Organizational rhetoric is critically questioned for ethics of its strategic processes and aspirational goal of persuasive, inescapably self-interested influence. Such critique pits strategic engagement needed for self-governance against self-interested framing (spin) and other dysfunctions. This theoretical essay takes stock of research literature to evaluate the ethics of organizational rhetoric, as rationale for public relations, and justify shifting from a strategic functional to an ontological, agonistic view of public relations. Relevant literature justifies the ethics of fairness (which features regard for others’ interests) to guide rhetorical processes and prefer outcomes as societally responsible. From classical Greece to postmodern theory of agonism, analysis of rhetoric centers on self-governance: achieved by stakeholders addressing rhetorical problems in rhetorical situations to deliberate strategic legitimatization. The discursive role of public relations intersects ethics of fairness and rhetorical citizenship, advocacy and dialogue, discourse and engagement at individual and societal levels. Public relations should be linked to an ontological ethics regarding strategic means of rhetorical influence toward ends accomplished collectively by agonistic pursuit.
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