Communication Ethics and Crisis in the Public Sphere

Communication acts as a tool for delivering information. When communication is lacking in an organization, crises occur and affect processes in an organization. It aims at understanding human actions through social interactions from which meanings and identities emerge (Cheney et al. 1). Communication plays a vital role in advancing ethical discussions by analyzing and examining ethical issues and dilemmas (Cheney et al. 1). Communication ethics is crucial to individuals, corporations, and businesses. An organization with ethical consideration is very effective when dealing with a crisis in the public sphere. Just as communication is useful in ethics, it also plays a major role in the crisis that exists in the public sphere. Communication ethics has both a theoretical and a historical standpoint. From a historical perspective, communication ethics borrowed its moral teachings from Christianity, Judaic, Islamic ethics, the middle ages, and Ancient Greece. Ethics tries to explain the problems in morality. Ethics borrowed concepts of law and virtues from Christianity. It aimed to integrate philosophical views with Christianity and create a moral philosophy that would solve ethics and Christianity issues (MacIntyre 5). In Judaism,  ethics identified parallel philosophies that contracted with Christianity. Devine laws in Judaism were different from Christianity; therefore, Ethics integrated with these disciplines to settle morality issues omitted in Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic religions.

From a theoretical perspective, communication ethics theory tries to discern what is good. These theories depict that only a particular kind of thing is good based on a naturalistic fallacy (Moore 39). This theory suggests that morals in ethics are associated with natural aspects in the natural world, facts about human beings, and human nature aspects (Moore 40). Therefore, communication ethics is associated with elements and features in the natural world. Additionally, a naturalistic theory is a form of moral naturalism that assumes cognitive aspects. This theory increases moral and scientific knowledge obtained from the natural world. This theory has had great acceptance but has received criticism from philosophers such as Moore, who claims that what is good is wide and cannot be limited to natural aspects (Moore 51). Therefore, the naturalistic theory of ethics dwells much on the naturalistic fallacy.

Besides naturalistic theory, metaphysical ethics offers a theoretical approach to communication ethics theory. This theory derives and uses some metaphysical prepositions to explain some fundamentals in ethics. According to this theory, ethics should be based on metaphysics (Moore 85). Consequently, this theory suggests that not everything good is a natural object. Therefore, knowledge is not limited to the natural objects only but also other qualities and things that exist in time (Moore 85). Therefore the metaphysical theory of ethics exists to prove that what is good is not limited to natural objects.


Besides communication ethics, a public sphere crisis also has both historical and theoretical ground. From a historical perspective, a crisis may exist on different grounds. When a crisis exists in an organization, the public sphere is exploited. An organization loses its brand equity, products and services are damaged, and overall loss is experienced. An excellent example of a crisis is the  Firestone stoke share in 2000, where the company lost almost half its share value ((Millar and Heath 1). A crisis may exist in an organization when competitors are trying to win customers. It also exists when stakeholders enact legislative policies to punish offenders in an organization (Millar and Heath 2). A  Crisis has also existed in the new communication technology age where false allegations are given about an organization and the products it offers. These crises destroy good relationships created by an organization and interested parties. If it is not solved, an organization may fail to achieve its mission and vision.

On a theoretical ground, a crisis in the public sphere comprises several models. Several public relations theories are adopted in crisis management. These models focus on establishing direction and purpose of communication ethics (Millar and Heath 7). These models revolve around public information, persuasion to establish employee feedback, and relational model, which aims to establish mutual understanding between the organization and the public (Millar and Heath 8). Several theories are developed to explain these models. One of these schools of thought is situational crisis communication theory. According to this theory, a crisis is a negative event that affects different people’s interactions (Coombs and Holladay 68). A crisis occurs to shape people responsibly, and the theory seeks to understand how people perceive crises and the strategies they adopt when they occur (Coombs and Holladay 68).  These crises shape people’s perceptions, attitudes, and behavior and handle crises responsibly when they occur. Situational analysis theory works with contingency theory to handle the crisis that occurs between the organization and stakeholders.

