what the desiderata on a successful theory of organizing will be.

LUCK AND THE VALUE OF COMMUNICATION

Under Review

A familiar question in epistemology concerns what epistemically relevant value is added to true belief by justication or by any further Gettier-proong conditions. This article demonstrates that there is an isomorphism between knowledge and the state characteristic of the audience's side of a successful Gricean communication event such that similar puzzles arise concerning the value of several conditions on communication. A novel understanding of the value of one of these conditions, audiences' attribution of informative intentions to signalers, is offered. However, it is argued that, although communication does also seem

to require the satisfaction of a further anti-luck condition, this condition has no signaling-relevant value. It is concluded therefore that communication is not a uniquely valuable signaling event.

PDF

RESEARCH

TOWARD A THEORY OF SOCIAL ORGANIZING

In progress

This paper lays some groundwork for a theory of what it is to organize people. While scholars of, and participants in, social movements, electoral politics, and organized labor are deeply engaged in contrasting different theories of how we should organize, and while social ontologists are deeply engaged in characterizing the targets and products of such organizing (e.g. social groups and movements of varying kinds), less has been written recently about what organizing itself is.


It might be supposed that a theory of organizing would fall straightforwardly out of an account of what it is to be an organized group. If, for instance, you think that such a group is constituted by a structure of individuals connected by certain (functional) relations (e.g. Ritchie 2013, 2015, 2020; Fine 2020) then surely organizing is just whatever brings it about that individuals bear these relations to one another. Certainly this is part of what organizing is. However, note that if we leave the account there,  there would be no principled way of describing some group-types as more organized than others. This in turn means that there will be no principled way of describing a movement, group, or other social system as becoming better organized over time. Nor will it do to briskly equate greater organization to a greater number of nodes in the structure, or a greater diversity of relations, since both of these are compatible with alterations to the system that are intuitively described as making it less organized. A theory capable of generating comparative organization judgments is needed in order to accommodate the way that social movement theorists, for instance, talk about organization as a gradient.

Given that it is natural to think about organizing as enabling more ambitious collective actions, one might alternatively think that a theory of organizing would fall out of an account of group agency. Organizing, one might think, is whatever brings new collective agents into existence, or somehow augments the agency of an existing collective agent. Such a view must of course be able to say what it is to augment group agency. But the more fundamental issue is that some systems paradigmatically described as organized, like social movements, are often populated by a heterogeneous range of individuals and constituent groups, who do not always engage in the sort of extensive tactical coordination, deliberation, forming of views about one another’s intentional states, or swearing of reciprocal commitments that  theories of collective agency often demand (e.g. List and Pettit 2011).

By drawing attention to the space between theories of group ontology and agency and a theory of organizing, I hope to make clearer what the desiderata on a successful theory of organizing will be.

Luck and the Value of Communication

Under Review

A familiar question in epistemology concerns what epistemically relevant value is added to true belief by justication or by any further Gettier-proong conditions. This article demonstrates that there is an isomorphism between knowledge and the state characteristic of the audience's side of a successful Gricean communication event such that similar puzzles arise concerning the value of several conditions on communication. A novel understanding of the value of one of these conditions, audiences' attribution of informative intentions to signalers, is offered. However, it is argued that, although communication does also seem

to require the satisfaction of a further anti-luck condition, this condition has no signaling-relevant value. It is concluded therefore that communication is not a uniquely valuable signaling event.

Against Irrationalism in the Theory of Propaganda

Under Review

According to many accounts (e.g. Stanley, 2015; Ross, 2002; Marlin, 2002; Ellul,1973), propaganda is a variety of politically significant signal with a distinctiveconnection to irrationality. Depending on the account, the irrationality may besupposed to be theoretical, or practical; it may be supposed that propagandacharacteristically elicits this irrationality anew, or else that it exploits its prior ex-istence. The view that encompasses such accounts we will call irrationalism. Thispaper presents two classes of propaganda that don’t bear the sort of connectionto irrationality posited by the irrationalist: hard propaganda and propaganda bythe deed. Faced with these counterexamples, some irrationalists will offer theiraccount of propaganda as a refinement of the folk concept rather than as an at-tempt to capture all of its applications. This paper argues that a desideratumon any refinement of the concept of propaganda should be that the concept re-main essentially political, and that the irrationalist refinement fails to meet this condition.

TOWARD A THEORY OF SOCIAL ORGANIZING

In progress

This paper lays some groundwork for a theory of what it is to organize people. While scholars of, and participants in, social movements, electoral politics, and organized labor are deeply engaged in contrasting different theories of how we should organize, and while social ontologists are deeply engaged in characterizing the targets and products of such organizing (e.g. social groups and movements of varying kinds), less has been written recently about what organizing itself is.


It might be supposed that a theory of organizing would fall straightforwardly out of an account of what it is to be an organized group. If, for instance, you think that such a group is constituted by a structure of individuals connected by certain (functional) relations (e.g. Ritchie 2013, 2015, 2020; Fine 2020) then surely organizing is just whatever brings it about that individuals bear these relations to one another. Certainly this is part of what organizing is. However, note that if we leave the account there,  there would be no principled way of describing some group-types as more organized than others. This in turn means that there will be no principled way of describing a movement, group, or other social system as becoming better organized over time. Nor will it do to briskly equate greater organization to a greater number of nodes in the structure, or a greater diversity of relations, since both of these are compatible with alterations to the system that are intuitively described as making it less organized. A theory capable of generating comparative organization judgments is needed in order to accommodate the way that social movement theorists, for instance, talk about organization as a gradient.

