Mere Rhetoric

When you were learning math, I bet you didn’t start by trying to solve P versus NP. When you were learning Spanish, I bet you didn’t start with creating your own translation of Don Quixote. When you were learning to write, did you start with writing thirty-page rhetorical analyses and speeches? Probably not.


The ancient Greeks thought it was probably not such a good idea to start out young rhetors on writing full speeches, so they came up with a series of exercises that teachers could lead their students through, exercises that would help students become more comfortable with language, learn the conventions of their culture and generally ease their way into the kind of speech writing they’d be doing when they became generals and politicians and whatever else they were planning on doing when they grew up. These exercises were called progymnasmata, which mean “early exercises.” You may recognize that middle part as sounding like “gymnasium,” so it’s easy to remember what progymnasmata means—exercises.


Anciently, the two most used sequences were written by Hermogenes of Tarsus and Aphthonius of Antioch. And the order in which the progymnasmata were taught were usually the same, more or less: starting with fable, students then work through, chreia narrative, proverbs, refutations, confirmations, commonplaces, encomiums, vituperation, comparison, impersonation, description and only then on to theses and defending or attacking a law.


Some of these terms you might not be familiar with but pretty much the idea was to start with simple stories and move up to arguments. But—and I think this is important—stories were an argument. We do this all the time, don’t we?


So, Eric, what’s one of your favorite fables that proves an argument?


[Eric does his thing]

These stories are deeply resonate in our society’s memory and we can use them as an argument, assuming our audience agrees with these stories’ premises.


In the progymnasmata of Aelius theon, he explains the importance of “making clear the moral character inherent in the assignments” (13). Our society values something about the morals of Romeo and Juliet and the tortoise and the hare and so when we learn them and how to use them, we are underlining things our audience already buys into.


One step more abstract than fables are proverbs: “A penny saved is a penny earned”; “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; “If you build it, they will come.” We have many proverbs that exemplify what our society values—whether thrift, equality or building baseball stadiums for ghost players. When the ancient Greeks were educating their students about language and putting together arguments, they were also educating them in what kinds of arguments their society already believed in.


Chreias Krey-ya, which are maxims ascribed to a person, for example, not only tell the student what the society values, but also who the society values. Again, these are generally accepted societial values. For example, when people say, “When they were hanging Nathan Hale, he bravely declared, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,’” they are not only affirming the value of patriotism, even martyerism, but they’re also saying that Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary spy, is the kind of guy that we should be listening to.


Older exercises take parts of a speech and go in depth like ekphrasis which describes something. Let’s describe this room: Go:


Another exercise, ethopoeia, takes it a step forward by encouraging students to write in someone else’s situation, “where someone is imagined as making a speech” as Hermogenes puts it, “For example, what would a general say when returning from a victory? … what would a general say to his army after a victory?” Farmer one, Dido, etc.


Encommium and invective involve praising or blaming a figure, usually someone everyone knows and on whom everyone has an opinion. Think of Gorgias’ famous “Encomium of Helen,” which tried to argue in favor of someone everyone hated, Helen of Troy, or Isocrates’ response in his own encomium. Usually, though, Encomiums and invectives were along the lines of what everyone already thought, but the rhetor’s challenge was to say something new.


Finally, students could work on thesis and antithesis Nicolaus the Sophis says that “Thesis is something admitting logical examination, but without persons or any circumstance at all being specified.” In other words, while students start with clear concrete stories and fables, they end being able to talk abstractly about frequently heard debates like “should a scholar marry?” or, to use ones more common in our day, “should we have the death penalty?” “is gun control moral?” “should abortion be legal?” or any of those other topics that you were probably assigned to debate in junior high. And just like in junior high, ancient greek students were expected to know how to debate both sides of the argument.


Once these progymnasmata were under the belt, so to speak, students could work on actual speeches with a context and an audience.