Contingency theory is a public relation theory that uses an advocacy approach in response to a crisis that occurs in an organization. Contingency theory illuminates how public relations operate (Coombs and Holladay 71). Consequently, this theory offers ground measures to settle crises such as settling goals crisis, conflicts between employees, and environmental crisis when they occur (Coombs and Holladay 71). Therefore, contingency theory is useful when handling problems in an organization.

Several scholars have carried extensive research in communication ethics and crisis in the public sphere. These scholars illuminate issues in communication ethics and crisis in the public sphere. One of these scholars is Hannah Arendt, who identifies several problems in the public sphere. One of the crises highlighted is modernity. Arendt criticizes modernity and argues that people should live within their means (Arnett 1). Additionally, she also outlines the shortcoming of modernity. She argues that modernity is a human controller that triggers forceful improvement and innovation in people. Besides modernity, Arendt provides a view of the past and future. She argues that humans live between a past and uncertain future and must find survival tactics for fighting crises when they occur (Arnett 49). They must be willing to fight problems of culture, education, freedom, and authority crises. Arnett extends Arendt’s works of modernity by identifying failed social projects.

Besides Arendt and Arnett, Friedrich Nietzsche is an influential scholar identified for his role in communication ethics and morality issues in ethics and politics. He critics some moral values in ethics and politics and offers historical grounds on guilt, responsibility, law, and justice (Nietzsche et al. 2). Additionally, Friedrich illuminates the contradiction between every moral concept of life and the scientific concepts of life (Nietzsche et al. 15). He explains what is good and evil in his work, highlighting the origin of guilt and punishment, indicating that they were initially not based on moral transgressions. He also provides meaning to asceticism. He aims to understand this concept and the hidden details behind asceticism (Nietzsche et al. 153). Therefore Friedrich Nietzsche has played significant roles in explaining hidden details and criticizing different ideas in morality.

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Scholars in their tenets have depicted the relationship that exists between rhetoric and ethics. Ethics and rhetoric are related, and this relationship can be traced back to Ancient Greek.  Firstly, Rhetoric is related to ethics as it helps human beings establish their certainty from uncertain circumstances (Cheney et al. 52). It provides solutions to individuals in situations where ultimate evidence guiding moral action is lacking (Cheney et al. 52).  Additionally, Aristotle’s rhetoric theory borrows moral aspects from ethics. This theory is viewed as moral as it commands attention from society’s emotional needs and rational faculties in an ethical community. Besides, ethics and rhetoric are challenging to differentiate because both have a communicator who influences others to make communication choices (Cheney et al. 18). Besides rhetoric relationship, ethics is philosophical (Arnett and Arneson 216). It encompasses thoughts, discussions, and practices applied in philosophy.

Besides the relationship between communication ethics with rhetoric and philosophy, scholars have highlighted how crisis relates to rhetoric. A crisis is made up of a rhetoric problem. A rhetoric problem arises when there is a demand to address a crisis (Millar and Heath 10). Just as in a crisis, a rhetoric problem requires a solution to control a particular circumstance. Seemingly, rhetoric and a crisis have common aspects: cause, magnitude, and duration (Millar and Heath 10). Additionally, the philosophy of communication and crisis in the public sphere are related. The process of finding a solution to a problem applies philosophical aspects to achieve desired results. Thus, the philosophy of communication extends to the crises in the public sphere.

Work Cited

Arnett, Ronald C. Communication Ethics In Dark Times. Southern Illinois University Press, 2013.

Arnett, Ronald C, and Pat Arneson. Philosophy Of Communication Ethics. Fairleigh Dickson University Press, 2014.

Cheney, George et al. The Handbook Of Communication Ethics. Routledge, 2011.

Coombs, W. Timothy, and Sherry J Holladay. The Handbook Of Crisis Communication. Wiley-Blackwell A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication, 2019.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History Of Ethics. 2nd ed., Routledge, 1995.

Millar, Dan Pyle, and Robert L Heath. Responding To Crisis. Routledge, 2013.

Moore, G. E. Principia Ethica. At The University Press, 1903.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm et al. On The Genealogy Of Morality. Cambridge University Press, 2006.