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John Dewey on the Art of Communication

Crick, Nathan (2005) John Dewey on the Art of Communication. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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John Dewey once wrote: "Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful." For him communication is the highest of the "arts of life," for it is in communication that society is born and nurtured. It is by communication that we discover the possibilities of nature. And it is through communication that we make our shared experience meaningful. It is no wonder, then, that Dewey would conclude The Public and Its Problems with this provocative statement: Democracy "will have its consummation when free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication."Dewey, however, does not adequately explain what he understands by "the art of full and moving communication" and never tells us how "communication" functions in the varied contexts of practical life. Despite, then, his obvious affection for communication, he leaves many questions about it unanswered. For instance, what makes communication possible? In what kind of situations is communication called for and why? How does an inchoate feeling or idea find concrete embodiment in language? What are the connections among language, communication, thought, feeling, and action? Most importantly, what is the process by which one employs the art of communication to influence the beliefs and behaviors of others? This dissertation addresses these questions by approaching Dewey's thinking on communication from a distinctly rhetorical perspective. Even though Dewey almost never mentions "rhetoric" in his entire corpus, I argue that it is precisely the absence of the term from his writings that makes a rhetorical reading of his work all the more imperative. Such a reading permits us to understand the practical importance of the "art of communication" in the larger context of his social thought. If, then, the problem with Dewey's writing on communication is that it often drifts into abstractions, one remedy is take those abstractions and place them into concrete situations, where communication is required to transform some part of the environment through transaction with human thought and action. Because this kind of activity has been the specific domain of rhetoric since the time of the sophists, it is only appropriate to read Dewey's work through that tradition.In effect, the goal of this dissertation is to explicate Dewey's theory of communication in the terms of a rhetorical theory. But insofar as his thought went through three distinct "periods" in his lifetime, beginning with his Idealistic period in 1880, moving into his Experimental period in 1903, and culminating in his Naturalistic period in 1925, Dewey can be said to have had three implicit rhetorical theories. To articulate and explain each of these theories, I trace Dewey's theoretical development through time and construct, through published works, private correspondence, and biographical material. I show that the first theory envisioned rhetoric as a form of eros that helps us grow towards Absolute self consciousness. The second theory views rhetoric as a form of critical inquiry whose goal is the development of phronçsis, or practical wisdom. The third theory treats rhetoric as a productive technç, or a naturalistic form of art that has the power to transform experience, nature, and society through its transactional character.By tracing Dewey's theoretical development and explicating three implicit theories of rhetoric in his writings, this dissertation not only provides a unique perspective on Dewey's changing views on language, ontology, and social practice, but also demonstrates how each theory can still be effectively used to interpret and guide the art of rhetoric. This kind of work enables us to grasp different facets of this diverse and vibrant art. At the same time, it shows how Dewey's work remains an important resource for those who wish to promote and sustain a democratic way of life by educating citizens in the art of full and moving communication.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Crick, Nathannacst28@pitt.eduNACST28
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPoulakos, Johnpoulakos@pitt.eduPOULAKOS
Committee MemberMitchell, Gordongordonm@pitt.eduGORDONM
Committee MemberMcGuire, Jamesjemcg@pitt.eduJEMCG
Committee MemberSimonson, Petersimonson@pitt,edu
Date: 3 June 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 2 March 2005
Approval Date: 3 June 2005
Submission Date: 19 April 2005
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: aesthetic experience; communication; Dewey; naturalism; persuasion; psychology; rhetoric; rhetorical situation; Vermont transcendentalism
Other ID:, etd-04192005-122710
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:38
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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