Texas Tech University
Box 43092
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Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 10:33:06 -0700

Mr. Rod Welch
The Welch Company
440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111 2496

Subject:   Plato, writing, oral discourse


Just a further note on the same topic, in reference to your recent message:

I am not thinking of communication in terms of communication skills in the sense you have in mind. I agree with you that communication understood in that way is relatively trivial.

I am thinking rather of the entire cyclical management process you are concerned with as having a communicational structure overall, so that communication involves not only communication with others but also with one self. SDS seems to involve both -- this is part of the reason I am so much impressed with it -- in that it provides a structure of standing access to anything you are concerned with but also is capable of informing the understanding of others whom you are in communication with in much the same way, such as me, for example. I find myself brought into your world in exploring the links. This makes good on the idea that thought in general can be regarded as having a communicational form, since there is no important difference to be drawn logically between self-communication and communication with others: SDS obviously informs the one as much as the other and in the same way.

In trying to understand the logic of the whole management process, for the purpose of making it more efficient, noting the role of the oral and the written is initially helpful but the reason I think Plato especially relevant here is that you can see that although he puts the problem himself in terms of written vs. oral he comes to what appears at first to be a diagnosis contraryh to yours. This is puzzling until you realize that it is not actually oral vs written that is at issue but rather, at a deeper level, the difference between discourse that is unidirectional and hence not SELF-controlled and self-controlled discourse, which requires bi-directionality (interaction) in order for there to be feedback loops, etc. Thus the puzzle disappears when we see that, say, the uselessness of more meetings and conversation of that type lies in the fact that that sort of communication is really only functioning unidirectionally, with the manager trying to control others by it without submitting himself to playing a role in a self-controlled process.

I would go so far as to say that the sort of communication which you identify as worthless relative to what you think important (granting it might have some other useful functions) is not really communication at all because nothing is actually being conveyed in it, and it is surely essential to communication that something is being conveyed. So in other words, from one point of view, at least, it is just pseudo-communication. That is why I want to say that the way to understand this is not to distinguish communication as one phase of the process but rather see it as the form of the process as a whole, and then be on the lookout for pseudo-communication where something appears to be being accomplished but in fact nothing is happening and wheels are just spinning without meshing with anything.

In mainstream philosophy there is still only a dim awareness of the importance of communication concepts, and this shows up in many ways. Typically, though, it shows up whenever one finds somebody bringing communicational concepts in too late, as it were, after having tried to give a basic account without recourse to them. (I see this being done again and again at present in philosophy of science where it is clear that the social character of science cannot be ignored any longer but the philosophers of science don't know how to handle it since everything has always been based on the notion of the individual person as basic.) Communication is just tacked on, as it were. And as so conceived, communication is necessarily only a relatively trivial aspect of whatever it is that one is concerned with.

It is very tricky to get this right but I think it can be done. The reason it is not, though, is that the terms used in the analysis are not cutting into the process deeply enough, and the distinctions being drawn, though superficially cogent, are just not adequate. Yet you often have to work with the superficial distinctions first in order to get enough of an understanding to make it possible to move on further toward a deeper understanding, then be able to make a further move by letting go of that initial set of distinctions in favor of a more penetrating set, and so forth, perhaps making several passes in that way. This is tricky. The reason why the Greek intellectual world and its problems can be so helpful is that their problems and ours are very close to being the same problems, but things were much simpler then and it is easier to get at the underlying factors if one is interested in doing that.

Nowadays the sheer complexity defeats us, as you note, and we are lucky to be able to get a hold on some problems even at the more superficial level. At any rate, this is what I have found so helpful in turning back to this earlier source: the relative ease with which one can move to a more basic level of understanding of things like politics, law, science, and so forth, because it is still relatively new, and things are frequently discussed then in a more straightforward fashion.


Texas Tech University
Dept of Philosophy

Joe Ransdell

Joseph Ransdell
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