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Philosophical Topics

Volume 49, Issue 1, Spring 2021

Social Visibility

David Beaver, Jason Stanley
Pages 165-185


Neutrality functions as an ideal in deliberation—we are supposed to have a neutral standpoint in debate, speak without bias or taking sides. We argue against the ideal of neutrality. We sketch how a theory of meaning could avoid commitment even to the coherence of a neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons. In a model that accepts the ideal of neutrality, what makes propaganda exceptional is its non-neutrality. However, a critique of propaganda cannot take the form of “clearing out” the obstacles for a “neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons”, since that is to misunderstand how speech works. Such a critique would suggest that any emotive appeal is fundamentally undemocratic, and would delegitimize almost all historical protest movements. In this paper, we contrast a neo-Fregean picture of the neutral core of language with our own practice-based view, a view that takes political propaganda and the language of protest as central cases, and in which all language practice is understood as fundamentally perspectival.