Publication details [#4213]

Dowdy, Earl E., Jr. 1998. The communication of beliefs: An inquiry into the rhetoric of collective identity and the origins and uses of normative logic. Urbana-Champaign, Ill.. 538 pp.


What patterns may we discern in discourses people have adopted to reconstitute a sense of truth and reality or the right and the good when familiar norms have become challenged by the march of events? The thesis: people will struggle earnestly in respect of formulations of collective identity, seeking "logical" renditions of the "normal" or "virtuous" person, and thus prepare themselves to believe certain things about the world and themselves as "a people." The work at hand looks to the historical record for traces of semiotic (signing) activity in modal-language (signifying) excursions that establish, contest, and defend normative regimes and the peculiar logics in which such regimes are expressed. Forms of rhetorical discourse - in particular the modalities of metaphor, synecdoche, and irony - are found to structure communication in fundamental ways that recurrently shape beliefs about being human in society. Four areas of contemporary academic discussion are assessed - "intercultural communication," "social psychology," "social semiotics," and "historiography" - wherein the normative dimension of human affairs has become a topic of special interest. Next the inquiry looks into the origins of our peculiarly "Western" forms of normative logic; and indeed, we find that the ancient Greeks talked and wrote extensively about questions generally concerning "collective identity" and "normative logic," they mounted a number of serious attempts to treat related matters in systematic fashion, and their discussions were urgently motivated by cultural changes underway in the pre-Christian Greek world. Next the dissertation examines some of the uses to which discourses about collective identity and normative logic have been put since ancient times, so as to give shape to the content of Western beliefs about humanity, our place in the world, and the social-political arrangements deemed necessary and proper to human existence and dignity. Lastly analysis is made of some recent situations and strategies in political discourse; here, modern political appeals to the public sense of collective identity offer demonstration of both the historical continuity and the dazzling fluidity of our norms of belief about the good and the right and the real and the true in human affairs. (Dissertation Abstracts)