What Is Deep Rhetoric? II
What Is Deep Rhetoric? II
Abstract and Keywords
The previous chapter presented a distinction between two kinds of rhetoric—rhetoric as a specific art or discipline that treats communication in specific, limited contexts, and rhetoric as a more philosophical endeavor that is concerned with logos itself in all of its dimensions and uses. This chapter is primarily concerned with the latter kind, which is more like the deep rhetoric this book is trying to define. It begins by addressing the question of ideology directly, and connecting the project of a deep rhetoric with the history of philosophical rhetoric in the twentieth century, especially after the Second World War. Tracing the historical development of deep rhetoric will help in giving further definition to the idea, explaining the practical significance of deep rhetoric, and clarifying the nature and the value of rhetoric as a discipline—as a field of teaching and research.
In chapter 1, the question of deep rhetoric was approached by first asking about rhetoric itself. This led to an exploration of the origins of rhetoric and to a distinction between two kinds of rhetoric: (1) rhetoric as a specific art or discipline that treats communication in specific, limited contexts, and (2) rhetoric as a more philosophical endeavor that is concerned with logos itself in all of its dimensions and uses. This second kind of rhetoric is more like the deep rhetoric with which we are concerned. The first chapter considered a number of challenges to this project—that the word “rhetoric” should be limited to the discipline of rhetoric because the word and the more specific art of rhetoric took shape at the same time; that the discipline of rhetoric could study the methods and purposes of communication because those purposes were connected with specific institutional contexts, whereas a deep rhetoric would be left trying to consider the purpose of communication itself, which would involve it in a teleological and formally theological labyrinth from which it would be unable to escape; that a deep rhetoric would inevitably have to ground itself in a questionable, essentialist humanism; and that a deep rhetoric was nothing more than a big rhetoric, an expansionist project of the discipline of rhetoric.
In light of these challenges, chapter 1 went on to give definition to a more seasoned conception of deep rhetoric, and of its humanism, and included an elaboration of some of the internal tasks it generates for itself: a nonreductive rhetoric of philosophy; a rhetoric of reason; a reinterpretation of philosophical terms and concepts; a further development (p.65) of its philosophical anthropology, or its humanism; the development of an appropriate communicative practice for its own elaboration, one that will be more essayistic and dialogical than systematic and theoretical; and a confrontation with the critical term, “ideology.”
In the chapters to come, “violence” and “reason” and “justice” and “wisdom” will receive deep rhetorical reinterpretations. Dialogues with other thinkers and with the rhetorical tradition will be carried on in these reinterpretations. In chapter 3, an explicit dialogue will be carried on with Plato’s Gorgias and with some of the commentators on that dialogue because a re-reading of Plato on rhetoric is one of the best ways to clear the obstructions from the historical path that once could have led to a deep rhetoric, and thus to rethink the rhetorical tradition. Chapters 5 and 6, on Heidegger and rhetoric, will set up a dialogue that both uses and also criticizes Heidegger to open up a clearer philosophical approach to a deep rhetoric, one that does not make assumptions that undermine the project from the start.
In this chapter, I would like to begin by addressing the question of ideology directly. After that, I would like to connect the project of a deep rhetoric with the history of philosophical rhetoric in the twentieth century, for what I am calling deep rhetoric began to take shape in a number of thinkers then, especially after the Second World War. This tracing of the historical development of deep rhetoric will help to give further definition to the idea, and it will help to explain the practical significance of deep rhetoric and to clarify the nature and the value of rhetoric as a discipline, as a field of teaching and research.
Rhetoric and Ideology
In this section, I would like to bring the concept of a deep rhetoric to the complicated whorl of competing views that carry out their struggle under the umbrella term of “ideology.” Part of the project of a deep rhetoric is to reinterpret traditional philosophical terms that have had a philosophical grounding. Here, I will carry out this reinterpretation of ideology specifically in relation to argumentation, for argumentation, as a form of reason, typically makes special claims to be closely connected with counter-ideological forces of thought. The central question is: can a deep rhetoric preserve the enlightening and liberating energies of reason as it carries out its reinterpretations of reason and ideology?
“Ideology” is a term that moves across philosophy both in its epistemological and political dimensions. Grounded there, it also operates in (p.66) political theory and throughout the social sciences. Historically, the word has several unrelated and conflicting definitions and uses, but some of the conflicts are almost a part of the meaning of the term. Let me begin by approaching this in a historical way.
In the broadest sense, and in the tradition that includes both Marxist and non-Marxist conceptions of ideology, the question of ideology might be formulated the way Hans Barth formulated it over fifty years ago in Truth and Ideology: What are the obstacles to gaining knowledge? What are the obstructions that prevent our ordering our lives according to reason and nature? Barth develops this formulation of the ideological question from an examination of Bacon’s theory of idols and from the writings of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century French theorists of ideology. Few people writing about ideology in the last twentyfive years would accept this formulation because its terms seem now to be quintessentially, shall we say, “ideological.” That is, “reason” and “nature” and “knowledge” are all contested terms, all objects of something like “ideological” critique. They all seem to protect factional interests or particular interests behind the guise of a universal term.1
This brings us directly to two of the central defining conflicts of the theory of ideology. First, the problem of ideology and science, or ideology and reason, or ideology and knowledge: does the concept of ideology assume a non-distorted kind of thought, a mode of knowledge or science that is not affected by ideology? It’s hard to imagine how it could not. The Marxian tradition has usually insisted on this kind of distinction. At several points, Marx both identified the process of how ideology was produced (apparently in a non-ideological description of the process), and he made clear that there really was a science of society that could identity the laws by which history operated. This requires a strong distinction between science and ideology, one that many Marxists have upheld. Lenin made this distinction not only at a theoretical level but also at the practical level of identifying which social groups in a society had real scientific knowledge of the functioning of history and which did not. Despite his more subtle conception of how deeply we are held in ideology, even to the point where, as subjects, we are constituted by it, Althusser, too, insisted on a strong science/ideology distinction, at least for the purposes of understanding how we are ideologically “inscribed.”
Something of the same distinction was at stake in the dispute about ideology and science that was played out in the late 1990s among left intellectuals in the U.S. when the journal Social Text published Alan Sokal’s faked 1996 article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The article claimed that (p.67) physical reality was a linguistic construct and that quantum gravity was a politically progressive idea. Sokal’s aim was to expose the ignorance of the poststructuralist left and its view of science as ideology. He believed that the editors of the journal would not recognize a parody if it bit them in the leg, which it did. However, behind the scandal-mongering was a serious conflict among the disputants about just where the science/ ideology line should be drawn. Behind the scenes, the poststructuralists, who were skeptical about the coherence of the distinction, were lined up against the more traditional Marxian-oriented critics, who held to a very strong version of it. However, one need not be a Marxian to have this problem. To use the concept of ideology in a critical way is, at least implicitly, to claim that there is some non-ideologically distorted way to reason, judge, and communicate.
A second defining question is to ask whether ideology is a critical or a descriptive term. As a critical term, ideology describes a distortion of thought, one that can be identified as such by what must be in principle an undistorted kind of thinking. That is, again, the critical concept of ideology seems to require something like a concept of knowledge or science or reason that is undistorted. However, as a descriptive term, the requirement is not so steep. As a descriptive term, the concept of ideology might be thoroughly historicized, or ideology might be taken to be a natural part of the formation of particular groups—cultures operating in specific material or social or economic (or race or class or gender) contexts that limit or condition thought in specific ways. In this descriptive perspective, all intellectual formation is ideological because all intellectual formation is limited and shaped by its context—and this context is finally the context of the historical projects of specific groups.
However, the descriptive account does not easily escape the problems of the critical view. For we can always ask: What about the descriptions of intellectual formation? Are they also limited—shaped by their specific context? If so, what is their reliability? What is their authority? Their claim on anyone not operating in that context? Or further: If accounts of intellectual formation are just “descriptive,” how do we judge competing intellectual formations, competing ideological powers?
This is enough to get us started. The question of ideology is, in this basic formulation, a clearly philosophical problem. Is there a kind of knowledge, a kind of reasoning, that is not ideological? Is there something like philosophy or science that is not shaped and conditioned by ideological powers? And what is it that is distorted by ideology? What goes wrong in ideological distortions? A deep rhetoric, in trying to accomplish its goal of serving as a metaphilosophy, must give some account of this (p.68) science/ideology or philosophy/ideology distinction. In its anthropological dimension, there is also a role for it to play. The most general form of the question about ideology is a question about human finitude and human error. What is it about human beings that prevents their gaining satisfactory knowledge, prevents them from reasoning in satisfactory ways? What goes wrong with human thinking in general? Clearly, a rhetoric of reason and a rhetorical account of the critique of reason are just as immediately involved.
One more feature of the deep rhetorical project comes to the fore here, and that is the non-self-grounding character of rhetoric. It comes to the fore in a very specific way. One of the claims of reason, science, and philosophy in their traditional forms is to be self-grounding—to be founded on no authority other than reason itself, or reason and sense-experience, observation. No powerful economic base, no ruling class or dominant group, is supposed to be able to affect the nature of reason. Reason’s nature arises from itself. It is, in the words of Kant, a spontaneous activity, beholden to no cause, shaped by no interest.
Rhetoric makes no such claim for itself. In fact, rhetoricians have always paid close attention to the conditions and causes of reasoning and deliberation. The rhetorical tradition has focused on the way arguments depend on audiences and their passions, on common cultural understandings, on how arguments arise from particular exigencies, how speakers and audiences adapt to one another, how the convincing character of a speech depends on the projected character of the speaker, and so on. This is one reason that rhetoric has been traditionally subordinated by philosophy as a discourse suited to getting one’s way, and to achieving particular purposes. It is not a discourse of freedom in the sense that philosophy is. It is not characterized by spontaneity.
However, for this very reason, rhetoric has a supersensitivity to what, from a philosophical point of view, might look like ideological formation. A rhetorical account of reason knows that reasoning is dependent not only on a shared language and agreed upon facts but also on what we call values and on membership in a particular community of reasoning, a community that shares certain understandings and goals.
If we look back at the rhetorical tradition, the situated, background-shaped character of rhetorical discourse is something that has not only been acknowledged but has also been an essential part of what students of rhetoric have studied and made use of. Sharon Crowley has tried to capitalize on this fact in her textbook Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, in which she describes the interpretive network against which facts gain meaning as “ideology” (1994, 6).2 At another place, it is the (p.69) sensus communis that is called “ideology.” Often, she says, this sensus communis resides in the language itself, and is “hidden from conscious awareness” (53). She devotes lengthy discussion to how the use of topics is influenced by ideology, and she refers to the ideological forces at work in authority and in extrinsic proofs as well (50ff.). And she is right to make this connection. Rhetoric works in a world that is already shaped by power and interest. Its reasoning is not spontaneous and free—at least not absolutely so. It depends on the possibilities of communication and reasoning that have been determined by the situation in which it finds itself. And this situation has many features that are—to someone like Crowley, and to me as well—reasonably called “ideological.”
