Standard Article


  1. Douglas Walton

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee257

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Walton, D. 2013. Propaganda. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The word “propaganda” arose from the name for a committee of cardinals called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) formed in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, but can be traced even earlier to a smaller propaganda commission of 1568 (Cunningham 2002: 15) The term originally did not have the negative meaning it has now, and in the two world wars it appeared to have less negative meaning in Germany and Russia than in England and North America. According to Marlin (2002: 47), the use of the word “propaganda” by the Allies characterized only the enemy opinion-forming activities as propaganda, and treated them as composed mostly of lies. These practices have now left the word with strongly negative connotations. From a point of view of ethics, the problem is to judge whether propaganda should be seen as an inherently bad thing that is deceptive, unethical, and against norms of reasoned discourse (see Discourse Ethics), or as sometimes a useful or necessary way of carrying out a good objective, like winning a just war, or a war we think to be just.


  • government, politics, and law;
  • ideology;
  • impartiality;
  • media;
  • media studies;
  • objectivity;
  • politics;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • rationality