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Ethical Communication

Moral Stances in Human Dialogue

Clifford G. Christians and John C. Merrill

Publication Year: 2009

Proponents of professional ethics recognize the importance of theory but also know that the field of ethics is best understood through real-world applications. This book introduces students and practitioners to important ethical concepts through the lives of major thinkers ranging from Aristotle to Ayn Rand, John Stuart Mill to the Dalai Lama.
            Some two dozen contributors approach media ethics from five perspectives—altruistic, egoistic, autonomous, legalist, and communitarian—and use real people as examples to convey ethical concepts as something more than mere abstractions. Readers see how Confucius represents group loyalty; Gandhi, nonviolent action; Mother Teresa, the spirit of sacrifice. Each profile provides biographical material, the individual’s basic ethical position and contribution, and insight into how his or her moral teachings can help the modern communicator. The roster of thinkers is gender inclusive, ethnically diverse, and spans a broad range of time and geography to challenge the misperception that moral theory is dominated by Western males.
            These profiles challenge us not to give up on moral thinking in our day but to take seriously the abundance of good ideas in ethics that the human race provides. They speak to real-life struggles by applying to such trials the lasting quality of foundational thought. Many of the root values to which they appeal are cross-cultural, even universal.
            Exemplifying these five ethical perspectives through more than two dozen mentors provides today’s communicators with a solid grounding of key ideas for improving discussion and attaining social progress in their lives and work. These profiles convey the diversity of means to personal and social betterment through worthwhile ideas that truly make ethics come alive.


Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vii

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pp. 1-8

In the postmodern world of shifting norms and displeasure with the idea of objectivity, there is a need for some stable concepts and identifiable stances. Without them, no fruitful dialogue on ethics can occur. In an era when ethical issues are more urgent than ever, the need for such a resource is a pressing one. The editors...

Part I. The Altruistic Stance: Loyalty to Others

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pp. 9-52

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1. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama: Universal Compassion

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pp. 11-17

At the age of five, Tenzin Gyatso (1935 – ) was found in the small Tibetan province of Amdo, in the tiny village of Takster, and proclaimed the fourteenth Dalai Lama (Buddhist spiritual leader). He was recognized as the reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, his predecessor. At the age of fifteen...

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2. Jesus: Loving Neighbors

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pp. 18-24

To write about Jesus is to invite critique. Those who believe he is the Son of God will take issue with the recitation of cold facts, as if he were simply someone who lived long ago and whose teachings remain influential even to this day. To those who believe that he was simply someone who lived long ago and whose teachings remain...

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3. John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism

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pp. 25-32

John Stuart Mill was born in London on May 20, 1806. He was the eldest son of James and Harriet Mill, with eight brothers and sisters. James, one of the forefathers of utilitarian theory (together with Jeremy Bentham), invested himself in the education of young John Stuart and taught him at home...

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4. Carol Gilligan: Ethics of Care

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pp. 33-39

Philosophy was too seldom the work of women. Until Carol Gilligan. In her early forties Gilligan decided to listen to women who were themselves making an important choice: whether to abort. The twenty-four women Gilligan worked with were in the first trimester of pregnancy...

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5. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Ethics of Personalism

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pp. 40-45

Born in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the foremost leader of the United States’ Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Making use of nonviolence to end segregation of blacks, especially in the American South, he started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference following the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott...

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6. Mother Teresa: The Ethics of Sacrifice

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pp. 46-52

Tireless laborer for the “poorest of the poor,” Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910 –1997) was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2003, six years after her death. This placed her on what some have called “the fast track to sainthood.” While living, she won the Nobel Peace Prize and international acclaim for her humanitarian...

Part II. The Egoistic Stance: Loyalty to Self

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pp. 53-92

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7. Aristotle: Self-Development

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pp. 55-60

A person’s virtuous character grows from certain habits; this is the cornerstone of Aristotle’s ethics. According to Aristotle (384–322 BCE): “It makes no small difference . . . whether we form habits of one kind or another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference...

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8. Friedrich Nietzsche: Becoming an Übermensch

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pp. 61-67

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the most influential European thinkers of the nineteenth century. His controversial ideas have been of interest to philosophers, sociologists, literary theorists, artists, and psychologists ever since. He was a philologist specializing in the Greek language and an amateur composer...

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9. Machiavelli: Pragmatic Realism

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pp. 68-73

What, you might ask, is Machiavelli (1469 –1527) doing in a book such as this? What did he, or can he, teach us about ethics? And, what’s more—what is he doing in this part of the book representing the Egoistic Stance? All good questions. Let us look briefly at each one...

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10. Camus: The Rebellious Spirit

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pp. 74-80

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, a small village near the seaport city of Bonê (present-day Annaba) in French Algeria. His father, who was recalled to military service during the initial stages of the First World War, died less than a year later at the battle of Marne. Camus’s mother...

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11. Kautilya of India: Social Egoism

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pp. 81-85

Some have called Kautilya (also known as Chanakya and Visnugupta), an Indian thinker of the fourth century BCE, the “Machiavelli of India.” Kautilya taught at Taxila University, was a noted economist and philosopher, and served as an adviser to princes and kings. He is thought to be responsible for the unification of India...

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12. Ayn Rand: Rational Self-Interest

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pp. 86-92

Arguably the modern thinker who best represents the egoistic stance in ethics has been the popular writer Ayn Rand (1905 –1982), Russian emigrant turned novelist and nonacademic philosopher. Although largely shunned by more liberal professional philosophers, Rand has consistently rallied huge numbers...