One way to begin to sort through these features in a systematic way is to start with rhetorical-theoretical accounts of what must already be in place for reasoning to occur. In what follows, I draw heavily, at least at first, from Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric. For this book is, of all the rhetorical treatises I know, the most keenly aware of the tradition of thinking about ideology and the way that a rhetoric of reason is a kind of response to that tradition.
In The New Rhetoric, the enabling background for argumentation is analyzed into framework (les cadres) and starting point. In regard to framework, the most general requirement for argumentation is, as we have seen, the contact of esprits, even a community of esprits (NR 14–17). This is not a requirement in logic or in modern philosophy. However, rhetoric’s view of reason is that it is grounded in particular, already existing human communities and what their members have in common. This includes, first, a common language—not just the general possibility of language and not simply a formal language or logic but an actual natural language. Natural languages are rich with specific attitudes toward the world and social life, what is appropriate and what is not. For example, the grammar of formal and informal address; the style of speaking to superiors and inferiors; and the semantics of insult, which relies on specific conceptions and valuations of race and sex/gender.3 Natural language both reflects and organizes social life in an ideological way.
Second, there must be rules, practices, perhaps institutions for starting, conducting, and ending a conversation, even for merely getting the attention of an audience. These rules will ordinarily express a particular conception of fairness, of common interest, and of appropriateness. They will give hope to potential interlocutors that they have a fair chance to accomplish their goals. Without reasonable fairness, the discourse will not be true argumentation, at least not as we have come to understand it. Over the long run, these rules become sophisticated procedures of (p.70) justice, shaped by the common situations in which conflicts arise. However, these rules may not capture everyone’s intuitions about fairness; they may be acceptable, for example, only for those who succeed in gaining access to argumentative forums. Thus, they may well be ideological in the classical, critical sense. And as new groups are enfranchised, the rules may lag behind the intuitions about equality.
Third, there must be a motive, a reason to argue. From a rationalist point of view, such a motive might seem adventitious. However, argumentation is not disinterested, not pure and self-grounding. One expects that there may be benefits from entering into an argument, and one enters into argumentation with an eye toward those benefits. This influences one’s argumentative behavior. However, the rules of equity that define an argumentative situation introduce an unpredictability into argumentation; they aim toward a common good, and toward something different from the simple goals of an interested party. One may enter an argument and find that one has committed oneself to much more than one had realized, something much broader than a private interest. The fact that this supervenient commitment arises within argumentation from what might at first have seemed to be an adventitious motive helps to reveal the thought-provoking way in which argumentation, rhetorically conceived, could generate counter-ideological events from within ideologically constrained situations.
Fourth, there must be someone whom one wishes to convince with the argumentation, an audience. Since audiences are the judges of the quality of argumentation, the ideology that shapes the audience’s judgments will have a strong influence on the kind of reasoning that will take place. A speaker or writer must at least partly confirm this ideology in order to argue with someone at all. Beyond this, one also excludes some people from one’s audience, and this exclusion too shapes one’s reasoning, gives it an ideological or interested cast. The reasoning seems to be reasoning, and yet it counts as good reasoning only for a particular group.
The situation in which all these different factors come together, the rhetorical situation, is ideologically structured and is ideologically productive. The ideological background of different speaking situations—the audiences and rules for proceeding, and the motives and terminologies that bend argumentation in one way or another—tends to generate different discourses, the classical epidictic, legal, and deliberative contexts, or our own discourses of professions and disciplines. Even judging one discourse to be more appropriate in a situation than another is a highly ideological, profoundly interested judgment—even though entire (p.71) societies can reach extensive agreement on these matters. These discursive formations and their effect on reason are a focus of a great deal of contemporary attention. The rhetoric of inquiry has investigated these discursive formations in the disciplines, and Michel Foucault has written compellingly interesting archaeologies and genealogies of professional and institutional discourses.
Ideology in the sense developed here, then, is the necessary background to the deliberate communication in which we engage. With argumentation, it is that about which we do not argue but which instead makes argument possible, both the form of argumentation as a kind of discourse and the content of argumentation in its reliance on unquestioned facts and truths and values and presumptions about good argumentative strategies and techniques.
In The New Rhetoric, epidictic discourse maintains this ideological background—the conditions for the possibility of argumentation.4 This background is not a matter of choice but rather that which makes reason and choice possible, practicable. And even the maintenance of ideology is ideological. As Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca write, epidictic tends to defend traditional values, and is a procession rather than a struggle. In fact, epidictic tends to make the ideological move par excellence: “Being in no fear of contradiction, the speaker readily converts into universal values, if not eternal truths, that which has acquired a certain standing through social unanimity. Epidictic speeches are most prone to appeal to a universal order, to a nature, or a god that would vouch for the unquestioned, and supposedly unquestionable, values” (NR 51).
Here we come very close to themes in the Marxian tradition of thinking about ideology. The Marxian approach to ideology is probably best known for two of its features. First, the base-superstructure approach, in which the economic base, or the relations of production, express themselves in, or condition, or cause, the superstructure, the ideological formations of law, religion, and, in some versions, culture in general. Here are Marx’s famous lines from the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
In the social production of their livelihood, men enter into definite, necessary relations that are independent of their will, productive relationships that correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these productive relationships constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis on which a juridical and political superstructure arises, and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond. The mode of production of the material means (p.72) of existence conditions the entire process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence; on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness. (Marx 1904, 11–12)
Part of what is essential in this picture is the unilinear direction of ideological development, from base to superstructure, and the consequent implication of a dominant ideology, one governed by the economic base. This is part of the picture that Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca reject. Importantly, it is a part of the picture that most Marxian and post-Marxian thinkers also came to reject, and even in Marx it is not always consistently maintained.
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca come closest to entertaining the notion in their analysis of classical and romantic uses of topoi, the way different topoi tend to become dominant in different periods, to become ideologies that govern whole societies. However, in the end, they believe that particular situations determine the ideological background at play in reasoning even more than social-ideological wholes do. After broaching the idea of a dominant topical ideology, or topics that might govern whole social movements, they back off and say, “It should be observed, however, that the use of certain loci or of certain lines of argument does not necessarily characterize a well-determined cultural milieu but may be, and frequently is, due to the particular argumentative situation” (NR 96). They follow this with an argument opposing Ruth Benedict’s claim about there being a specific Japanese mind, a Japanese ideology, explaining the use of the topoi in question in terms of Japan’s particular place in the war and at the negotiating table—situations from which Benedict drew. Rhetorical theory of this sort provides a general account that allows one to describe both large social-ideological formations and particular ones that operate counter to the larger ones.
In general, rhetorical theory has always kept alive an interest in particular situations and on all the available means of persuasion, and here it stands aligned with most of the recent work on ideology. The poststructuralist approach of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (1985) rejects the notion of a base or center, and even rejects the concept of “society.” The thesis of the impossibility of society is that society is not a totality. No “hegemony” can suture social difference into a whole. No single social power is the underlying cause of the others. Foucault, too, believed that the concept of ideology was inevitably contaminated by the unilinear determinism of Marxism, and this was one of his reasons for rejecting the concept in favor of the concept of a discourse and of the body as a site of power struggles. He believed that power was distributed throughout (p.73) micro-operations, strategies, and technologies—not in a unilinear way but in a whole system of polymorphous dependencies. This, too, is the general tendency of a deep rhetoric that would follow from Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s work.
However, there is a second strand in the Marxian tradition that the new rhetorical concept of epidictic lines up with very neatly, and it is, I think, the part of the tradition that is more useful. This Marxian approach traces the way a particular mode of economic development and a particular set of economic relations get translated into a set of expressions and relations that claim universal validity and verity. The core of the Marxian notion of ideology is this mistranslation of something particular, something factional, something that benefits a particular class of people, into theories, values, presumptions, topoi, laws, institutions, practices that claim to have a universal range or scope. This is the main function of epidictic, this converting of a temporary and limited agreement into something that appears to be universal and necessary, something powerful enough to stand uncontested in argumentative situations. This is also a generalizing move that can take place as a result of particular arguments, but I want to highlight the epidictic dimension of ideological formation just now.
For it is here, too, that rhetoric offers something more than just a descriptive concept of ideology. Virtually all aspects of the framework and the starting points of argumentation are descriptive; these are necessary features of any argumentative situation. In describing this situation, rhetorical theory is descriptive. However, there is something inescapably critical about identifying this universalizing moment of epidictic, this exaggeration of agreement. We know from the very description that there is something amiss about this universalization, that what is being universalized is really not universal at all, and we suspect immediately that this universalization is interested, that it benefits not everyone but some people more than others.
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca even highlight part of this operation when they describe how a “reference group” is necessary to identify what presumptions can be taken for granted in argumentative situations. That is, we have in mind a group of normal, competent, nondeviant individuals, who have a certain kind of knowledge and memory and intelligence and range of experience, and this group—an ideological formation that embodies the norm—determines what presumptions we can reasonably make. It cannot be determined simply by empirically working up what a group of average people would know, remember, believe, and so on; it is an ideal, with some normative force. This reference group is also (p.74) unstable, adding and dropping members as argumentative situations change, and conforming sometimes more and sometimes less to what a largely representative group would be like. Appeals to what a “reasonable person” would believe or how he or she would act in a given situation are appeals to such a reference group. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca also note that in any argumentative situation there are usually multiple reference groups in conflict with each other, and so multiple conflicting ideologies at work.5
The universalization of factional interests is also what Kenneth Burke identified as most distinctive in the theory of ideology. In Counter-statement, he used a notion of ideology according to which ideology was roughly equivalent to the cultural background of symbolic action, or sometimes simply to “culture” itself. However, even in Counter-statement, he insisted that it could vary from individual to individual and that its cultural regularities were interrupted by subcultures with different ideologies. At one point he even said: “An ideology is an aggregate of beliefs sufficiently at odds with one another to justify opposite kinds of conduct” (1968, 163)—perhaps the best definition of the term ever.
