PP3SPA-Speech Attacks: bullshit, lies, propaganda

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Nat Hansen

Email: n.d.hansen@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module focuses on the way language can be used aggressively, to deceive, manipulate, and oppress. The theoretical foundation of the approach to language taken in this module is speech act theory, which investigates the various ways that we use language to perform actions ranging from betting, promising, and telling, to insulting, bullshitting, and silencing.  We will begin by discussing the foundations of speech act theory and examine a variety of ways that it has been applied to philosophical problems in feminist theory and political and social theory. We will also discuss lies and bullshit, and what (if anything) is wrong with these uses of language. And we will discuss the nature of propaganda and “fake news” and how to resist its effects. 

Exploring the questions raised in this module will take us into debates in philosophy of language, epistemology, feminist theory, and political philosophy. We will look at real-world examples in which language is used aggressively and use the tools provided by speech act theory to help us understand how those uses function, and how they can be opposed. We will read work by some (if not all) of the following authors: J.L. Austin, Harry Frankfurt, Sally Haslanger, Rae Langton, Ishani Maitra, Geoff Nunberg, Martha Nussbaum, George Orwell, Jason Stanley, and Lynne Tirrell.


In this module, you will acquire an understanding of speech act theory and its application to a variety of contemporary political and social issues. The module builds on your studies at Part 2, by drawing on your knowledge of topics in ethics and epistemology, and can be informed by comparative, cross-cultural approaches to philosophy.

Assessable learning outcomes:

You will understand a topic that spans several central areas in philosophy (philosophy of language, social and political philosophy, ethics, feminist philosophy). You will become acquainted with various interdisciplinary approaches to thinking about language, and you will apply those approaches to messy, real world problems. Your essay will give you the opportunity to develop research skills in relation to issues of contemporary concern, and will give you the opportunity to polish the analytical writing skills you acquired in Part 1 and 2 of the philosophy degree. You will also develop your ability to communicate complex ideas in a variety of formats, including in-class presentations and short writing assignments, summaries of readings, and writing and answering discussion questions.

Additional outcomes:

This module will emphasize independent learning, personal effectiveness and self-awareness as well as the ability to reflect effectively on your progress and strengths and on the goals you wish to achieve. It will enhance your global engagement and multi-cultural awareness, convey the significance of philosophical thinking in dealing with modern problems, help you appreciate multiple perspectives and the values of diversity, and encourage you to compare and contrast very different ways of doing philosophy. The module will improve your personal effectiveness through the adoption of a graduated, supervised programme for developing independent-learning skills.

Outline content:

Topics covered on the module will typically include: The foundations of speech act theory; locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts; pornography and “silencing”; theories of bullshit and lying; and theories of propaganda.

Global context:

Note: The University will not allow us to run any modules that do not enrol a minimum of 12 students.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by a combination of lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 10 hours of lectures and 20 hours of seminars during the term in which the module’s lecture and seminar classes take place. All students are required to write two essays from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor. In addition, students will be required to make an in-class group presentation. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and essay questions will be distributed near the beginning of the module. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 20
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

2 x essays: essay 1 worth 30%, essay 2 worth 60% of final module mark.

1 x oral presentation worth 10% of final module mark.

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write and answer short questions for discussion for every seminar class. Some classes may involve quizzes.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in August/September.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 26 September 2018


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