Given that it is natural to think about organizing as enabling more ambitious collective actions, one might alternatively think that a theory of organizing would fall out of an account of group agency. Organizing, one might think, is whatever brings new collective agents into existence, or somehow augments the agency of an existing collective agent. Such a view must of course be able to say what it is to augment group agency. But the more fundamental issue is that some systems paradigmatically described as organized, like social movements, are often populated by a heterogeneous range of individuals and constituent groups, who do not always engage in the sort of extensive tactical coordination, deliberation, forming of views about one another’s intentional states, or swearing of reciprocal commitments that  theories of collective agency often demand (e.g. List and Pettit 2011).

By drawing attention to the space between theories of group ontology and agency and a theory of organizing, I hope to make clearer what the desiderata on a successful theory of organizing will be.

Luck and the Value of Communication

Under Review

A familiar question in epistemology concerns what epistemically relevant value is added to true belief by justication or by any further Gettier-proong conditions. This article demonstrates that there is an isomorphism between knowledge and the state characteristic of the audience's side of a successful Gricean communication event such that similar puzzles arise concerning the value of several conditions on communication. A novel understanding of the value of one of these conditions, audiences' attribution of informative intentions to signalers, is offered. However, it is argued that, although communication does also seem

to require the satisfaction of a further anti-luck condition, this condition has no signaling-relevant value. It is concluded therefore that communication is not a uniquely valuable signaling event.

Against Irrationalism in the Theory of Propaganda

Under Review

According to many accounts (e.g. Stanley, 2015; Ross, 2002; Marlin, 2002; Ellul, 1973), propaganda is a variety of politically significant signal with a distinctive connection to irrationality. Depending on the account, the irrationality may be supposed to be theoretical, or practical; it may be supposed that propaganda characteristically elicits this irrationality anew, or else that it exploits its prior existence. The view that encompasses such accounts we will call irrationalism. This paper presents two classes of propaganda that don’t bear the sort of connection to irrationality posited by the irrationalist: hard propaganda and propaganda by the deed. Faced with these counterexamples, some irrationalists will offer their account of propaganda as a refinement of the folk concept rather than as an at-tempt to capture all of its applications. This paper argues that a desideratum on any refinement of the concept of propaganda should be that the concept re-main essentially political, and that the irrationalist refinement fails to meet this condition.

RESEARCH

Toward a Theory of Social Organizing

In progress

This paper lays some groundwork for a theory of what it is to organize people. While scholars of, and participants in, social movements, electoral politics, and organized labor are deeply engaged in contrasting different theories of how we should organize, and while social ontologists are deeply engaged in characterizing the targets and products of such organizing (e.g. social groups and movements of varying kinds), less has been written recently about what organizing itself isBy drawing attention to the space between theories of group ontology and agency and a theory of organizing, I hope to make clearer what the desiderata on a successful theory of organizing will be.

Luck and the Value of Communication

Under Review

A familiar question in epistemology concerns what epistemically relevant value is added to true belief by justication or by any further Gettier-proong conditions. This article demonstrates that there is an isomorphism between knowledge and the state characteristic of the audience's side of a successful Gricean communication event such that similar puzzles arise concerning the value of several conditions on communication. A novel understanding of the value of one of these conditions, audiences' attribution of informative intentions to signalers, is offered. However, it is argued that, although communication does also seem

to require the satisfaction of a further anti-luck condition, this condition has no signaling-relevant value. It is concluded therefore that communication is not a uniquely valuable signaling event.

Against Irrationalism in the Theory of Propaganda

Under Review

According to many accounts (e.g. Stanley, 2015; Ross, 2002; Marlin, 2002; Ellul, 1973), propaganda is a variety of politically significant signal with a distinctive connection to irrationality. Depending on the account, the irrationality may be supposed to be theoretical, or practical; it may be supposed that propaganda characteristically elicits this irrationality anew, or else that it exploits its prior existence. The view that encompasses such accounts we will call irrationalism. This paper presents two classes of propaganda that don’t bear the sort of connection to irrationality posited by the irrationalist: hard propaganda and propaganda by the deed. Faced with these counterexamples, some irrationalists will offer their account of propaganda as a refinement of the folk concept rather than as an at-tempt to capture all of its applications. This paper argues that a desideratum on any refinement of the concept of propaganda should be that the concept re-main essentially political, and that the irrationalist refinement fails to meet this condition.

Of Martyrs and Robots: Propaganda and group identity

in The Yale Review, 2018

Propaganda, Irrationality, and Group Agency

in The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology, 2021

I argue that propaganda does not characteristically interfere with individual rationality, but instead with group agency. Whereas it is often claimed that propaganda involves some sort of incitement to irrationality, I show that this is neither necessary nor sufficient for a case’s being one or propaganda. For instance, some propaganda constitutes evidence of the speaker’s power, or else of the risk and futility of opposing them, and there is nothing irrational about taking such evidence seriously. I outline an alternative account of propaganda inspired by Hannah Arendt, on which propaganda characteristically creates or destroys group agency. One aspiring to control the public should have an interest in both creating and suppressing group agency, I argue, both because groups have capacities that individuals don’t, and because participation in group action can have a transformative effect upon the individual. Finally, I suggest that my characterization of propaganda suggests a vision of resistance to propaganda quite unlike the one that emerges from irrational-belief accounts, on which propaganda cannot be resisted by oneself.

TEACHING

Courses taught at Northwestern

Phil 109: First-Year Seminar on Propaganda - syllabus

Phil 253: Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

Phil 353: Philosophy of Language - Language in Context - syllabus

Phil 328: Classics of Analytic Philosophy - syllabus

Courses taught at UT Austin

Phil 304: Contemporary Moral Problems

Phil 313: Introductory to Symbolic Logic

GET IN TOUCH

Address:

Department of Philosophy
Kresge 3512, 1880 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208

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