However, it is in A Rhetoric of Motives that he discusses the concept explicitly and at length, finding between Bentham and Marx a general agreement on the critical dimension of the concept:
It might be said that the Marxist analysis of rhetoric is primarily designed to throw new light on Bentham’s ‘Fallacy of Vague Generalities.’ Otherwise put: As a critique of capitalist rhetoric, it is designed to disclose (unmask) sinister factional interests concealed in the bourgeois for benign universal interests…. All told, Marx thus forged a formidable machine; and he could apply it to shatter as deceptive ‘ideology, ’ traditions which had been the pride of mankind, but which in being upheld by economic and social classes that got special advantage from them, and in being put forward as universally valid, thus protected factional interests in the wider, more general name of universal interests. (1969b, 102–3)
One could predict the course of ideological-critical reasoning in post-Marxist thought from just this simple description of the way ideology works. At the core of feminist criticism, of post-colonial thinking, at the core of all the concerns about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, is the key critical approach of unmasking universals—universal conceptions of human bodies and human nature—as particular, interested, factional representations that work against certain groups. The formation of these particulars into universal notions that operate in the background (p.75) of argumentation and reasoning is the heart of ideological-discursive formation.
This feature of the analysis of ideology aligns with the view that ideology has a kind of psychological and social validity for the people who live in terms of it. Ideology manifests itself as a necessary feature of their reasoning and action, or at least they regarded it that way. This brings us close to seeing ideology as “hegemony”—as an organization of consent without recourse to violence or coercion. Powerful “factional interests” may desire and seek this consent, but simply in the course of reasoning within a certain context, popular knowledge and culture self-organize into a process of producing this assent. The question for the theory of ideology is whether there is coercion in this or not.
Certainly, the background of argumentation along with its epidictic maintenance provides a good example of this kind of hegemony. It is functional. Since it allows people to reason efficiently, it carries a natural psychological validity. However, the question about coercion is also relevant to questions about the epidictic strengthening of consent. For Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, epidictic is an essential part of education, the education of individuals into a community of reasoning, a rhetorical community. Epidictic is educational because it concerns the strengthening and transmitting of facts and values and truths and presumptions and hierarchies about which there is more or less social unanimity. Epidictic becomes propaganda only when it strengthens ideas that run counter to the taken-for-granted agreements of a community.
This easy distinction is troubling for anyone who sees some degree of truth in Althusser’s identification of educational institutions as an essential kind of ideological state apparatus. And it is very difficult, from a deep rhetorical point of view, not to see coercion at work in the establishment of the framework and starting points of argumentation. Rhetorical theory—rightly, I think—has a tendency to emphasize the flexibility and complexity and even internal contradictoriness of the background. Ideology enables a great deal in all directions. The dominant ideology thesis and the old Marxist unilinear base-superstructure view are over-simplifications. Yet it is difficult not to see that those features of our lives which are most resistant to change and that continue to work against groups who are treated inequitably are reinforced and maintained by the ideological-discursive “education” of human beings. Beyond this, however, from a rhetorical point of view which takes argumentation to be a sphere of human freedom, a sphere of reason and choice—and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca say that the whole purpose of The New Rhetoric is (p.76) to establish the possibility of a community of freedom in relation to action—from this point of view, it is hard not to see the background and the working of epidictic and the reaffirmation of the background and the work of epidictic in particular argumentative situations as terrific examples of coercion. After all, we don’t argue directly about what is taken for granted. The starting points have been defined in part by their having been withdrawn from argumentation. If we don’t choose them, if they have been somehow infused into us from outside, isn’t that coercion? Isn’t there violence, as some would put it, in the very advent of subjects?
It’s a difficult question, for thinking about hegemony and for rhetorical theory. From the standpoint of a deep rhetoric, with a profound interest in the rhetorical formation of human beings, there is nevertheless a sense in which “coercion” and “violence” are not the right words. In The Rhetoric of Reason, I called this coercion being claimed before one can even make a claim. A rhetorical community has claimed us and made us members independently of our choice and reason. This is the way we are formed. Coercion seems to arise only when we are forced to do something against our will; however, this does not accurately describe our formation as people who become capable of making choices. On the other hand, we were forced to be something about which we had no choice, and this does seem to be a “violation” of some strange kind, the kind that Levinas explores in his work.
One key to the question seems to be the extent to which we have been formed in such a way that our reason works against us, whether we are deeply complicit, when we reason, in projects that we to some degree and in some way oppose. From a deep rhetorical perspective, such a situation is likely, although the matter of degree is important here. Our lives are grounded in complicated backgrounds that are sedimented with interests of which we often have little awareness. A great deal of what makes a life a progress toward something is our discovery of the way our reasoning is complicit in these projects we do not support. This is what much of the critical study of discourse is about—the ways we rely on a background that works against people with whom we are trying to communicate, people who are sometimes ourselves.
In such a context, a different question seems to be the decisive one. How does argumentation, conceived rhetorically, increase our freedom with respect to the ideological background, make it a matter of choice rather than a matter of hegemonic coercive noncoercion? How does reason increase freedom and exert a counterforce to the force of ideology? To answer this question rightly—that is, to amplify and adumbrate the (p.77) answer rightly—requires the notion of a deep rhetoric, and requires returning to the background of argumentation from a slightly different angle.
There is in the framework of argumentation, in the conditions for the contact of minds, the definition of a direction that moves against ideological power. We ran across it first in the condition of needing a motive or reason for arguing when I mentioned that this motive is a starting condition and not a continually constraining one. Rules and protocols for argumentation usually prevent one from breaking off argumentation without a good reason. It often happens that we begin to argue out of a particular motivation and then find out that committing ourselves to argumentation was a commitment to more than we knew. We might be asked to reflect on and argue for some of our presumptions. Our arguments might not convince the way we had expected. We may be forced into reflection on our techniques and on our topics, our general premises. We may encounter someone very unlike ourselves, and argumentative contact with that person might have surprising results.
All of this follows from another condition of argumentation, a condition for what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca mean by the contact of esprits, that goes beyond just getting information about another mind or trying to influence it. In order for argumentation to take place, one must be willing, in principle, to be convinced of the other person’s point of view. If one were not willing to do so, and this fact were discovered, there would be sufficient grounds for saying that one was not really engaged in argumentation at all but just appearing to. One’s own view was never really up for argumentative exploration or testing. It is certainly possible to think up and produce arguments about issues about which one was unwilling to change one’s mind. However, it is not possible to address each other as the audience for the argumentation without this condition. The arguers must agree on the audience, the judge of the argumentation, and this means that the arguers must have conceded to the audience the authority for judging the argumentation. They must agree to accept the judgment. In actual circumstances, this acceptance may be a matter of degree, or a judgment may be accepted provisionally, or legally, without winning full acceptance, but the principle still holds.
This willingness to accept another person’s point of view, to give up one’s own in favor of someone else’s, is part of the risk and adventure of argumentation. It is also what opens up the possibility of the new. And it is also an essentially ethical dimension of reasoning. It is an expression of the inherent equity-seeking force of argumentation, a force that takes more specific shape in the way a conception of justice is always at work in (p.78) argumentation and reasoning. It is no accident that Perelman found such deep links between the notions of justice and equity on the one hand and argumentation and reason on the other. It is no accident that Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca found the rule of justice to be at the heart of what made some arguments stronger than others. Argumentation is the arena in which we seek justice in relation to claims, an adjudication of points of view, some way of opening ourselves to each other’s experience, each other’s perspectives, that will do justice to the differences and also make these differences available to each other. The contact of esprits is all about creating the possibility of opening ourselves to each other’s experience and ultimately each other’s lives.
This condition of having to be willing to change one’s mind is the reason that rhetoricians, who have always thought of reasoning in a social context, have also always been keenly attuned to the fact that one’s interlocutor or audience is not a matter of indifference. Aristotle pointed out that one doesn’t reason with just anyone about anything. When one enters an argument willing to take the other person’s point of view, one sometimes risks a kind of degradation. However, whom to argue with is not an easy matter to determine. The person we may most need to reason with might be an enemy of our present point of view, our present attainments, but also a profound friend of our next self, the one we are hoping to become, without yet knowing it very clearly.
It is this force of respect and equity and openness, which arises within highly ideological contexts, that also gives life to a countercurrent to that context—counter, at times, not only to one’s supposed interests but also counter to the presumed starting points of argumentation itself, counter to the operative ideology. However, the deeper point here is that this dimension of argumentation, in its very concept—that is, in principle—is counter to all ideologies. It harbors within it the serious entertaining of the idea that one may be wrong, deeply wrong, that in fact most people may be wrong—that there might be an interlocutor who will make such deep challenges, who will question the presumed ideologies. This counter-ideological opening that grounds argumentation is the price to pay for cooperation, learning, newness, reason. We enter a situation supposing that we can use other people (or even ourselves) better to accomplish our purposes, but we end up learning from them that we can accomplish better purposes.
This is a vector, a direction, a logos that a deep rhetoric of argumentation uncovers. It is a toward of reason itself. In order to discover it, we need partial, interested motives, and limiting conditions. However, these partial or interested conditions give rise to or reveal something else (p.79) very different. In Johannine terms, we begin to speak the language of signs, the interested language of the sēmeion, in search of certainties, proofs, much like the crowds of those early scenes in John’s gospel. However, along those semiotic routes, we come into contact with something else, with the logos. In the prologue, the logos is said not to be a thing but a direction, a pros ton theon. This logos moves in and against the semiotic languages of human beings; it makes them possible, but it works strongly against their certainties and ideologies. It undoes ideological expectations about ethnicity (say, being a Samaritan) or about gender (say, being an adulterous woman) and certainly about class.
This conception of logos is also at play in Plato’s idea of the dynamis of logos, its specific power to lead the soul—that is, to lead it in a direction, sometimes, in Plato, called an ascent. This leading is finally, not just the dynamis of logos, but for the Socrates of the Phaedrus, the completion of rhetoric, a true rhetoric—not the incomplete rhetoric of a Lysias, whose central flaw is, surprise, surprise, to hide a private interest under the cloak of a universalist discourse.
To return, then, to the idea of a deep rhetoric, this direction of argumentation is, again, something that contemporary rhetorical theory must work to retrieve from millennia of philosophical and theological reifications. Doing so will help rhetoric discover again the communicative truths in which philosophy is grounded but which philosophy keeps misrepresenting as truths about things, about beings or being, as metaphysical and epistemologically oriented truths. This retrieval and rediscovery will enable rhetoric to translate philosophical terms into communicative ones, back into rhetoric, without losing the passion of philosophy for something more, something that is not one more expression of an ideology, and without losing a sense that reason is closely related to freedom.
This capacity for logos, and for equity and acknowledgment that might call one’s own positions into question, is also a deep rhetoric’s contribution to philosophical anthropology and its response to the recent demise of a humanism whose conceptions of human being seemed all to be ideological reifications. The logos of rhetoric cannot be arrested at a particular destination. Its essence is its onwardness, which is a word of Emerson’s. This is, by the way, the Emerson who wrote: “I do not often speak on public questions;—they are odious and hurtful, and it seems like meddling or leaving your work. I have my own spirits in prison;—spirits in deeper prisons, whom no man visits if I do not” (1911, 217). Which I take to mean: I cannot confine myself to speaking within the acknowledged semiotic codes of my time, within the accepted ideologies, or (p.80) discourses. There is not only a prison or slavery acknowledged within these ideologies, including the ideology of abolitionism, but there is a deeper slavery and imprisonment, in the ideologies that keep us in the business of slavery and imprisonment regardless of who is enslaved or in jail at the time.
