As localities around the globe become increasingly diverse, multicultural questions of how we ought to communicate take on renewed urgency, complexity, and importance. Ethics concerns what one "ought" to do amid competing values in a given situation in a historical context. A key component of ethics deals with communicating our chosen commitments, justifying our actions, and dealing with challenges to our assumptions. Communication ethics concerns itself with the many tools and perspectives that can assist individuals, organizations, and other collectivities in negotiating the promotion of the good in the face of ever-changing historical circumstances.
Communication ethics aims to provide sound justifications for or against particular communication behaviors, choices, messages, and acts. This process can occur on philosophical and theoretical levels to develop moral perspectives from which to examine, evaluate, criticize, and prescribe ethical action. As people make ethical judgments, they are reminded of their impact on what it means to be human, the nature of values and morality, and outcomes on individuals and society. Researchers in communication ethics analyze ethical frameworks, perspectives, communication decisions, and acts to offer a more productive ethical outcome. On the whole, communication ethics examines how, in the absence of a universal ethical perspective in today’s world, we can best coexist amid sometimes incommensurable differences. To fully understand communication ethics as a research field, this bibliographic essay offers a brief history of communication ethics and discusses the scope and some of the important research of the field.
Robert L. Ballard is associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University. Melba Vélez Ortiz is assistant professor at the School of Communications at Grand Valley State University. Leeanne M. Bell McManus is associate professor of business communication at Stevenson University.