Posted in Discussion Questions

Hitler and Aristotle Walk Into a Bar… Ethics in Professional Writing (Katz)

“Technological Culture and the Ethic of Expediency,” an academic article by Steven Katz, offers a distinct glimpse at the ethics of efficiency and how this relates to professional writing. The article opens with a memo, almost too perfect technically, discussing improvements to vehicles. The memo mentions the load these vehicles carry and the merchandise found inside. Some of the wording in the memo suggest that the load these vehicles deal with is something alive, but it is not until the memo concludes and Katz informs that it is from the early stages of Nazi exterminations that one realizes the inherently horrific quality of the memo. While the memo discusses vehicles and lights and loads and merchandise, in reality it is discussing ways to exterminate human beings. There is an obvious problem with this.

Once this scenario is established, Katz uses it to introduce the idea of the ethics of expediency. Katz explains Aristotle’s connections with this idea before he discusses the Holocaust any further. The ethics of expediency is not a novel idea; it was created by Aristotle originally, who believed in the marriage of logic and ethics to produce good. While giving an overview of Aristotle’s theories and ideas, Katz gives a flyover look at many topics familiar to those who study rhetoric: logos, ethos, pathos, telos, praxis, phronesis, etc. The conclusion of the conversation about Aristotle comes with the notion that happiness if the end goal of human life.

Once the conversation about Greek Philosophers finishes, Katz relates the ideas discussed back to Hitler and his specific rhetoric. Hitler based his rhetoric off of a “spiritual idea,” gaining followers and disguising expediency in his own way (263). Hitler believed in the power of science and technology and efficiency; because of this, everything he did was “technically justified and correct,” even if it was not ethically sound (265). After the discussion about Hitler, Katz expands his focus to include the rest of the Nazi party and how it used technological ethos. Katz makes the argument here that their rhetoric is completely technical, rational, and technological, so much so that it “becomes madness” (267). The rhetoric of expediency here was not to encourage debate (as rhetoric normally attempts to do), but rather to persuade and put Nazi ideas in people’s minds.

Katz ends his discussion by bringing the subject matter closer to home: The United States. He argues that because Aristotle defined the end goal of humanity as finding happiness, and because the United States bases happiness off success and money, that success and money will become the end goal, no matter what the cost. This ideology throws ethics out the window, all in the name of expediency. He warns against this before ending his thoughts on the matter.

This article was packed full of difficult yet beneficial ideas to mull over, especially as aspiring technical writers. The last section dealing specifically with the United States was an important read given the futures those in this class probably have in store. Ethics is an extremely important part of technical writing. I immediately think of journalism when I think of ethics in relation to writing. While bending the truth or not giving the whole truth when reporting certain situations may bring in more profit, this does not benefit the living and breathing audience on the other side of the page. What is the gain of efficiency, expediency, and greed when it comes at the cost of other’s wellbeing?

Discussion Questions

  1. Toward the beginning of the article, Katz writes, “technical writing, perhaps even more than other kinds of rhetorical discourse, always leads to action, and thus always impacts on human life; in technical writing, epistemology necessarily leads to ethics” (259). Do you believe this is true of technical writing? Can you think of examples where technical writing does not lead to action? Is ethics always a necessary result of technical writing?
  2. Katz mentions that there are many parallels between Hitler’s propaganda techniques and political campaigns in the present (271). Given today’s current political climate, can you see any parallels between Hitler’s rhetoric and the rhetoric of politics today?
  3. One of Katz’s main arguments is based off Aristotle’s idea that happiness is the end goal of humankind. Do you agree with this notion? Do you believe happiness is the telos of human life? If so, where do you see this in professional writing? If not, what do you think the telos is?


Hopelessly devoted to Jesus and sparkly things

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