Although it is not actually true, as Emerson says here, that he seldom wrote or spoke or acted on public issues, I believe that the sentiment he is expressing is genuine. Onwardness is a being directed, an experiencing of psychagōgia, of the specific power of logos in the deepest sense as a power which first allows anything to lead to anything at all. In this instance, it is a case of what leads from “deeper prisons” to freedom, freedom from the “ideologies” that keep us enslaved even when we are busy with the projects that we believe are leading to freedom for those who are enslaved.
Emerson speaks most consistently of this onwardness in his essay “Circles” (1987), and it would be interesting to think of ideology critique in relation to that essay. In “Circles,” this onwardness-without-a-final-goal is portrayed both as liberating and as threatening to one’s sanity. The challenge is to maintain a sense of direction and of freedom in the absence of a clear grasp of an ultimate goal. The question is to know how to move onward and not simply away from or beyond. To explore the seriousness with which Emerson ultimately takes this to be a rhetorical issue would require a chapter of its own.
However, before moving ahead, I would like simply to note one more Emersonian text, a text more directly relevant to rhetoric and to our concerns with ideology. Here is a crucial journal passage of June 1846, also worked into the second “Eloquence” essay: “The orator must ever stand with forward foot, in the attitude of advancing. His speech must be just ahead of the assembly, ahead of the whole human race, or it is superfluous. His speech is not to be distinguished from action…. I must feel that the speaker compromises himself to his auditory, comes for something—it is a cry on the perilous edge of the fight,—or let him be silent” (1904, 115–16). “Eloquence” is one nineteenth-century word for rhetoric, and Emerson is here very clearly concerned with its power to lead, to be “ahead.” Logos is also very clearly conceived here as action, movement in a direction, and this action can be a justly ordered interaction with others who are also in movement, and who help us to determine what counts as a foot forward and what does not.6
This critical recognition rescues Emerson from the threat that attended the solitary thinker in “Circles.” This deep rhetoric, which assumes profound responsibility for those it addresses, also takes direction (p.81) from those specific others it addresses. This is not a scene in which the speaker knows the goal and leads others to it. On the contrary, the speech is, at the deepest level, “a cry on the perilous edge of the fight,” and the fight here is for direction, for logos, for the simple ability to put one foot in front of the other. The advance would not be possible if the speaker did not “compromise himself to his auditory.”
There is a great deal happening in this phrase. First, Emerson uses “auditory” instead of “audience,” and this suggests then not only the audience, the specific others, but also the place, the auditorium or room in which the speech takes place, and so the receptivity possible on that occasion and in that setting. One must compromise to one’s place and time as well as to those specific others. The “solution” here is not a general solution but a specific one, rooted in the possibilities of the occasion, even though the stakes are, for this speaker and audience, very high. Second, the speaker must “compromise” not only in the sense of working through differences and reaching an agreement, but also in that more archaic and etymological sense—and Emerson was always attuned to etymology—of “promising together.” That is, the compromise is also a promise that joins the parties together in advance toward the future, in a step forward. This is le contact des esprits reaching into the deep rhetorical level of the very formation of a community that hopes to share a future.
Emerson, who once wondered why he had never been offered a chair in rhetoric, often pushed to the edge of a deep rhetoric, and is a presage of what was to come in the next century. However, I want to turn now to the late-twentieth-century movement toward a deep rhetoric, in which the wall between philosophy and rhetoric was pretty much torn down.
The current chapter continues the preliminary development of the idea of deep rhetoric begun in chapter 1. We began this chapter by raising the question of how a deep rhetoric would meet the challenges of ideology critique. Because rhetoric is not self-grounding, and because rhetorical argumentation relies on existing situations for the framework and starting points of argumentation, it seems to be especially vulnerable to ideology critique. However, a deep rhetoric conceives this dependence as a strength because it emphasizes the “occasional” character of argumentation, and so undoes the science/ideology distinction on which most ideology critique relies. Rhetoric does not attempt to locate itself outside the world within which it operates. Instead, it tries to be fitting to its time, to make the most of its time, to fulfill the potential of its time. This is to be “occasional” in the deep rhetorical sense. It shares Hegel’s view, expressed in the preface to the Philosophy of Right, that philosophy (p.82) “is its own time apprehended in thoughts” (11), but it would reformulate this adage as: philosophy is its own time, thought out of its own time, in terms of its own time, reaching toward an audience beyond its time.
Rhetorical argumentation also grounds itself in an openness to others that is brought about in the conditions for a contact of esprits that seeks a very different way of finding freedom from the constraints of ideology. Ideology critique’s conception of itself or of some other science or way of knowing that can be contrasted to ideology is different from rhetorical argumentation’s openness to the other, which is essentially an openness to something that cannot be perfectly known or controlled. If with hegemony ideology reproduces itself effortlessly within the realm of the known and the rationally calculable, with rhetorical reason and its contact of esprits—which includes the willingness to change one’s mind because of another person’s reasons—the authority of what is said to be known and calculable is, in principle, suspended. This openness to the other that is also an openness to the new is a potential counter to whatever ideology has achieved a measure of force in one’s reasoning, and the potential beginning, too, of a newly conceived social future.
There is much more to say about the form of this openness. For example, the question of how it can achieve the reasonableness associated with good argumentation will have to be addressed. The question of how far the reasoning and conclusions can extend beyond the immediate occasion will also have to be faced. These questions, and more, will be addressed in chapter 7, on reason and justice. There is more to be said, too, about the way in which deep rhetoric addresses the challenges presented by a very generalized notion of ideology that goes to the brink, if not over the brink, of a relativism that despairs of reason, and this will be addressed, in part, in chapter 7, too, and also in chapter 8, on rhetoric and wisdom. However, there is more that needs be accomplished in this preliminary sketch of deep rhetoric before we can speak to those questions with the seriousness they deserve. Since a deep rhetoric began to take shape in the twentieth century and especially in the late twentieth century, I want to turn to that development as a way of filling out the preliminary conception of a deep rhetoric.
The Deep Rhetoric of the Late Twentieth Century
Although deep rhetoric lies at rhetoric’s origins and never entirely disappears in the history of philosophy and rhetoric, it does tend to lie dormant during much of the modern period. The philosophical and (p.83) scientific revolutions of early modernity caused a reordering of intellectual activity that has still not settled or resolved itself. The decline of confidence in rhetoric’s ability to describe or improve the power to reason in language and the consequent disqualification of rhetoric as a means for settling intellectual controversies played themselves out in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
By the eighteenth century a man like Giambattista Vico could express the sense of what had been lost in a poignant and powerful way. In De nostri temporis studiorum ratione (1709), Vico exposes the narrowness of contemporary education, its myopic focus on the teaching of analytical-critical attack with no corresponding or counterbalancing education in the imagination or invention of arguments. Vico is unstinting in his praise of the achievements of modern thought, but he is also relentless in his exposé of the limitations and destructiveness of its educational project. Vico makes a deeply felt case for the recovery of the topical tradition, in which the forms by which arguments could be imagined and elaborated were near the heart of the liberal educational project. A central part of his argument can be put quite succinctly:
In our days … philosophical criticism alone is honored. The art of ‘topics’ … is utterly disregarded…. This is harmful, since the invention of arguments is by nature prior to the judgment of their validity … so in teaching, invention should be given priority over philosophical criticism. (Vico  1990, 14)
Vico is especially interesting for us today because his words failed to have their desired effect, at least in his time. By the nineteenth century, what marked rhetoric above all was, in the words of one historian, “the curiously irrelevant character of rhetorical education,” with its elocutionary and belletristic preoccupations (Conley 1990, 236).
In the twentieth century, a more final end was reached as the vestiges of the rhetorical tradition began to disappear altogether. Chaim Perelman’s story about his own rhetorical education stands for this process as a whole: “While still enrolled in high school, I had the privilege of taking the last course in rhetoric offered in Belgium. In 1929, rhetoric was removed from the curriculum both in high schools and in the universities…. Not surprisingly, therefore, rhetoric, in my opinion, was dead” (1984, 188–96.) This does not mean that rhetoric was in fact dead. The elocutionary movement, for example, relied on classical sources and produced scholarship and theory. It was taught in the schools and at the higher level, and it had a significant popular impact. However, the tradition of rhetoric as a deliberative, inventional art that might orient (p.84) a liberal education was, if not dead, scattered in pieces across the intellectual and educational landscape.
The impact of rhetoric’s dissolution and scientific philosophy’s consolidation of power eventually helped to contribute to the intellectual crises of the early twentieth century. This fact is most clearly seen from the standpoint of philosophy’s disastrous success in destroying rhetoric’s claim to have a significant role in the enterprise of reason. The early modern attempts to develop a science of society that would produce the same mastery and control of social life that scientific method was promising with respect to nature were central defining projects of the philosophy that had dismissed rhetoric’s powers as a deliberative and inventive art. By the early twentieth century, new developments in formal logic and the triumph of scientific method had produced one of the leanest, most rhetoric-free conceptions of philosophical method ever: logical positivism. This method allowed only “sense-data” and logical operations (including scientific method but with reservations about induction) to count in the production of knowledge. “Reason” was pretty much limited to formal operations (mathematics and logical proofs) and scientific method. This led to a reinterpretation of ethical discourse as having merely “prescriptive” or “emotive” meaning and in all cases having no “truth value.”
This left most significant human controversies outside the province of reason, subject to whatever irrational powers managed to hold sway. Against these failures, and against the practical failures that issued in the violence of the early twentieth century— violence generated in part by those who, from one side, believed that a “science” of history that revealed its laws was possible, or, from another side, that reason was in fact useless in connection with significant social and political conflict, or yet from a third, that reason was an ethnic or racial property that varied from people to people—one could well ask the question of what promise reason still held for resolving human conflict about significant matters. In fact, this question was asked in a serious way in a movement of thought that can only be understood as the resurrection or re-creation of rhetoric in the late twentieth century. However, this resurrection of rhetoric is not simply a revivification of traditional disciplinary rhetoric; it is much more. It has the markings of what I have here been calling a deep rhetoric.
