Communications Ethics: In the Eye(s) of the Theory of the Beholder


Common sense is seen primarily in the judgments about right and wrong, proper and improper, that it makes. Whoever has a sound judgment is not thereby enabled to judge particulars under universal viewpoints, but he knows what is important, i.e. he sees things from right and sound points of view. (Gadamer, 1986, p. 31)

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1506-1508). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Interesting to start a chapter with a quote about common sense. With all the talk in the other chapters about different views of the good, one wonders how common “common sense” could possibly be.

Once again they center the chapter around “metaphors of communication ethics praxis” — three this time.

  • Common Sense
  • Learning
  • Theories

The cultural assumption is that common sense is innate, but that assumption is false. Common sense comes from what we know and practice.within a community it becomes a normative thing. Except that our world doesn’t have that a common narrative, but competing ones, until common sense can no longer be taken for granted.

Common practices create common sense. But our lack of common practices has removed the universal sense of common sense. Common sense have become more local.

This chapter works with celebratory thanks for the loss of a universal common sense; this reality keeps us learning from and with one another, keeping before us a sense of otherness, keeping us ever attentive to difference…To accept the loss of the commonness of common sense requires us to embrace what we consider the central notion of communication ethics for the 21st century— learning… Common sense rests in the knowing and the doing of those engaging in similar practices.

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1625-1631). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

So from common sense we look at learning. When we learn from differences we gain what the academics call theories of public guidance. The theory weaves narrative and standpoint for the understanding of a certain sense of good that it promotes and protects.

Notice how the metaphor common sense lead to learning. And now learning leads to number three: Theory.

If one is to engage human life from the standpoint of scholarship on communication ethics, the phrase “in the eyes of the beholder” becomes “in the eyes of the theory of the beholder.” Theory establishes a perceptual field that provides a temporal place for common practices and agreement.

Arnett, Ronald C.; Fritz, Janie; Bell, Leeanne M. (2008-08-04). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1703-1705). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Theories both promote and protect a sense of good. Theories are our eyes of the good: and eyes both open and limit our visibility. We need to be aware of both how it empowers, and how it restrains.

Which finally leads us to the “engaging communication ethics through literature” section. In Les Miserables the villages use common sense to reject a released convict, the bishop uses a different common sense to accept him. The way these two combine lead to a new sense of common sense that Valjean himself transmits to his “daughter.”


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