Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 8-8-2020


One-year Embargo

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

Anthony M. Wachs


rhetoric, philosophy of communication, media ecology, Walker Percy, semiotics, sign, symbol, mediation, existentialism, Catholic


This dissertation proposes to explore the mediating function of the symbol through the work of Walker Percy. In the first chapter, I provide the necessary background for undertaking this project. First, I situate Percy in his historical moment and review key events in his life that helped to shape his philosophy of communication. Second, I sketch out some of the primary coordinates in Percy’s thought. Percy’s hermeneutic of the self requires an understanding of the difference between sign and symbol, dyadic and triadic events, environment and world, and immanence and transcendence. Third, I review some of the key intersections with Percy’s work and the field of communication. Percy responded to several schools of thought important to the field of communication, including information theory, General Semantics, behaviorism, symbolic interactionism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and the New Rhetoric. Several voices within the field of communication also drew upon Percy’s work in topic areas such as rhetoric, communication ethics, philosophy of communication, media ecology, and communication pedagogy. The final section of the first chapter provides a preview of the chapters to come. The second chapter covers the glories of symbol use, which follow from the successful mediation of existence. In the third chapter, I review the shadow side of symbolic mediation, which occurs when individuals encounter symbols instead of existence, leading to alienation and solipsism. The fourth and final chapter investigates the means for escaping from symbolically induced alienation and, paradoxically, makes a case for the importance of non-symbolic phenomena. Altogether, this dissertation aims to solidify the importance of Percy’s work for the field of communication, especially his philosophical realism, which subverts the temptation to idealism faced by scholars of rhetoric and communication.



Included in

Rhetoric Commons