To understand this re-creation of rhetoric, one must adjust one’s focus in some specific ways. Rhetoric does not come again primarily as a reformation of education or out of academic departments and schools which have custody of rhetoric’s tradition. Instead, it returns out of the crisis of philosophy and in the wake of the holocaustal destructiveness of the (p.85) European wars. Rhetoric returns in part as a recovery of the tradition but in greater part as the addressing of an urgent contemporary need, an original rethinking of reason against its narrowing during the modern period. If modernity can be thought of as the process of the intensifying divorce of rhetoric and philosophy, the late twentieth century can be thought of as their rapprochement and remarriage. This is not to dismiss the efforts of early-twentieth-century rhetorical theorists. Kenneth Burke’s autochthonic, nearly magical, single-handed recreation of rhetoric is still hardly absorbed by rhetorical theory, and I will have more to say about in chapter 8. However, in the period from about ten to fifteen years after the Second World War until late in the twentieth century, rhetoric was re-created, from several sites, out of the ashes of modern philosophy, and with several specific characteristics.
First, rhetoric returns as philosophy. This is well known and broadly acknowledged, even if the claim may at first seen controversial. In Bizzell and Hertzberg’s widely used anthology, The Rhetorical Tradition (2000), the final section, on “Modern and Postmodern Rhetoric,” includes selections from, among others, Chaim Perelman, Stephen Toulmin, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. In Thomas M. Conley’s Rhetoric in the European Tradition (1990), the final chapter is titled “Philosophers Turn to Rhetoric” and includes sections on Richard McKeon, Stephen Toulmin, Chaim Perelman, and Jürgen Habermas. What I will show here is that when philosophers turn to rhetoric, they are turning to a rhetoric of a specifically late-twentieth-century sort, a rhetoric made of late-twentieth-century philosophical thinking. So while it is true that in the late twentieth century “philosophers turn to rhetoric,” it is even more true that rhetoric returns as philosophy. It is not simply that philosophers are developing theories of rhetoric—they have always done this—but rather that they are developing rhetorical frameworks as ways of addressing philosophical questions that have become unaddressable in purely philosophical terms. Rhetoric returns as an enlargement of philosophy.
However, second, rhetoric does not return in a perfectly unified or systematic way, but it arises in very different ways in the work of a number of different philosophers working completely separately at about the same time. And the philosophers by way of whom rhetoric returns are in some significant respects speaking from outside of the strongholds of institutional philosophy, whose own center is not holding. Chaim Perelman was trained in law and in philosophy, born in Poland, and wrote in French, from Belgium. Richard McKeon was an American philosopher who worked with the interdisciplinary “Ideas and Methods” committee at the University of Chicago and with UNESCO in the postwar years.
(p.86) Stephen Toulmin’s famous The Uses of Argument (1958) was referred to by his colleagues as an anti-logic book and was met with barely restrained hostility. Jürgen Habermas worked at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research under Theodor Adorno, and has become the most famous second generation Frankfurt School critical theorist. I will add to this group of philosophers-out-of-the-mainstream one other figure, through whom rhetoric also returned, but who was also the quintessential German academic philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics is itself a major part of the return of rhetoric. Finally, the entire North American “informal logic” movement is in some essential respects a return to rhetoric, and nowhere more than in its most productive spokesperson, the Canadian philosopher Douglas Walton. Perhaps this simple list can show more clearly than anything else the ways in which philosophers working in very different contexts found themselves forced to re-create rhetoric as a way to address the philosophical challenges of the late twentieth century.
Third, the overriding context of this development is the violence and destructiveness of the early twentieth century and the failure of philosophy to articulate a conception of reason that might address this violence and redeem reason’s promise. The core motive for the recreation of rhetoric arises from this context. Gadamer’s Truth and Method appeared in German in 1960. Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument appeared in 1958. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, also appeared, in French, in 1958. These are all postwar works in a profound sense, written out of the milieu of the destruction of Europe, and it is worth asking whether any other three years in history have produced works with such deep significance for a philosophical rhetoric. Habermas, who belonged to the Hitler Youth as a very young man, begins to publish shortly after this, pursuing with great passion and energy his liberal-democratic but Marxian-influenced program of a theory of communicative reason. McKeon’s postwar work with UNESCO situates him precisely in this same intellectual milieu. The informal logicians may seem like an exception to this; however, informal logic’s beginnings are, in a second wave of the same concern, a response not to the World Wars of the early part of the twentieth century but instead to the continuing violence of the late twentieth century, in particular the Vietnam War, and to the irrelevance of formal logic to the significant demands placed on reasoning by the social conflict and violence in the U.S. that attended that war. As it has developed, it has found itself face to face with the task of recreating a rhetorical approach to the theory of argumentation.
(p.87) Fourth, this resurgence of rhetoric is characterized by a special concern with reasoning and argumentation. The philosophical return of rhetoric is a belated response to Vico’s plea, a turn toward argumentation that will take a topical rather than a logical approach and will show promise of creative and not strictly critical-evaluative power. All the philosophers I have mentioned are centrally concerned with reason and argumentation in natural languages that will proceed without formal rules or method, with arguments that will succeed in resolving conflict and generating understanding even in conditions of continuing uncertainty. The standards for rationality and the criteria for successful argumentation are in each case social and communicative, and this is the essence of the rhetorical return at work in all these philosophers—the move from a strictly logical standard of rationality to a communicative one.
Fifth, this reclaiming of reason by rhetoric forces rhetoric out of its limited roles as a practical oral or verbal art limited to a specific range of occasions into an expansive architectonic rhetoric and into the deep rhetorical role of metaphilosophy. The topics, or conceptual matrices, that rhetoric describes are the generative seats of reason, of social formations based on the achievements of reasoning, and of fundamental philosophical activities and frameworks. Rhetoric both describes these formations and activities and is itself the process by which they come to be. Rhetoric is the discipline of disciplines, the philosophy of philosophy, and is the creation and self-knowledge of social forms. When Richard McKeon writes that “invention extends from the construction of formal arguments to all modes of enlarging experience by reason as manifested in awareness, emotion, interest, and appreciation” (1987, 59); when Henry Johnstone writes that “rhetoric is the means, the only means I know of, for generating and maintaining consciousness” (1970, 333); when Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca say that a universal audience attends all philosophical argumentation and that an undefined universal audience attends even that attending (NR 35); when Gadamer writes that rhetoric is the “universal form of human communication” (1986, 17)—they are all catching a view of this architectonic power and responsibility of rhetoric.
In what follows, I will explore in more detail the ways these twentieth-century thinkers recast the idea of rhetoric—in their treatment of kairotic being, in their recognition of the architectonic power of rhetoric, in their turning to law as a prototype of reason, in their return to the human voice, and in their merging of philosophy and rhetoric, specifically in the Gadamer-Habermas controversy.
(p.88) Gadamer and Kairotic Being
One of the traditional ways of distinguishing philosophy and rhetoric has been to say that rhetoric is concerned with the essentially occasional, with practical matters, ceremonial matters, conflicts and choices that are specific and must be addressed one at a time and not in general. Philosophy, on the other hand, is concerned with what is not simply occasional, but rather with what transcends occasions, with being itself and not its temporal and accidental manifestations, with theory and not with practical exigencies and particular situations. Gadamer’s account of the temporality of works of art and of understanding itself abolishes this distinction. Works of art are historical but not in the sense that historicism would give to the word. For historicism, works of art are intelligible only in light of the historical background out of which they are produced or out of the historical context in which they are interpreted. For Gadamer, works of art do not belong to time as objects that exist at one time and not another, but unfold their intelligibility in and over time, in a back and forth between the contexts of their production and the contexts of their reproduction and reception. Further, part of what they are is what they are about, and this too unfolds over time. Their manifesting and clarifying what they are about depends on time in the sense of the right time; it depends on the conditions of reception being appropriate to what the works have to give.7
In the lecture titled “Rhetoric—Poetics—Hermeneutics,” which was discussed in chapter 1, Paul Ricoeur insists on a distinction between philosophy and rhetoric based on rhetoric’s adaptation to and dependence on particular occasions. And, as we have seen, Gadamer denies it: “Rhetoric is the universal form of human communication, which even today determines our social life in an incomparably more profound fashion than does science” (1986, 17). Gadamer does not say this casually or accidentally. The statement belongs in a systematic way to his philosophical hermeneutics, so it is important to clarify the single most significant philosophical change that allows Gadamer to make this statement, that in fact allows a rapprochement of philosophy and rhetoric. We must consider briefly the kind of being that Heidegger and especially Gadamer have helped to clarify. For Gadamer, being is always timely or “kairotic,” and is dynamic in the sense of being-at-play in any event of understanding. Let me try to clarify very briefly just this feature of the timely and historical coming to presence of things.
Gadamer explains timeliness first in relation to works of art, but he (p.89) then generalizes this idea to understanding in general. Works of art do not have their being at simply one point in time. This is counterintuitive in some respects. Surely Verdi’s Requiem was ontologically finished once and for all in 1874, Sophocles’ Antigone in about 440 BCE, Shakespeare’s King Lear by about 1606. And yet this is what Gadamer wants to deny. The claim that these works make, their capacity for provoking an experience of truth in very different historical periods and situations, is a kind of being they have over time. And their being just is their making a claim and participating in an experience of truth. That is what an artwork is. It is not a manuscript or a canvas or a musical score and libretto. When the “Libera Me” from Verdi’s Requiem was played at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, its being was revealed in a new way. New claims were made on its auditors, and new experiences of what the Requiem was about, new experiences of truth, took place. In the long history of performances of and commentaries on and rewrites of Antigone, it is the Antigone whose being and meaning are unfolded.8 It is the claim of the play itself that we experience in each case. When King Lear shows up one more time on film or video, through whatever medium or device, it is King Lear itself that shows up, and if the moment is right and the performance succeeds in making the play contemporary once more, then it puts the play into play with us in such a way that we experience the play’s truth once more. Again, this is an event of King Lear itself. The work is its making a claim; it is its being an event of truth—and what Gadamer means by an event of truth is: an event in which something is clarified, an event in which we learn something.
Now, clearly, not every wild interpretation or rewrite of Lear is experienced as an interpretation or event of the work. Is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres an event of Lear? Is Jean Anouilh’s Antigone an event of Sophocles’ play? The fact that we can argue about such questions in a sustained and meaningful way is evidence that we do assume that it is possible for these works to reappear in new ways. They can make a claim on us in our own time; their ability to be a making of a claim and an event of truth has a history. However, it must also be granted that works seem to wax and wane in this respect. That is, their being as a work is not only historical but also kairotic. Their being able to make a claim on us depends on the situation in which they are received. The interests and assumptions and historical knowledge and methods of a time must be such as to make a work accessible. Historical events and works of art and, really, everything that we understand are not uniformly available to us. Rather, the skills and instruments and interests and questions and all of the pre-understandings that are definitive of our time help to decide (p.90) whether Antigone will go on unfolding in our time, whether, say, Hildegard of Bingen’s music and art will come alive for us, whether Verdi’s Requiem will have a chance to come to us in a new and powerful way, whether Lear will continue to be a tragedy that should always be remembered or will become more like a pitiful story that has to be overcome.
