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A Time for Silence? Its Possibilities for Dialogue and for Reflective Learning

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…. a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes: Chapter III, Verses 1 and 7.

Abstract

From the beginning of history sounds have played a fundamentally important role in humanity’s development as ways of expression and of communication. However in contemporary western society, and indeed globally, we are experiencing an excess of speech and a relentless encouragement to expression. Such excess indicates a misunderstanding about what expression and dialogue should be. This condition encourages us to think about silence, solitude and contemplation and the role they might play in restoring the realm of personal understanding of the Self and of one’s authentic experience of the Other. The purpose of this article is to explore the potency of a silence that arises from our participation in the world. We present first some ideas about silence as a human phenomenon. This is followed by an examination of silence and language, an investigation of silence in dialogue, and of its educational implications. The article concludes by emphasising the value of silence as potency in itself, assisting in recovering the expressive powers of language. We argue that it is important to understand the positive status of silence in order to recognise and avoid repressive speech and to introduce its potential for reflective learning.

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Notes

  1. 4′ 33″, a musical composition that consists entirely of silence, is John Cage's most famous creation. It has become a sort of icon in post-war culture.

  2. English version: “Endurance, endurance,/Endurance in the sky’s blue!/every atom of silence,/is a chance of ripened fruit!” Palme (Valéry 1971).

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Correspondence to Ana Cristina Zimmermann.

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Zimmermann, A.C., Morgan, W.J. A Time for Silence? Its Possibilities for Dialogue and for Reflective Learning. Stud Philos Educ 35, 399–413 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-015-9485-0

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Keywords

  • Silence
  • Dialogue
  • Expression
  • Learning