This method may seem a little old fashioned to modern pedagogies. In fact, yes, very old fashioned. These exercises continued not just in the ancient world, but into both Byzantine and Western Europe. The “themes” of the progymnasmata, argues Edward P. J. Corbett, had even more influence on “European schoolboys of the 15th and 16th centuries” than they did on Greek children. In fact, the idea that students need to first become conversant in parts before they can address the whole was later reformed into the “modes.” If you have a parent or grandparent of a certain age, you can ask them about writing modes and themes when they were growing up and they will tell you about having to write descriptions, narrations, and expositions before they were allowed to write arguments. Albert R. Kitzhaber chronicals the way that the modes became THE pedagogical tool for almost a hundred years here in the US, much as the progymnasmata dominated Europe for millennia. But Most compositionists these days say, “heck with prerequisites, get the students composing organically, making their first full attempts at a complete argument early, even if it means a short length or a superficial topic.” I’ve taught a class, for example, that begins with students ardently debating whether toilet paper should be hung over-hand or under-hand. This is probably the kind of education that you’ve had.


The progymnasmata, and in fact, the idea that there should be prerequisite writing exercises before argumentative writing, swings back and forth in pedagogy. Additionally, becaue the progymnasmata reflect societal values in their stories and common places, they can be seen as stifling individuality. George Kennedy points out that the progymnasmata “are open to criticism that they tended to indoctrinate students with traditional values “(x).


But the benefits of the progymnasmata have been appealing to modern composition scholars as well. Kennedy further says that “Nevertheless, it would be unfair to characterize the traditional exercises as inhibiting all criticism of traditional values. Indeed, a major feature of the exercises was stress on learning refutation or rebuttal: how to take a traditional tale, narrative, or thesis and argue against it. If anything, the exercises may have tended to encourage the idea that there was an equal amount to be said on two sides of any issue, a skill practiced at a later stage of education in dialectical debate."


Sharon Crowley and Deborah Hawhee point out that instead of giving students everything to do at once, the progymnasmata provide small exercises that lead to big results:” Each successive exercise uses a skill practiced in the preceding one, but each adds some new and more difficult composing task. Ancient teachers were fond of comparing the graded difficulty of the progymnasmata to the exercise used by Milo of Croton to gradually increase his strength: Milo lifted a calf each day. Each day the calf grew heavier, and each day his strength grew. He continued to lift the calf until it became a bull."


everything old is new again with the progymnasmata, and that’s a proverb that you can trust!

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Progymnasmata.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. It’s a new year and a new semester here at the University of Texas, and it’s time for some new years resolutions. We got a lot of old episodes re-recorded last semester, and by golly I’m glad we did, but it’s time to get some fresh episodes out. So, thanks to the Humanities Media Project here at the University of Texas at Austin, we’re going to have some brand new episodes. Okay, we had like six new ones last semester, but this time I’m keeping a promise I made to a Belgian. Victor Ferry wrote in last august or something and when we talked about episodes, he said that he’d love to hear about the great Belgian rhetorician--Chiam Perleman. “Sure, Victor,” I said. “We’re doing some old episodes, but I promise, we’ll do Perleman this year.” So, in the name of keeping promises, we’re not only doing one episode on Chiam Perleman, but we’re doing two. That’s right, a Perelman two-parter. Today we’ll talk a little about Perleman’s life and his collaboration with Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca and their master work, The New Rhetoric,. Next week we’ll talk about Perleman’s solo career and the Rhelm of Rhetoric and some of the responses to the Perelman’s work.


Perelman almost wasn’t a Belgian rhetorician. He was born in Poland and moved to Belgium, as many Poles were wont to do in the late twenties and thirties. There, he could have been a lawyer, because he got a law degree, and then he went and got his doctorate in philosophy by looking at a mathematician. But while he thought big thoughts about law and ethics and philosophy, things really took off when he met a colleague named Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca and they set about writing the massive book, the New Rhetoric.


