Rhetoric and Ethics Essay

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Communication ethics in a postmodern context recognizes that differing ‘goods’ shaped from biased ground necessitate rhetoric of rival traditions. Bias assumes the reality of situated, tainted ground that links communication ethics to learning about different ‘goods’ that are protected and promoted by those dissimilar to us. Dissimilarity nurtures alterity, radical Otherness, and tainted/ biased ground, requiring rhetorical action bearing witness to a communication ethic that houses goods that matter (Arnett et al. 2008).

Tainted ground is the home of radical otherness, represented in a philosophical turn of Heidegger and Nietzsche marking a disputed end to the reign of virtue ethics and marking the entrance of a hermeneutic of suspicion. Communication ethics unmasks a multiplicity of perspectives, akin to the Sophists, who argued that virtues are polis dependent, not universal (MacIntyre 2007). We dwell in a moment defined by the metaphor of standpoint, which rejects conventional individualistic thinking that assumes a flight above human history in an effort to proclaim and tell, enveloped in a mythic, arrogant assumption that untainted perception guides communication ethics.

Concepts such as standpoint, ground, embeddedness, situatedness, social–cultural limits, and the unavoidable bias of tradition explicate the necessity of provincial soil that generates authentic communication ethics differences while requiring a cosmopolitan recognition of multiplicity and learning from differences. This unity of contraries perspective neither stands above our historicity nor languishes in solipsism. Communication ethics as responsiveness in this historical moment acknowledges biased ground and moves rhetoric to the forefront. Assuming a given communication ethic is a persuasive task that necessitates expression of a public map about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a given communication ethics position. Communication ethics assumes a pragmatic rhetorical turn, pivoting on tainted ground, forming a public map of the ‘for,’ the ‘by,’ and the ‘about’ of communication ethics, Schrag’s (1986) articulation of communicative praxis. Communication ethics in such an era begins with attentiveness to alterity in order to learn and understand, followed by a rhetorical turn that is responsive to otherness—the socio-cultural context, communicators, and communicative content.


  1. Arnett, R. C., Harden Fritz, J., & Bell, L. M. (2008). Communication ethics literacy: Dialogue and difference. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. MacIntyre, A. (2007). After virtue: A study in moral theory, 3rd edn. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  3. Schrag, C. O. (1986). Communicative praxis and the space of subjectivity. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

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