Civil discourse

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Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding.[1]


Kenneth J. Gergen describes civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity", and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences.[2]

In Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), John Locke contrasts between civil and philosophical discourse (or rhetorical discourse) with the former being for the benefit of the reader, and the public good:[3][4][5]

First, By, their civil use, I mean such a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may serve for the upholding common conversation and commerce, about the ordinary affairs and conveniences of civil life, in the societies of men, one amongst another.

Secondly, By the philosophical use of words, I mean such a use of them as may serve to convey the precise notions of things, and to express in general propositions certain and undoubted truths, which the mind may rest upon and be satisfied with in its search after true knowledge. These two uses are very distinct; and a great deal less exactness will serve in the one than in the other, as we shall see in what follows.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mark Kingwell (1995). A civil tongue: justice, dialogue, and the politics of pluralism. Penn State Press. p. 227. ISBN 0-271-01335-4. 
  2. ^ Kenneth J. Gergen (2001). Social construction in context. pp. 71–5. ISBN 0-7619-6545-9. 
  3. ^ John Locke (1690). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. ISBN 0-14-043482-8. 
  4. ^ Peter Walmsley (1995). "Prince Maurice's Rational Parrot: Civil Discourse in Locke's Essay". Eighteenth-Century Studies 28 (4): 413–425. 
  5. ^ Richard Kennington, Pamela Kraus, Frank Hunt (2004). On modern origins: essays in early modern philosophy. Lexington Books. p. 254. ISBN 0-7391-0814-X. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Benjamin R. Barber (1999). "The discourse of civility". In Stephen L. Elkin, Karol Edward Sołtan. Citizen competence and democratic institutions. Penn State Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-271-01816-4. 

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