The New Rhetoric is not a modest undertaking. what Perelman and Olbrechts Tyteca were undertaking was nothing less than the complete rehabilitation of ancient rhetoric into a modern resource for making ethical decisions. In this rehabilitation, audience is key: that’s what rhetoric really does best. As they say it, “For argument to develop, there must be some attention paide to it by those to whom it is directed” (think of your audience in other words.) They go on and say,  “argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced” (1969, p. 19). The audience, though and “the audience” may be different things. There’s an audience which is the ideal, a universal audience that is perfectly understanding and wise and then there is the audience that one gets, like the hand one is dealt. The latter is called the particular audience. This changes how we talk about argument, too. So an argument may be persuasive if it appeals successfully to a particular audience, but it won’t be convincing unless it can “gain the adherence of every rational being” (28).


But let’s get a little deeper in the weeds about the universal audience. The universal audience, they write “consists of the whole of mankind, or at least, of all normal, adult persons,” and since we seldom find ourselves addressing the whole of mankind or even all normal adult persons, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca point out that “Each speaker’s universal audience can, indeed, from an external viewpoint, be regarded as a particular audience, but it non the less remains true that for each speaker at each moment, there exists an audience transcending all others, which cannot easily be forced within the bounds of a particular audience” (30). So it’s an election year, let’s talk about the problems of the particular audience. Say you’re a politician running for office in a region that’s been hit hard by industrial decline. You might address a crowd of people who are depressed by the high levels of unemployment, scared about continuing layoffs and stressed about the idea of trying to find a new job that may ask them to change their careers, and their homes in the middle of their lives. It might be tempting to tell these people that you will bring back industrial jobs, that the factories will run again, that they can stay in their own homes and careers. But then you might have to go directly to address another crowd, say a group of environmentally minded people who are thrilled that the factories are closed--after all, they’re the ones who lobbied to tax pollution in their town, and they petitioned for increased regulation, which cost the factories so much money that they couldn’t stay open. what are you going to say to this audience? If you promise the factories will be back, they’ll boo you out of the room.


Or, as Perelman and Olbretchs Tyteca say, “Argumentation aimed exclusively at a partciular audience has the drawback that the speaker, by the very fact of adapting to the views of his listeners, might rely on arguments that are foreign or even directly opposed to what is acceptable to persons other than those he is presently addressing” (31).


Instead imagine what the universal audience would approve of, what both the groups you want to address care about: they want their communitity to have plenty of jobs and economic success, and they want to live in a place where the air and water are clean and pure. This is a small example of the ideal, the “agreement of the universal audience,” which may be generalizable, even hypothetical.


“Philosophers,” Perekman and Ol-ty say, “always claim to be adressing such an audience, not because they hope to obtain the effective assent of all men--they know very well that only a small minority will ever read their works--but because they think that all who understand the reaons they give will have to accept their conclusions,” or, in other words “The agreement of a universal audience is thus a matter, not of fact, but of right” (31).


But where can one hope to find a universal audience? I know where to find unemployed factory workers and environmentalists, but how do I know how the universal audience polls? Frankly, P and Olbretchs-Tyceta say, you have to make them up as you go. “Everyone constitutes the universal audience from what he knows of his fellow men, in such a way as to transcend the few oppositions he is aware of. Each individual, each culture, has thus its own conception of the universal audience. The study of these variations would be very instructive, as we would learn from it what men, at different times in history, have regarded as real, true and objectively valid” (33). So if you’re speaking to that group of unemployed factory workers, you have to think about what arguments they (and the environmentalists) would find valid. If you suggest that the community can pivot into clean industry and environmental tourism, you have to wonder whether your communities believes that it’s true that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or that anyone can change and the American spirit is about growth and adaptation. What is your culture’s conception of what is real and true? It takes some work to figure out what’s valid in your community and what’s universally accepted. the universal audience is a kind of invisible standards committee, detirmining what will fly for everyone. But the committee is hard to pin down, even for the scholars arguing for it in The New Rhetoric.

