Re: MD Rhetoric as Philosophy

From: Valence (
Date: Sun Sep 15 2002 - 23:51:29 BST

Hey Matt,

> Thank you for the academic redescription. As it happens, I understand
> rhetoric is commonly meant today as the "art of persuasion." That dance,
> the Mona Lisa, and Beethoven's 5th, under the academic rubric of rhetoric,
> are not considered to be rhetorical or as having sprung from rhetoric.
> That Toulmin, Burke, and Aristotle are major voices of academic rhetoric.
> However, that redescription misses the point of what I wrote. I
> consciously redefined rhetoric in an attempt to better formulate the
> dependence of the communication of beliefs.

    I did not miss the point of what you wrote Matt, I objected to it. The
sin of most modern academics is that they have confined rhetoric to the use
of slick or flowery language to win arguments. You're now seeking to go to
the opposite extreme. While they're looking to narrow the definition of
rhetoric so as to make it a trifle, you're looking to open it up so wide as
to make it all encompassing.
    What you call a "redescription" in my estimate looks alot more like
"de-description." For in your view, "Rhetoric" has explicitly been reduced
to a mere synonym for "self-expression." But what differentiates rhetoric
from other types of communication is that it actively seeks to gain the
adherence of an audience to its propositions. "Communication" and
"expression" are broader than rhetoric. While I would need to communicate a
thought to you to convince you of it, I would not need to convince you of a
thought to communicate it to you.

> For instance, what you say here would supposedly give my narrative a
> reductio ad absurdum quality:
> >Consider that under your
> >definition, absolutely every last word, action or product of any person
> >would be "rhetorical." The Mona Lisa would be a work of rhetoric, as
> >Beethoven's 5th...
> Indeed, that was the point of my redescription: our communication is
> rhetorical by nature....

    But all communication is not rhetorical.... not even linguistically
speaking. Here's a nice simple example for you : "What is your name?" does
not ask anyone to believe anything or adhere to any values. In fact,
questions in general have no rhetorical quality, which is we identify the
"rhetorical question" as different from ordinary questions.

> And further you attempt to undermine the rest of what I say as not having
> anything to do with rhetoric (a very strategic, ethos-ended, rhetorical
> move, I must say):

    You must say? Why must you say? In your view, ALL communications and
self-expressions are rhetorical... so clearly, it would just go without
saying. Furthermore, under your view, labeling my argumentation as a
"rhetorical move" would be to say absolutely nothing about it since in your
view all expression is rhetorical....
    Which is really why I object to your idea. You've enlarged the
definition of a perfectly good term so far, that it has ceased to denote
anything meaningful at all. In your world, rhetoric,communication, and
self-expression have all been watered down to synonyms, each losing their
particular flavor. In fact, you EXPLICITLY declared them as
synonyms..."Rhetoric is the art of self-expression."
    But this definition is just way too broad to have any practical value.
Rhetoric is the art of self-expression aimed at persuading an audience to
adhere to the truth a thesis or proposition. You see, rhetoric is a means,
not an end. It is the means we employ to gain the adherence of the audience
to our proposition. Rhetoric is the means, the proposition is the end.
    Remember the rhetorical question? What makes it rhetorical is that the
"question" is being employed to make a point beyond itself. The question
itself isn't the point, it isn't really asking for any information. It is
making a statement aimed at getting the listener to believe a proposition.
    Now we can see why things like dancing and painting are typically not
rhetorical. Typically, a dance or painting or any work of art is not trying
to convince you of something or asking you to believe anything. The work
itself is the point, it's the end, it's not a means towards gaining the
adherence of an audience to a greater proposition.
    You quipped, "The Mona Lisa either convinces us of its beauty or not."
Well, someone may try to convince you that the Mona Lisa is beautiful. You
may convince yourself. Leonardo himself may have intended the Mona Lisa to
be beautiful. But it's not a work of rhetoric because the Mona Lisa itself
is not a means towards making the point that the Mona Lisa is beautiful.
Got that? It IS beautiful, but it is not ARGUING that it is beautiful.
    Not to say that a work of art can never be rhetorical...if a painter or
choreographer were trying practicing their art in order to get the audience
to believe some proposition, it could be considered rhetorical, but only if
there were a specific goal in mind. For example, if "the Last Supper" were
an attempt by its creator to convince viewers that Christ is divine, it
would be a rhetorical work.

> On the other hand, once one follows my redescription, I think my other
> points do have something to do with rhetoric, though maybe not
> Rhetoric.

    You try to shed some sort of taint on my writings by pejoratively
labeling them as "academic" and "professional", but I'm arguing only from
the point of view of practicality. It simply not practical, nor valuable to
sacrifice the term rhetoric for a synonym for "self-expression."
    Furthermore, it's strange to me that you would label my position here as
reflective of the "academic" position. The modern trends in academia have
been to confine rhetoric to what Aristotle called the epideictic mode, which
is that mode which is attendant to form, style and presentation and is
commonly associated with the negative connotation of "sophistry". Your
conclusion that "To be excellent in rhetoric is to be excellent in
self-expression" sounds directly in line with such points of view.
    My own point of view (which i've not discussed here) is that rhetoric is
a mode of rationality. As far as I know, no prominent academic since
Aristotle has backed that horse. The source of this idea is explored well
in the writings of Chaim Perelman. Perelman also treated rhetoric as
philosophy, but he did so without having to sacrifice its nature and
defining characteristics... Something, I believe, you have not been able to

take care,

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