Although I’ve developed a few examples of works of art, it is not difficult to imagine extending this analysis, with revisions, to the different kairotic coming to presence of theoretical physical particles or concepts of justice or species concepts or anything else that must be understood. This being-at-a-time is kairotic being, and when it becomes our way of understanding being, then some of the underpinnings of the rhetoric and philosophy distinction start to give way—especially the distinction between what is abiding and what is fleeting, what has constant presence and what has kairotic fullness. Rhetoric has always lined up with kairos. In speaking for a communicative purpose, one knows that one cannot say just anything at anytime to anyone. Communicative situations simply do not allow all things to be said and to be understood indifferently. The rhetorical tradition is a long tradition of trying to identify how situations shape and lead and both make possible and limit the possibilities of communication and productive understanding. Comprehending this kairotic understanding of being that Gadamer has developed helps one to understand how Gadamer can claim that rhetoric is the universal form of human communication, for it is the universal form of the disclosure of anything that can be said to be. However, this by no means puts it into a necessary conflict with philosophy. Something comes to presence in the experience of the work of art, in an experience of truth, in learning anything at all. Part of getting the relation of philosophy and rhetoric right involves bringing to presence this coming to presence itself and recognizing the historicity of it without reifying history or the being of beings or what works of art are about.
The Architectonic Power of Rhetoric
As the universal form of human communication, rhetoric is also the generation and description and use of all the subforms it contains. That is, rhetoric is the power both to invent and to organize and comprehend the different forms that communication takes, the discourses of the different disciplines and professional fields, the discourses of different historical periods, of different social groups. For Richard McKeon, rhetoric’s architectonic power goes beyond even what is traditionally thought of as the range of the “verbal”:
(p.91) There is every reason to think that the [architectonic productive] art we seek is rhetoric with a theoretic orientation…. The problem of constituting such an art and applying it once constituted is one of rejoining eloquence and wisdom, rhetoric and philosophy…. The new architectonic productive art should become a universal art, an art of producing things and arts, and not merely one of producing words and arguments; but the first step in constituting and using an enlarged objective rhetoric should be the reformulation of the structure and program of verbal rhetoric and its subject-matter…. We seek to produce it in concrete experience and existence by rejoining reason and sense, cognition and emotion, universal law and concrete occurrence. (1987, 12–13)
Such a rhetoric is still barely realized, yet this same vision of rhetoric’s architectonic power has been forwarded and developed by other late-twentieth-century philosopher-rhetoricians. In Human Understanding (1972), in a development of the ideas he had put forward thirteen years before in The Uses of Argument, Stephen Toulmin describes the way that reason is constituted by a variety of different rational enterprises, each with distinct purposes, each adapting to the exigencies it faces, and each producing conceptual change as it adapts. In fact, Toulmin locates the rationality of these enterprises in the procedures they have for generating conceptual change. Rationality is, so to say, a feature of change and not a feature of a changeless system of thought. The structure and division of these enterprises are not a result of formal or logical considerations of reason’s applications, or the way reason “naturally” or logically breaks into fields, but rather are a result of the changing historical purposes of human societies.
These procedures, which frequently take the form of argumentation, are not simply formal procedures. Describing the nonformal rationality of argumentation has been a thread in all of Toulmin’s work, and it has brought him into closer affiliation with the rhetorical tradition of topics and argument than with earlier twentieth-century logical models of argumentation. Near the conclusion of Human Understanding, where he is trying once again to describe the procedures that produce reasonable conceptual change but also conceptual change specific to different rational enterprises, he describes something like the topical-architectonic function of rhetoric envisioned by McKeon.
The question at issue in Toulmin’s discussion is how conceptual change is possible—that is, how a new set of concepts overtakes an old one. If one tried to explain this process of change simply in terms of formal relations, one would fail because articulating formal relations depends on having a single set of concepts, not two conflicting ones. At this point, Toulmin brings in an analogy invented by Gilbert Ryle in which (p.92) making a formal inference is compared with taking a journey along an existing road. However, justifying that inference is compared with laying out the road in the first place.
Toulmin’s gloss is important:
Once we have an established network of roads in any area [i.e., a constitutive way of making inferences and producing knowledge in any enterprise/discipline/profession], the question ‘Which is the right way from A to B’ acquires a determinate sense. At the earlier stage of surveying for the road network, by contrast [i.e., during the development of an enterprise or during a time of controversy and conceptual change], no such single-valued questions arise, and all of the operative questions are comparative ones—e.g., ‘Which of the alternative lines for a road would give us a cheaper, faster, more direct, and/or environmentally less damaging way of linking A to B?’ The tasks of constructing novel sets of concepts in any field of enquiry and refashioning existing concepts so as to go beyond the scope of currently established procedures likewise raise comparative questions, about what changes would be ‘better’ or ‘worse, ’ rather than single-valued ones, about what step is ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect.’ (1972, 487)
Anyone familiar with the rhetorical tradition will hear the reinvention of topics here at the exact point at which rational enterprises are born and acquire their rationality. These underlying comparisons that Toulmin is after, and which begin to look more like ethically inflected concerns than pure theoretical interests—even though they are at the archai of rationality itself—are what the topical tradition collected and saved and passed on to human beings who wanted to acquire a greater ability to reason and resolve controversies and discover new things: comparisons by similarity—by induction, for example, or by analogy, like Ryle’s own analogy here. Or by differences. Or by degree—the greater/lesser, the end/means, the scarce/abundant, the more desired/the less desired, the desired by the wise/desired by the ignorant, and so on. All these were not merely general descriptions of how people do in fact reason but were much more importantly tools and sources from which people learned to draw, invent, and create new arguments in times of controversy and change, to produce not simply single-value solutions but a copia of possible solutions.
Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca and Chaim Perelman have also developed this vision of the architectonic dimensions of rhetoric, and again, although I can only gesture at this, it is worth pointing out. In their discussion of topics in The New Rhetoric, where they speak explicitly of the “systematization of loci,” they sketch an approach to the periodization of intellectual history founded on topics. They amplify the senses in which the (p.93) classical outlook was illuminated primarily by the topic of quantity while the Romantic outlook was guided primarily by the topic of quality (NR 95–94). They carry this approach further in the following sections on the agreements and procedures of reasoning of special audiences, the audiences that constitute the various disciplines and professions and their fields of knowledge. The New Rhetoric in fact pushes this architectonic program through to its completion, describing the workings of the universal audience that are constitutive for philosophical reasoning, and so the new rhetoric project incorporates dialectic into this philosophical rhetoric—again, part of what McKeon envisioned.
Rhetoric and Law
The return of rhetoric in philosophy is also a return to law as the prototype of human reasoning, and so a return, really, to the original interests of rhetoric in the legal reforms of sixth-century Sicily and the controversia of Cicero. This move is definitive for Toulmin’s theory of argumentation. As he says explicitly in The Uses of Argument, “Logic (we may say) is generalized jurisprudence” (1958, 7). He says this because the parallels between argumentation and legal process go too far to be conceptualized only as parts of an analogy. Nevertheless, he also knows that he must establish the case. In his own theory of argumentation, says Toulmin, “The nature of the rational process will be discussed with the ‘jurisprudential analogy’ in mind: our subject will be the prudentia, not simply of jus, but more generally of ratio” (8).9
Gadamer’s hermeneutics is also a turn to law as a paradigm of interpretive reasoning. In a central section of Truth and Method, “The Exemplary Significance of Legal Hermeneutics” (324–41), Gadamer explains this paradigmatic function of law. “Legal hermeneutics,” he says, “serves to remind us what the real procedure of the human sciences is…. Legal hermeneutics is no special case but is, on the contrary, capable of restoring the hermeneutical problem to its full breadth and so restoring the former unity of hermeneutics, in which jurist and theologian meet the philologist” [the philologist, we might add, as architectonic rhetorician] (2003, 327–28). The specific idea Gadamer develops in this section is the idea of application. In the application of an existing law or precedent to a new case, something creative or inventional happens. One discovers something new about the law or precedent: “Application does not mean first understanding a given universal in itself and then afterward applying it to a concrete case. It is the very understanding of the universal— (p.94) the text—itself” (341). Gadamer applies this legal idea of application to human understanding and reasoning broadly and in fact takes it as a key to unlocking the relation of past and present.
Perelman, too, participates in this return. He was trained in law; his first publications had to do with legal concepts, specifically justice; and The New Rhetoric as a whole rests very heavily on the ideas of precedent and justice—to the degree that the very idea of the strength of arguments, which according to the theory the book lays out should rest entirely on some kind of audience, ultimately rests instead on the rule of justice (NR 464–65).10
This convergence on using law as the prototype of reasoning instead of geometry or mathematical logic is another central event in the return of rhetoric in the late twentieth century. This brings reasoning back to a concern with difference and conflict and controversy—and not only with how the violence and suffering they produce might be mitigated, but also with how they might be transformed and used for purposes of discovery and increased understanding.
The Human Voice
Finally, the return of rhetoric is its return to human speech, or dialogue. The constriction of reason into sense data and logical operations was the constriction of the human voice. Sense-data are silent, and logical operations require only a single mind or computational agent. In fact, any conception of reason as only a formal system does away, in principle, with the need for dialogue. On the other hand, the return of rhetoric occurs in the development of explicitly communicative theories of reason.
Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument begins in a way that sets it apart from all other English-language argumentation theory of its time. In the reigning logical models of argumentation, arguments consisted of propositions and their formal relations to each other. Toulmin’s first chapter begins this way: “A man who makes an assertion puts forward a claim—a claim on our attention and to our belief” (1958, 11). This bold stroke completely resituates argument, radically alters its scene. Here it is a matter not of propositions but of claims. Claims are not propositions but speech acts, and they are made on someone and to someone; they are essentially social and implicitly dialogical actions. In his exposition of his famous ordinary argumentation model, the dialogue becomes explicit in that the argument goes forward only in response to an interlocutor who plays the role of questioner or challenger to the claim. This produces the (p.95) need for a reason. If the reason’s support for the claim is not immediately compelling, another question may produce a warrant, and if that warrant is also questioned, then backing for it is put forth. At this point, however, the dialogue has reached its altitudinal limit. The backing is a constitutive feature of a rational enterprise. Without some agreement at this level, the argumentation cannot go forward because what Toulmin calls the procedures of reason are not in place.