Part III. The Autonomy Stance: Loyalty to Freedom

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pp. 93-126

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13. Henry David Thoreau: Value of Solitude

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pp. 95-101

People tend to know two things about Henry David Thoreau, if they know anything about him at all: First, he lived in a small cabin near Walden Pond, hoping that in simplifying his life he would be able to truly and fully experience it. Second, he once went to jail for refusing to pay his poll tax, an instance of protest...

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14. John Locke: Natural Rights

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pp. 102-108

John Locke was born into a Puritan family in Somerset, England, in 1632—the year Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Due to family connections through his father’s involvement in the civil war over the claim of Charles I to the throne, Locke began studying at Christ Church in Oxford...

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15. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Courage versus Authority

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pp. 109-114

Introducing Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the field of communication rests upon one key assertion—Bonhoeffer’s life and work provide us with insight into a communication style that is responsive to diverse ideas in a time of crisis. His communicative manner is dissimilar from that of those who contend with one another...

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16. Paulo Freire: Face Saving and Communication

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pp. 115-120

Paulo Freire was a champion of education for the masses and for individual persons. His commitment to education and literacy began with a basic assumption—the political futures of people rise and fall with their ability to engage in the public arena, which is made possible through literacy. The implications of Freire’s project, begun ...

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17. Hannah Arendt: Public as Authority

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pp. 121-126

Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was one of the most brilliant and controversial philosophers of her day. Her own life, influenced by two World Wars and the horrors of the Holocaust, represented a stage for her reflections on the nature of good and evil. As a teacher, writer, and journalist, she examined the human condition against...

Part IV. The Legalist Stance: Loyalty to Authority

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pp. 127-164

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18. Plato: Elite Norms

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pp. 129-135

One cannot discuss Greek philosopher Plato (428/7–348/7 BCE) and his writings without mentioning his mentor Socrates (469 –399 BCE). Plato was born into one of the most distinguished aristocratic families in Athens—a family with whom the teacher-philosopher Socrates was supposedly friendly. As a youth, Plato and other young...

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19. Muhammad: Honor-Centered Morality

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pp. 136-144

Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, was born in Makkah (now in Saudi Arabia) in 570 AD1 to Aminah in the house of his grandfather Abdul Muttalib, the leader of the tribe of Quraish. His father Abdullah had passed away in Madinah six months before Muhammad’s birth. His mother died when Muhammad was about six. Thereafter...

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20. Immanuel Kant: Importance of Duty

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pp. 145-150

The modern philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a deontologist (deon is the Greek word for duty) and is famous for his ethical theory the Categorical Imperative. This is a duty-based theory insisting that moral actions cannot be based on consequences. According to Kant, the Categorical Imperative is the supreme...

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21. Moses: Deontological Norms

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pp. 151-157

It is typical to consider one of the Old Testament’s central characters, Moses, as the lawgiver who brought “God’s word,” the Ten Commandments or Decalogue, down from Mt. Sinai. Such a portrait of Moses as a duty-driven servant of God is accurate. However, it omits a key—if not...

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22. Thomas Hobbes: The Ethics of Social Order

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pp. 158-164

When Thomas Hobbes fled from London to Paris in 1640 to escape persecution, he was, as he later wrote, “the first of all that fled” (Martinich 2005, 3). In Leviathan, Hobbes, who described himself as a “timid” man, claimed that his only aim was to present some useful, impartial, truths “occasioned by the disorders...

Part V. The Communitarian Stance: Loyalty to the Community

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pp. 165-206

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23. Confucius: Ethics of Character

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pp. 167-172

Confucius had a lot to say about ethics and communication. To consider his ideas in relation to modern Western, particularly American, thought, we have to start by understanding that he was a great man living in ancient China and trying to emulate and revive the customs of an even earlier era. He believed the morals of his people...

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24. Mohandas Gandhi: Fellowship of Power

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pp. 173-179

Gandhi, as perhaps no other leader, epitomizes the concept that ethics is not something one has, ethics is something one does. For Gandhi, the two were one. “I am told that religion and politics are different spheres of life. But I would say without a moment’s hesitation and yet in all modesty that those who claim this do not know...

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25. Karl Marx: Transcending Alienation

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pp. 180-185

Perhaps the most influential social thinker of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx (1818–1883) was born into an era of social ferment. The age of industrialization was underway, creating both enormous fortunes and widespread privation across Europe. A new social stratum of intellectuals, professionals, and other educated...

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26. John Dewey: Democratic Conversation

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pp. 186-192

Philosopher John Dewey was an intellectual child of the Enlightenment tempered by a young adulthood in an America experimenting with reform. The result was a wide-ranging philosophical vision of which ethics was a central, but by no means solitary, part. To summarize Dewey is to invite reductionism, but his approach...

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27. Jürgen Habermas: Consensus and Citizenship

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pp. 193-199

The political implications of the work of Jürgen Habermas have been widely examined, especially his desire to cling to the potential of consensus. There is little doubt that Habermas’s desire to retain connection with Enlightenment thought and the possibility of consensus is one of the most controversial parts of his work. Some see...

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28. Emmanuel Levinas: Priority of the Other

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pp. 200-206

This introductory treatment of Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics project for the field of communication begins with three basic assumptions. First, Levinas brings ethics to the very center of life as an ongoing continuing act of creation. Second, Levinas’s understanding of communication begins with listening, not with telling. Third, listening...


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pp. 207-209


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pp. 211-221

Back Cover

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p. 233-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780826271846
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218469

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2009