Philosophy Faculty Publications and Presentations

Document Type


Publication Date



Most of the recent work on propaganda in philosophy has come from a narrowly epistemological standpoint that sees it as flawed messaging that negatively impacts public reasonableness and deliberation. This article posits two problems with this approach: first, it obscures the full range of propaganda's activities; and second, it prevents effective ameliorative measures by offering an overly truncated assessment of the problems to be addressed. Following Ellul and Hyska, I argue that propaganda aims at shaping actions and not just beliefs, and that the propaganda activities that shape action include modifying beliefs but also much more. Examining this larger set of activities results in a shift in how we conceptualize the way that propaganda works. In particular, I add a novel argument that propaganda works by creating and reshaping publics, transforming who they are and their characteristic action. This article concludes that a more complete philosophical account of propaganda cannot just draw on epistemology but must also call on the tools of social ontology and political philosophy to create a more robust critical account.


© 2023 Society for Applied Philosophy. Original published version available at

Publication Title

Journal of Applied Philosophy


Included in

Philosophy Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.