Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Charles Guignon, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Joanne Waugh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lee Braver, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Christman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Morris, Ph.D.


Dialogism, Ethics, Dialogical Self Theory, Event Ontology


This dissertation attempts to fill, in part, three lacunae in contemporary philosophical scholarship: first, the failure to identify the two distinct types of dialogism—psychological and interpersonal—that have been operative in discussions of the dialogical self; second, the lack of acknowledgement of the six most prominent features of interpersonal dialogism; and third, the unwillingness to recognize that interpersonal dialogism is a crucial feature of human ethical agency and identity.

In Chapter One, I explain why dialogism has been relatively neglected—and certainly underappreciated—in contemporary Western philosophy. In Chapter Two, I offer a picture of Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of dialogism. I explain why and how Bakhtin focuses on the novel in his account of dialogism. I then offer an account of Bakhtin’s claim regarding the dialogism of the ‘inner’ speech of thought. In the second part of Chapter Two, I offer an account of Gadamer’s conception of dialogism. I begin my examination of Gadamer by discussing the event ontology that serves as the metaphysical framework for his account of “play” (Spiel) and dialogue. In doing so, I explain some of the most important ideas in this part of his thought, such as his notion of understanding, tradition, effective history, the fusion of horizons, and the text. I explain what Gadamer means by genuine conversation, or dialogue, and I then describe one of the most important ideas in Gadamer’s thought—his notion of “play.”

In Chapter Three, I give a critical account of the most influential contemporary account of dialogism in psychology, offered by Hubert Hermans et al., specifically in terms of their establishment of dialogical self theory. My examination consists of several parts. First, I discuss the ways they conceptualize the self, temporally and spatially. Second, I offer a description of their account of I-positions within the dialogical self. Third, I examine their claims about the necessary features of the dialogical self, and argue against one of their claims, which says that dominance relations are intrinsic to dialogue. Fourth, I describe their account of the four kinds of relations that can emerge within the self (2010, 121). Fifth, I briefly discuss their view regarding the “[t]hree models of self and identity, associated with different historical phases” (4), that have predominated in Western history. Sixth, I consider their claim that there are “positions” within the self in addition to the “I-positions” noted above. And lastly, I evaluate their account of (what they call) the nine “features of good dialogue” (10).

In Chapter Four, I offer a critical evaluation of the account of dialogue and dialogism developed by Dmitri Nikulin, arguably the leading contemporary philosopher on the subjects. While I address the features of his account that I think are correct, I ultimately argue that it is problematic for three main reasons: first, it fails to recognize the proper relationship between dialogue and agency; second, its elucidation of the necessary and sufficient conditions for dialogue contains conceptual inconsistencies; and third, its conception of the relation between dialogue and personhood has potentially disastrous ethical implications.

In Chapter Five, I show how Heidegger’s notions of Dasein’s “Being-with” (Mitsein), “discourse” (Rede), and “solicitude” (Fursorge) help lay the groundwork for recognizing some important features of dialogism. I do three things in Chapter Six. First, I briefly discuss Charles Taylor’s work on dialogism. Second, I offer my account of the seven most prominent features of dialogism. And third, I argue that dialogism is a crucial feature of ethical agency and identity. To do so, I offer an example of a personal (and social) virtue, namely, empathy, which illustrates the important role dialogism plays in ethical agency.