RESEARCH

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.

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Toward a Theory of Social Organizing

In progress

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.

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Luck and the Value of Communication

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.

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Against Irrationalism in the Theory of Propaganda

Under review

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.

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Propaganda, Irrationality, and Group Agency

in The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology, 2021

A concern with propaganda has animated American liberal discourse in a new way since the run-up to the 2016 election. On virtually any day since at least July 2016, a naive observer set in front of a bank of screens streaming center-left national news coverage might quickly glean the following: that “propaganda” had something to do with illegitimate attempts to influence an electorate, and that standing accused of this illegitimate conduct were both foreign actors (Russia) and domestic ones (broadcasting bodies like Fox and Sinclair, websites like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Gateway Pundit, and Infowars). Perhaps less obvious is what this observer would conclude concerning why this messaging was supposed to be illegitimate.

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Of Martyrs and Robots: Propaganda and
group identity

in The Yale Review, 2018