Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-20-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Communication and Rhetorical Studies


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Ronald C. Arnett

Committee Member

Janie Harden Fritz

Committee Member

Richard H. Thames


communication ethics, economic spheres, philosophy of communication, neoliberalism, rhetoric of economics


This project examines communication ethics scholarship to understand how economics is understood within the field and to establish coordinates for scholars to discuss economic spheres as phenomena that affect communication ethics. Scholars draw from the tradition of virtue ethics to mark communication ethics inquiry as that which explores the practices that protect and promote the “good.” Philosophers of communication and communication ethicists have developed paradigmatic metaphors for the field that allow us to understand the formation of ethical guidelines within communities both familial, corporate, and national, that promote and protect various goods. These metaphors include “hierarchy” and “sameness” from Charles Taylor, who notes that these “social imaginaries” determine the way people are treated within a hierarchy is based upon their role within it. Public identity also determines how others are treated and how communication transpires, which Alasdair Macintyre notes is a tradition dating back to Aristotle. The metaphor of private and public spheres, and their boundaries, also form how communicative agents interact. Hannah Arendt’s analysis examines how the conflation of these two spheres in the time of the Industrial Revolution and following, transformed in part by Karl Marx’s writings, created a “social” sphere in which ethical boundaries are continuously contested. This differs greatly from ancient economics, though the ancient period in the West still informs an identification of economics as part of the private sphere and government as part of the public sphere.

Drawing from these metaphors, economic spheres affect communication ethics in our present historical moment. Capitalism creates a hierarchy grounded in an ontic presumption of sameness. Its institutions, such as corporations, reify hierarchical order while the freedom to enter into contracts, which Taylor identifies as a primary turn toward “civility” after the 16th-17th century time of “Reform,” requires a presumption of sameness among its members. That is, people are considered to have the same opportunity to participate, or at least are treated as if they do, and, therefore, share equal responsibility for maintaining the system. Socialism reifies sameness and distributes goods based upon that notion. Both systems inform public identities, such as “consumer” and “producer,” and both rely on particular accounts of public and private spheres—debates surrounding neoliberal capitalism, for example, focus on the primary discussion of what role the government should have in market activity. As such, communication ethics scholars are in a unique position to explore economic spheres and how they affect communication as each revolves around a particular good.