As the authors put it,  “it is the undefined universal audience that is invoked to pass judgment on what is the concept of the universal audience appropriate to such a concrete audience, to examine, simultaneously the manner in which it was composed, which are the individuals who comprise it, according to the adopted criterion, and whether this criterion is legitimate. It can be said that audiences pass judgment on one another” (35).

Agreement in the community yields a fact. Facts are not immutable and once it is no longer accepted, it becomes a conclusion, rather than a starting premise (68).  We might all agree that factories pollute, or that pollution hurts the wild life. Build enough of a web of agreement, and you come up with truth. Maybe that truth for our community is that factories as currently constituted are antithetical to a clean, healthy environment. It relates the different facts that the universal audience agrees to. Move one step over from facts and you get values like patriotism, or health. Values are arranged in hierarchies. Is health more important than patriotism? Is the environment more important than jobs? And hierarchies are arranged in loci. General loci are the most absolute. For example, the value of human life might be an absolute loci in your community. You’d do whatever it took to protect it, even if Matt Damon was from your town and you had to rescue him from the Nazis or Mars or whatever. Specific loci are more specific to the situation for example, the value of Matt Damon’s life when he’s in danger might be the specific loci, or you might say, if you have to choose between Matt Damon and an extra, choose Matt Damon’s life.

So taking all of these terms into account, the strength of the argument is (1) “intensity of the hearer/s adherence to the premises” and (2) “relevance of the arguments in the particular discussion” (461). Getting back to our politician, you might have a harder time convincing an unwilling audience of your argument, but arguments don’t need to be waterproof: “the essential thing is that they appear sufficiently secure to allow the unfolding of the argument” (261). the whole object of argumentation is “gaining the adherence of minds” within a “community of minds” (14).

That’s all the time we have for today, but The New Rhetoric is a 562 page masterpeice that set the stage for much of the philosophical discussion about rhetoric and reason. Next time we’ll talk about some of the responses to The New Rhetoric as well as Perelman’s Realm of Rhetoric. In the meantime, if you have a favorite rhetorician you’d like to hear featured on the show or if you want to extract some promises, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you.

Direct download: 16-02-18_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Perelman_Pt_1.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 2:56pm CDT

James Berlin



Welcome to MR. I’m Mary Hedengren, Jacob is in the Booth and we’re supported by the Humanities Media Project and UT Austin.


Was English in an identity crisis in the 80s and 90s? Maybe. But it’s certain that it thought it was. Interdisciplinary projects such as cultural studies and the voluntary expulsion of groups like English language and composition from English departments was inspiring a lot of ink in the PMLA and other journals and conferences between such illuminaries as Gerald Graff and Stanley Fish. And when people are anxious about who they are, they often look back to how they ended up here. How did English get so weird? What is the background behind composition’s complaints against literary studies? What led to everyone in the department being in a department together?


Enter Professor James Berlin. Berlin, a compositionist who had taught at U of Cinninati and Purdue. Berlin was a disciplinary historian who wrote two important books that tried to create a historical context for the current state of composition, which we’ll talk about today.

Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges. 1900-1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century American Colleges.

The earlier book, Writing Instruction in 19th-Century American Colleges published in 1984, traces the role of writing instruction in American political psyche.

“no rhetoric—not Plato’s or Aris­totle’s or Quintilian’s or Perelman’s—is permanent.”



The next major book Berlin wrote picks up where Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century American Colleges. Left off—at the dawn of the 20th century. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges. 1900-1985 traces the history of composition in the United States up to what was then the modern day. In going through this history, though, Berlin weaves three strands of compositional theory: current-traditional, expressivist and social constructionist. Berlin makes no secret about which of these strands he thinks is right. Current traditionalists are grammar-obsessed ninnies who sneer at students while pushing their glasses up their noses while expressivists are berkinstocked hippies singing kumbaya without teaching anything significant. Berlin is unapologetic about his perspective. In the introduction, he mentions the criticism the book has received as having a political project. James Berlin, much like the honey badger, don’t care. He has a strong interest in the project to "vindicate the position of writing instruction in the college curriculum" (1) and he feels social constructionism is the best way to do so.

