Approaches to Communication Ethics: The Pragmatic Good of Theory


Okay, We are in post #4, chapter #3 of Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. It seems the authors like using “metaphors of communication ethics praxis” although I am not sure if they really understand what a metaphor means.

This chapter they decided to use SIX metaphors:

  • Democratic communication ethics
  • Universal-humanitarian ethics
  • Codes, procedures, and standards in communications
  • Contexual communication ethics
  • Narrative communication ethics
  • Dialogic communication ethics

The first metaphor, democratic, has roots way back to the Athenian rhetorical tradition, and developed deeply through the 20th century during the World War II American experience.

In the field of communication, a democratic ethic is probably best defined by Karl Wallace (1955) in his now-classic article about habits of communication in a democratic society. His work defines a democratic ethic by articulating four habits or procedures to follow to ensure democratic communication: (a) the habit of search— openness to new ideas; (b) the habit of justice— seeking factual accuracy; (c) the habit of preferring public to private motivations— putting concern for the public good over concern for private preference; (d) the habit of respect for dissent— democracy is renewed through learning from difference.

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1259-1264). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Note that the last point seems to have the postmodernity element of varying viewpoints.

The second metaphor, the universal-humanitarian, hails back to the Enlightenment, and its ideal of rationality as a guiding principle.But, apparently, it isn’t the rationality of everyman. It is an enlightened minority that recognizes pre-existent goods for the rest of society. (Personally I like this one, except for this enlightened set that finds these goods — too much Marxism in there. And I don’t really see where it is an essential part of the rest of the metaphor as they describe it.)

Codes, Procedures and Standards, the third metaphor, has ancient roots. The Hippocratic Oath is an example of a code of conduct created by a group or professional organization to regulate good communication. The core of this metaphor is corporately sanctioned communicative actions.

Contextual Communication Ethics justifies different standards for different contexts.

Particular cultures manifest particular ethical practices, many of which, at the surface level, may not be shared with other cultures (Appiah, 2006). Therefore, consideration of culture holds significant implications for the study and practice of communication ethics.

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1338-1340). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

We can interpret cultures quite small. It doesn’t have to be east and west, for example. It can be the culture within a particular country of private/public organization.

Narrative Communication metaphor sees good manifested through the stories of the people or group. The Biblical Exodus is an excellent example of this. It can unite the community. But it can also compete with the narratives of other communities espousing various goods.

Dialogic Communication metaphor concentrates on the exchange between various groups or agents at a particular time. It leads to the possibility of an organic unexpected revelation of the good.

Of course, there is no guarantee that dialogue will open the unexpected. However, it is amazing what the emergent unknown can bring to us when it appears unexpectedly as an idea or a road less traveled. The emergent unknown can change a life— for dialogue is the home of a hope we cannot own, but can only invite.

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1464-1466). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Having listed and discusse these six metaphors, the authors now use their concluding example from Les Miserables. They see the democratic in the revolutionaries, Universal-humanitarian in Javert’s concern for duty, the Codes and procedures in the rules of the village, Contexutal in the lie of the nun for Valjean, Narrative in the way the bishop invites Valjean into his home, and dialogic in the concluding exchange between Javert and Valjean.

I think the examples work. So far I give the authors a passing grade on their use of Les Miserables.


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