‘Telling the Truth’: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Rhetorical Discourse Ethic

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This essay claims that Dietrich Bonhoeffer's discourse ethic, developed most fully in his prison essay "What is Meant by 'Telling the Truth'?," reveals rhetoric as a rich ethical approach to communication. Although Bonhoeffer never directly engaged texts belonging to a traditional rhetorical corpus, his theological ontology produced a view of communication that is political, plural, ordered, and democratic, mirroring the broad view of communication found in ancient thinkers like Socrates, Aristotle, and Cicero. I argue that unlike most contemporary accounts of discourse ethics, Bonhoeffer's concept of ethical communication is dependent upon a model or method only in a secondary sense. It is primarily derived from a vision of the good. Bonhoeffer's dependence upon this vision not only distinguishes his work from most contemporary theory in discourse ethics, but challenges such theories to probe the visions of the good that underlie the various methods and models of ethical communication they offer.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-248
JournalJournal of Media and Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005


  • being
  • Bonhoeffer
  • Heidegger
  • rhetoric
  • speech ethics
  • time


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