Lies and Propaganda

May 7, 2024
Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven

Leuven
Belgium

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From the time of Augustine onward, lies have been conceptualized as a separation between verbal expression and the consciousness of truth. The liar deliberately withholds a known truth from themselves (dissimulation), while articulating a falsehood in its place (simulation). Building on this framework, but also going beyond it, Hannah Arendt recognized the totalizing nature that lies assume as they evolve from traditional to modern forms, especially within the context of propaganda. With the support of contemporary institutions and mass media, the modern lie gains the power to obliterate historical realities and substitute them with imaginary alternatives. Propaganda thus not only reconfigures the institutional fabric of society, but also affects consciousness on the level of memory, imagination and its capacity to give sense to the world.

Derrida, in turn, drew attention to another aspect of the threat identified by Arendt. Still within the context of media and information, he emphasized that the means of perpetuating the modern lie extend beyond intentional deception. For Derrida, untruth can be just as effectively propagated through the absence of an intention to pursue the truth. In this manner, Derrida successfully detaches lying from the intention to deceive, thus breaking with the Augustinian model. He also suggested that performative acts not reliant on misleading propositional statements, such as simulating a smile, could also fall under the umbrella of lying. These ‘non-propositional’ lies expand the scope of lying to encompass various phenomena like humor, non-verbal gestures, and even silence.

We invite scholars to participate in a day-long workshop at the Institute of Philosophy (KU Leuven, Belgium), with the aim of phenomenologically exploring intentional and non-intentional untruths, and propositional and non-propositional lies, in relation to (contemporary) authoritarian propaganda. The themes to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

-       Lies and Untruth

Can untruth be asserted by means of truth in propaganda? How can a web of lies formed by propaganda become immune to truth? Does propaganda lie when it leaves facts intact but distorts their interpretation? Can a propagandistic lie become a truth? Are forged documents and fake witnesses in propaganda also forms lies? What is the relation between truth and untruth in propaganda?

-       Lies and Ontology

What is the ontological nature of a propagandistic untruth?—is it simply a negation of factual truths, or does it have a positive determination? How does a propagandistic untruth relate to factual political or historical truths? Are propagandistic lies limited to the domain of the factual? What grants facts their authority or ‘potency’ in the context of propaganda ? Why do we care about facts threatened by propaganda? What is the ontological status of a fake past asserted by lies? Can propagandistic lies produce truth?

-       Lies and Consciousness

How do propagandistic lies relate to imagination and/or the imaginary? What is the relation between propagandistic lies and memory? How does lying propaganda relate to temporality? What is the relation between propagandistic lies and freedom? How do propagandistic lies relate to false memories? 


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Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
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