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The Road Not Taken: William James's Radical Empiricism and Communication Theory

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This essay examines how William James's radical empiricism deals with indeterminism and formulates a central issue in contemporary communication theory; incommensurability. A close textual reading of James's initial approach of indeterminacy as chaos is provided and I argue James subsequently reformulates this as the problem of incommensurability in his radical empiricism. In this way, James overcomes a chaos/order dualism that continues to orient much communication theory. I examine three post-positivist theories of communication — Pearce & Cronen's Coordinated Management of Meaning, Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action, and Mosco's Political Economy of Communication – in light of this finding and consider its implications for pragmatist projects in communication. It is suggested that although John Durham Peters's Speaking into the Air anticipates many of these findings, recovering James's radical empiricism can facilitate the reconstruction of a pragmatist tradition of thougt subsequently developed through George Herbert Mead and John Dewey.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Communication Studies, University of Otago

Publication date: 2005-07-01

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