Susan Stebbing on the control of the media

Rereading Susan Stebbing’s Thinking to Some Purpose I have come across these comments on the control of the media. Stebbing was writing in 1938 and her book was published in 1939, yet this passage has a depressingly up-to-date feel to it. In what precedes it she has commented on how the owners of newspapers have an almost unlimited power over the opinions of their readers:


‘Almost,’ but not quite, for the owners are themselves to some extent controlled by the big advertisers who are relied upon to provide the main revenue of the newspapers. The advertisers would not advertise in a newspaper that tended to undermine ‘the confidence of the public.’ The advertisers want the readers to be ready to spend their money; the newspapers want the advertisers to spend large sums in advertising their goods.

That the Press should be thus controlled constitutes a serious obstacle to our obtaining the information we require in order that we should think to some purpose about public transactions. I have used the word “controlled” because, in the ordinary sense of the word “free,” our Press is remarkably free, notwithstanding the laws of sedition, blasphemy and libel. These laws affect the Press neither nor more less than they affect the private citizen. Books, pamphlets, journals, supplements to newspapers, can be and are in fact published which criticize and condemn the Government of the day in a manner that would not be tolerated in many countries. This we all know, and are apt to congratulate ourselves thereon. But here lies a peculiar danger for the majority of readers. We tend to believe that we have a ‘free’ Press because we know it to be legally free. But the Press is in fact controlled by a comparatively small number of persons. The danger lies in the fact that the majority of people are not aware of the ownership. Consequently, when they see different newspapers providing the same news and expressing very similar opinions they are not aware that the news, and the evaluation of the news, are alike determined by a single group of persons, perhaps mainly by one man – a Press Lord. Accordingly, the readers mistakenly believe that they have been provided with independent testimony whereas they have been provided only with repetitions.

L. Susan Stebbing

I have just signed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan to write a book based on my current research project on the British analytic philosopher Susan Stebbing. Here is a very brief account of why I am interested in Stebbing.

Juliet Floyd on the History of Early Analytic Philosophy

In her article ‘Recent themes in the history of early analytic philosophy’ in Journal of the History of Philosophy, Juliet Floyd argues persuasively that an understanding of developments in analytic philosophy from the early part of the twentieth century is an important part of the intellectual history of a variety of present day disciplines, including linguistics. She also suggests that this understanding can be assisted in part by the construction of narratives around some of the major figures in the field. In her conclusion Floyd claims that the study of early analytic philosophy ‘is likely to stretch itself to include assessment of less well-known figures who were interested in the logical or conceptual analysis of meaning’ (p. 198). This strikes me as a particularly exciting prospect for future research.