Toulmin’s model is thus dialogical through and through. The parts of his model are conceptualized in terms of speech acts that are in principle communicative and dialogical. The need for reasons, warrants, and backing are all a function of a challenger or questioner. And the procedures of the enterprise in which an argument takes place are there to make a dialogue possible, to allow answers to questions to count as answers to questions for partners in the enterprise. This dialogue of voices speaking a natural language is worlds away from the voiceless model of propositions and their formal relations.
In The New Rhetoric, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca also make communication between speaker and audience something internal to their very conceptions of reason and argumentation. In explaining why they have chosen to name their work “The New Rhetoric” and not “The New Dialectic,” they emphasize that the idea of dialectic has not always stayed faithful to the communicative character of argumentation but has often drifted toward formal analysis that makes no reference to the communicative agents that are supposed to be offering and considering the arguments. And so, they forge their alliance with rhetoric and its tradition, for the theory’s fundament is its commitment to the idea that “it is in terms of an audience that an argumentation develops” (NR 5), and everything from the available means of persuasion to the standards by which arguments are measured is relative to audience. Their departure from the rhetorical tradition, they say, is simply their radical insistence on this principle, their expanding the idea of audience to include all audiences for argumentation, including philosophical ones, and so they announce their participation in the return of rhetoric as philosophy, even metaphilosophy.
Douglas Walton’s productivity as an argumentation theorist over the last four decades is unmatched. Many of his works explore and retheorize single “fallacies” or argumentative forms. However, in his 1998 The New Dialectic, he draws on his work with Erik Krabbe to build a general framework for the theory of argumentation he has been working toward. He has never been tempted to use formal standards to distinguish between forms of argumentation that are legitimate or reasonable and those that are not. A central idea of his work on fallacies is that there is a “basic (p.96) problem” that the fallacy theorist must face: the fact that arguments that have what has been traditionally identified as a fallacious form are nevertheless sometimes reasonable in a particular circumstance. In The New Dialectic, he elaborates a theory of the kinds of circumstances there are in terms of a theory of the kinds of argumentative dialogues there are. The general idea is that each kind of rational dialogue is constituted by its own goals and rules of procedure. One is arguing reasonably as long as one keeps the rules. One runs into difficulties when dialectical shifts occur and an interlocutor suddenly changes the kind of rational dialogue being conducted.
Those familiar with the ancient tradition of distinguishing rhetoric and dialectic will wonder whether Walton’s work is better understood as belonging to the new philosophical rhetoric or to the tradition of dialectic whose flag Walton adopts. The question is whether Walton’s dialectic is a subfield of the new rhetoric or not, whether it is itself more reliant on something like topics than on formal procedures, whether it is generative of the network of roads produced by rhetoric’s architectonic power, and whether its reliance on communication is deep—whether the voices of this dialectic create and judge the forms it takes, the governing procedures of the dialogues, or whether these forms and procedures are in some sense a priori and have their authority independently of voice. I believe that the answer in connection with Walton’s new dialectic can only be discovered when the still unasked question of the rationality of dialectical shifts is more fully developed. The rules that are constitutive for Walton’s different dialogues are like Gilbert Ryle’s existing networks of roads. However, there is no dialogue on dialogues that has the same kind of rules. Dialectical shifts are attempts to create new roads among the different rational enterprises represented by the different kinds of rational dialogues Walton describes. From the standpoint of the individual dialogues, such moves are “fallacies,” impermissible, traffic violations of sorts. However, such moves are clearly sometimes necessary. Our different rational activities draw from all the kinds of dialogues, and the important thing is to know when to shift dialogues, and why, and with whom. These dialectical shifts, then, will rest on the same invention and discovery of deep comparisons that Toulmin described in Human Understanding, and whether they will be acceptable or not will depend not on some specific rule applicable to the roads already laid out, but on the acknowledgement by the participants in a controversy that such shifts are in some sense more productive or valuable or appropriate than simply continuing to drive the known network of roads.
Walton recognizes this, of course. When investigating how to judge (p.97) whether a dialectical shift from one dialogue form to another is licit or illicit in a particular case of argumentation, Walton proposes two complementary questions. First: “Is the new dialogue supporting those old goals, or at least allowing forward movement on their fulfillment, or is it blocking them?” (1998, 201). This first question is the general pragmatic question that guides Walton’s theory of evaluation. If the answer is that the shift is continuous with the goals of the dialogue, then there is no issue, no occasion to ask further critical questions. However, if there is a question whether the shift is continuous with those goals, then a further question must be asked. The first question establishes whether or not there was a shift. However, merely noting that there has been a shift carries no normative force. The second question is: “Was the shift agreed to by the original speech partners, or was the shift unilateral, or even forced by one party?” (201). This second question is the rhetorical question that actually addresses the issue of normativity. If there is no agreement, if there is force, then the shift was illicit, and a negative evaluation is possible. There is bad reasoning going on.
I take this to be a strength of Walton’s approach. Dialogue genres are highly conventionalized forms of speech and argument; they embody what most of us agree on most of the time when it comes to the discursive means for achieving a goal. However, there is no logical necessity in the relation between the means and end. Unusual situations with unusual challenges may well allow or even require unusual means. Who is to judge these cases?
Who else but the judges, the audience, the participants in the dialogue? A guiding thread of the new theory is that the logic has changed from a logic grounded in the nearly self-evident force of a prohibition against asserting contradictory propositions to a dialogue logic grounded in a prohibition against breaking one’s commitments to one’s dialogue partner, one’s audience. One’s partner, one’s audience, becomes the judge of when this commitment is violated both because the genre constraints do not have sufficient normativity and because what is required for good reasoning is agreement among the dialogue partners that an acceptable goal is still being pursued. So, when it comes to establishing what is normative, the theory becomes a rhetorical theory, essentially a reception theory of rationality.
The Habermas/Gadamer Debate
These moves toward dialogue on the part of Toulmin, Perelman, and Douglas Walton are events in the general return of rhetoric. However, (p.98) this return of rhetoric is especially notable and compelling in the Habermas/Gadamer Auseinandersetzung. In their famous debate of the 1960s and 1970s, the question at issue was exactly how deeply the dialogical character of reason goes, whether there is some rational perspective outside of intellectual controversies from which they can be judged, irrespective of the conclusions of the participants. Both Gadamer and Habermas developed powerfully dialogical conceptions of reason. In a brilliant and definitive section of Truth and Method titled “The Hermeneutic Priority of the Question” (362–79), Gadamer argues not only that the dialogue of question and answer is definitive for reason and knowledge but that “the structure of the question is implicit in all experience. We cannot have experiences without asking questions” (362).11 This principle of the “primacy of conversation” (369) helps Gadamer to explain why “knowledge always means precisely considering opposites” (365). Only in the dialogue of question and answer is the subject matter itself opened up: “To conduct a conversation means to allow oneself to be conducted by the subject matter to which the partners in the dialogue are oriented” (367). Only when the different possibilities are explored in dialogue can the best judgment be reached. Actual dialogue is the dialectical path to knowledge itself.
The critical question I would like to raise here is whether this Gadamerian dialogue can be formalized into a dialectic that is not dependent on the actual people in the actual circumstance discussing the actual subject matter—whether there are rules or standards that do not ultimately depend on the consent of these interlocutors. I would like to claim that if there are, then we have a dialogue that is better understood in a formal and strictly dialectical way, and not as a return of rhetoric. If however, the interlocutors and/or audiences are the ultimate judge, if there is no formal method to which dialogue must conform, then we have here the return of rhetoric as speech and dialogue, as deliberative and inventional, and as a process of reason.
Gadamer makes his answer unequivocally clear: “There is no such thing as a method of learning to ask questions, of learning to see what is questionable” (365). Rather, he insists, questioning depends on a knowledge of one’s ignorance, on a Socratic intellectual virtue, an ability to resist the pressure to be held by an opinion. The “art” of questioning, of participating in the question and answer dialogue that leads to knowledge, is no real techne at all. It cannot be formalized: “The ‘art’ of questioning is the art of questioning ever further—i.e. the art of thinking. It is called dialectic because it is the art of conducting a real dialogue” (367). In the end, this view is realized by Gadamer’s deeply anti-Platonist Plato: “The (p.99) literary form of the dialogue places language and concept back within the original movement of the conversation. This protects words from all dogmatic abuse” (369). Gadamer does not make the explicit distinction between formal dialectics and rhetoric that I am insisting on here, but in the context of the question of the advent of a third age of rhetoric, his move is a significant one.
The critical issue can be highlighted even more sharply in the conflict between Gadamer and Habermas. Habermas is himself one of those late-twentieth-century philosophers through whom rhetoric returns. He has developed an elaborate pragmatic theory of communication that is supposed to realize some of the aims of traditional critical theory. He constructs a consensus theory of truth, holding fast to the attempt to reinterpret traditional philosophical principles along communicative lines. In order to distinguish between rational consensus and de facto consensus, he creates his “counterfactual” idea of an “Ideal Speech Situation,” in which all the distortions of communication produced by inner and outer constraints, by differences in power, by covert strategic actions, and so on, are eliminated. The only motive in play, consciously or unconsciously, is the search for truth. In these respects, and in many others, Habermas’s turn to communicative standards of rationality is part of the general return of rhetoric as philosophy.
However, in his exchange with Gadamer, Habermas’s critical-theoretical standpoint will not allow him to go all the way to a kind of rationality that is finite, situated, and adapted to and dependent on historical circumstance and the judgments of real interlocutors who reason from within such a situation. In his review of Truth and Method, he argues that deliberation in such a context cannot be rational unless it achieves a reflective knowledge of the historical processes that have conditioned it. Such reflection enables us not simply to act from out of a context handed down to us by a tradition, but “to designate the conditions outside of tradition under which transcendental rules of world-comprehension and of action empirically change” (Habermas 1990a, 241). That is, Habermas wants a scientific-philosophical understanding of something like the laws of history that can themselves somehow be known by reflection that takes one outside of the influence of the history that has been produced by such laws. This would allow the reflective critical theorist who has achieved such knowledge to be able to judge the communication of people who claim to have reached a rational agreement with one another. The critical theorist, because of his or her knowledge of how history conditions the communication in question, might reasonably overrule the interlocutors, who might lack such knowledge. Gadamer’s (p.100) apparent dialogue is exposed as a context of force and domination. By contrast,
Truth is that characteristic compulsion toward unforced universal recognition; the latter is itself tied to an ideal speech situation, i.e. a form of life, which makes possible unforced universal agreement…. It is only the formal anticipation [emphasis added] of an idealized dialogue, as the form of life to be realized in the future, which guarantees the ultimate supporting and contra-factual agreement that already unites us; in relation to it we can criticize every factual agreement, should it be a false one, as false consciousness. (Habermas 1990b, 267–68)
Here we have returned to another version of the ideology question, with Habermas taking the position that the critical theorist has secured a perspective on the more ideologically constrained perspectives that are not accompanied by critical theoretical awareness.
To amplify his contention, Habermas develops an analogy with psychoanalysis. Just as the psychoanalyst can decode the systematically distorted communication of neurotics, so the critical theorist can decode the systematically distorted elements of the communication that produces de facto but ultimately false consensus.
The issue is utterly compelling for anyone familiar with the history of philosophy and rhetoric. Both Habermas and Gadamer are philosophers for whom communication and dialogue are central concerns, who have in large part given up on the notion of a priori knowledge and strictly logical-analytical standards of reason. Both are essentially concerned with how to find the measure and standard of rationality within communication itself. In this sense, they have both tilted far toward the rhetorical side of the rhetoric-philosophy continuum. However, when pushed far enough by Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, Habermas returns to something like a scientific or methodological or traditionally philosophical standard—a “formal anticipation of an idealized dialogue,” a social-philosophical critical science analogous to psychoanalysis, even a reflective knowledge of the laws of history—something, anything, that will free us from the communicative distortion by the very forces that make a particular situation a particular situation, but without actually removing us from the realities of communication.
Gadamer’s reply is equally compelling, and it includes a culminating manifesto of the return of rhetoric in a unification of the projects of rhetoric and hermeneutics. First, he agrees with Habermas that there is specialized scientific knowledge that operates according to method and that critical sociology may well use this kind of knowledge. However, (p.101) he insists, such knowledge makes its claim and achieves what authority it has from within the dialogue of knowledge and not from outside it (Gadamer 1990, 297). Scientific-critical expertise is itself in need of the same kind of critical reflection on itself that the other interlocutors in the dialogue are. In fact, the different arguments and perspectives that are achieved in the challenges among the interlocutors provide the opportunity, even the possibility, for scientific and methodological understandings to achieve this kind of reflection.
Second, Habermas’s critical theory of communication is in search of a criterion for truth. Habermas finds hermeneutics wanting because it does not produce such a criterion. However, philosophical hermeneutics is not trying to come up with a formal criterion for truth. A central idea of Truth and Method is that truth and method are in tension with one another, that truth is an event that cannot be completely constrained by methods and their truth-criteria. In fact, as Gadamer delights in pointing out, Habermas’s own “Ideal Speech Situation” was not created in or justified in an ideal speech situation itself, so how can it account for its own truth? The universality of hermeneutics subsumes even Habermas and his ideals. The real purpose of hermeneutics is different, and here the sense in which rhetoric and hermeneutics are part of the same intellectual project begins to come into focus: “Hermeneutic reflection is limited to opening up opportunities for knowledge which would otherwise remain unperceived. Hermeneutic reflection is not itself a criterion of truth” (1990, 284). Can you hear the ring of this? Hermeneutic reflection produces copious discovery/invention of arguments—hitherto undiscovered opportunities for knowledge.
The convergence of rhetoric and hermeneutics intensifies, and this is third, when Gadamer charges Habermas with not really understanding dialogue, which is defined by its faithfulness to controversia, to genuinely seeing from different perspectives, to acknowledging genuine difference. The ideal speech situation, he says, is modeled on the old idea of pure intelligence and the truth that would be produced by such a pure intelligence. He adds that he himself does not think of hermeneutic dialogue going on only in ideal conditions, and he charges Habermas with a dogmatic prejudice when he denounces as “coercive” and “unreasonable” all those real situations in which real people believe that they have reached real agreement about matters in which they themselves have a stake and around which they are willing to orient their lives—matters such as love and friendship and work. That is, Habermas’s critic is able to judge, on the basis of an ideal of communication, the actions of people with which he or she has never communicated, whose perspectives have never been (p.102) mutually acknowledged in argumentation: “A critique which in general opposes the prejudices of another individual or the dominant social prejudices because of their coercive character and, on the other hand, claims to dissolve such a delusory relation by communication finds itself … in very bad circumstances. It must ignore fundamental differences” (Gadamer 1990, 288). Habermas’s critical theory of communication lacks what a rhetorical theory of controversial reasoning insists on: “It belongs to the concept of reason, that one must always reckon with the possibility that the opposite conviction, whether of the individual or in the social realm, could be correct” (294).
Fourth, Habermas’s critical theory cannot answer a very important practical question. In psychoanalysis, the patient has already acknowledged needing help and has acknowledged the expertise of the analyst. This permits the analyst to assume power over the patient and communicate strategically in relation to the patient. In the analogous situation, asks Gadamer (289), in which the analyst is the critical theorist and activist, under what conditions, given what understanding of social reality, is it out of place to assume such power and strategic control over others, and in what conditions is it not out of place? The point is that the original agreement between the analyst and the patient has no analogue in the case of the critical theorist and social groups. One can easily detect the implicit call for hermeneutic dialogue and reflection here.
Finally, Gadamer works an intriguing unification of hermeneutics and rhetoric into this discussion, and expresses in a powerful way the practical, situated, kairotic character of the human experience of the good. At this point, I will let Gadamer conclude for himself. First, with this deep identification of philosophical hermeneutics and rhetoric:
Hermeneutics and rhetoric share this area … of convincing arguments. In modern scientific culture, the defense of rhetoric is difficult…. Vico rightly presses home a unique value found here: copia, the abundance of viewpoints. [Habermas’ assertion] to the effect that rhetoric contains a coercive character and must be circumvented in the interest of coercion-free rational dialogue seems to me to be shockingly unrealistic. If it is the case that rhetoric contains a coercive moment, then it is nonetheless certain that social praxis … would not even be conceivable without this coercive moment…. The concept of manipulation is in this context genuinely ambiguous. Every emotional influence occurring through speech is in a certain sense such a manipulation. But this is not just an empty social technique…. Aristotle had already characterized rhetoric not as a techné, but rather a dynamis, so strongly did it belong to the zoon logon echon. (1990, 292)
(p.103) Gadamer presses the point home not only in his rejection of the idea of a theoretical elite who know the social good but also in his insistence on the kairotic experience of the good in the particular hermeneutical-rhetorical situation:
The human good is something to be encountered in human praxis, and it is indeterminable without the concrete situation in which one thing is preferred to another. This alone, and not a counterfactual agreement, is the critical experience of the good. It must be worked through in the concrete circumstances of the situation. An idea of the correct life as a universal idea is ‘empty.’ Herein lies the portentous fact that the knowledge of practical wisdom is not a knowledge that is conscious of its ascendancy over the ignorant. (293–94)
Here, too, is a profound conception of democratic rhetorical humanism—that the good lies in human choice and action and not in abstract ideals, and that there is no “knowledge of practical wisdom” that would justify the status or actions of a critical-theoretical or noble elite.
The Gadamer-Habermas Controversy is probably the most significant philosophical exchange of late-twentieth-century philosophy. Gadamer draws on the classical and rhetorical traditions, on his vast knowledge of the European humanistic tradition, and on his immersion in German philosophy as passed down to him, in part, from his teacher Martin Heidegger. Habermas places himself squarely in the modern tradition of enlightenment and tries his best to unite traditionally Marxian social and political concerns with the progressive dimensions of liberal-democratic theory. He joins the depth of the German philosophical tradition and the critical perspectives of Marxism to the liberal and progressive and democratic and natural-scientific interests of the rest of European philosophy and social thought. And yet both are ultimately committed to carrying forward their philosophical projects within a communicative framework, and the issue that draws forth their energies is an issue that one might say is internal to the self-understanding and history of rhetoric: the extent to which successful communication can be described formally and understood and judged by formal standards. In this discussion, there is no question of logical standards or forms, or standards or forms that might be found somewhere outside of actual communication. Instead, the question is the form or nature or the standards that are internal to communication, found in rhetorical activity itself. Rhetoric returns as philosophy here not simply as one side of a controversy but as the very framework in which the controversy takes place. The question is whether we are to go (p.104) all the way to Gadamer’s deep rhetoric in which theoretical and practical reason are both held within the hermeneutical-rhetorical situation, or whether with Habermas we hold on to a distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning, and search for ways to release theoretical reason from its dependence on this situation.
The relation between philosophy and rhetoric has always been a dynamically unstable one. However, the late twentieth century shows a remarkable development when thought against the conventional history. Late-twentieth-century philosophy becomes the matrix from which rhetoric is, once more, born again. This return is all the more remarkable because it is especially evident in two German philosophers, two unparalleled inheritors of the tradition of German Idealism, inheritors of Kant’s famous devaluations of rhetoric in the Third Critique and Hegel’s consistent denunciation of Ciceronian rhetoric as nothing more than popular philosophy—that is, not philosophy at all. And the story of how, in philosophy, we get from “not philosophy at all” in the 1820s to “the universal form of human communication” in the 1960s is part of the story of what has happened with rhetoric inside the history of philosophy.
The aim of the first two chapters has been to give some preliminary definition to the idea of deep rhetoric by showing how a larger conception of rhetoric as a philosophical endeavor has accompanied rhetoric ever since it was first conceived as a specific art or discipline. This larger conception of rhetoric is clearly evident in Plato, and while Aristotle conceptualizes rhetoric as an art, and so provides it with disciplinary limitations, he also understands that rhetoric is a special human capability and not simply a developed art. This larger conception of rhetoric comes to the fore again when rhetoric returns as philosophy in the late twentieth century. However, to develop and clarify this more philosophical kind of rhetoric requires addressing a number of questions and challenges. We have begun to address some of these—the question of whether and in what sense logos has a purpose; the question of whether this larger conception of rhetoric has enough definition to guide research and teaching, and what its implications are for disciplinary rhetoric; the question of rhetorical humanism; the challenge of addressing the issues that would arise from a rapprochement of philosophy and rhetoric, including a rhetoric of reason; and the challenge of explaining how a philosophical rhetoric would stand up against ideology critique.
(p.105) In the next chapter, I will address another challenge. I have several times referred to deep rhetoric as a return to conceptions of rhetoric and of logos found in Plato’s dialogues. Yet, Plato is commonly taken to be rhetoric’s greatest critic, who distinguishes absolutely between philosophy and rhetoric, so this way of giving definition to a deep rhetoric seems mistaken from the start. Many people have recognized that Plato develops a favorable view of rhetoric in the Phaedrus, where rhetoric and philosophy do undergo a rapprochement. However, this is also usually taken to be a minor and undeveloped digression from Plato’s essentially negative assessment. To counter the common understanding of Plato’s treatment of rhetoric, the next chapter will consider what is usually taken to be Plato’s most severe attack on rhetoric, his dialogue Gorgias. A careful reconsideration of that dialogue will show that, behind the polemical and eristic displays, the dialogue develops a profound consideration of how philosophy, rhetoric, and logos belong to one another.