He identifies several points that lead to writing instruction’s increased disciplinarity

First there was the Birth of CCCC when a 1948 paper by George S. Wykoff and ensuing conflict leads to John Gerber of U of Iowa proposing a conference to discuss composition. 500 attend April 1-2 1949 (105). "With the establishment of the CCCC and its journal [...] teachers of freshman composition took a giant step toward qualifying for full membership in the English department, with the attendant privileges" (106)


Then there is the Importance of pamphlet The Basic Issues in the Teaching of English published as a supplement to College English in 1959. Identify key questions for English, especially in pedagogy (such as should writing "be taught as expression or as communication") (Berlin 124).


Finally there was Braddock's 1961   Research in Written Communication and subsequent founding of Research in the Teaching of English (1967) is important because "Only a discipline confident of its value and its future could allow this kind of harsh scrutiny" (135). Lit studies "have appropriated as their domain all uses of langauge except the narrowly refertial and logical. What remains [...] is given to rhetoric, to the writing course" (30).


In the early 20th century, universities were becoming dominated by sciences and practical arts. Objective philosophies ruled. Current-traditional is the most vehement and widely accepted of the objective rhetorics, but behaviorist, semanticist and linguistic rhetorics are also put into this category (9). As Berlin puts it: "The new university invested its graduates with the authority of science and through this authority gave them an economically comfortable position in a new, prosperous middle-class culture" (36)


On the other extreme of things was expressionist writing "the teacher cannot even instruct the student in the principles of writing, since writing is inextricably intertwined with the discovery of truth. The student can discover truth, but truth cannot be taught; the student can learn to write, but writing cannot be taught. The only strategy left, then is to provide an environment in which the individual can learn what cannot be taught" (13).


Berlin describes that, "For the proponents of liberal culture, the purpose of the English teacher was to cultivate the exceptional students, the geniuses, and, at the most, to tolerate all others" (72). For expressionists "writing--all writing--is art. This means that writing can be learned by not taught" (74). How many times do we hear that? That you just need to ponder a little, get a little older and then you’ll pick up what you need to? This is still kind of the philosophy in many Eastern Hemisphere universities where writing instruction hasn’t taken off as much. And it exists here, too, even in our own departments.


The method of expressionist teaching will be familiar to those in creative writing :"Most important was that the students read all papers aloud to the entire class and were given immediate responses [...] the teacher did not lecture but acted instead  as an ad-[83]ditional respondant" (84).

For more about expressionism and what influence it had on rhetoric and composition, check out our previous podcast on expressivism.

Berlin’s last book Rhetorics, Poetics and Cultures was also a disciplinary project--reconciling composition (production) with literary studies (interpretation) by way of cultural studies--may seem a little dated to the 90s, which its heady enthrallment with cross-disciplinary cultural studies and post-modernity everywhere as specter and savior. He argues that English should reunite rhetoric and literary studies

around text interpretation and production-not one or the other exclusively. He doesn’t just argue in theory but sets out his own class as an example of how to integrate textual production and analysis with general cultural studies. He emphatically defends the use of popular culture in the classroom and meeting students with the knowledge the already have.

James Berlin died suddenly of a heart attack while he was still in the middle of career, but his influence is found all around the composition world. For example, the CCCC award for best dissertation is called the James Berlin award, and I think that’s fitting, considering how the establishment of a phd in composition has been such a benchmark in composition’s disciplinarity. Are we at a better place in terms of disciplinary security than we were in the 80s and 90s? I think so. I also think that part o the reason why is James Berlin’s impassioned disciplinary research and fervent argumentation. If you have impassioned discipline and fervent argumentation, feel free to email us at


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_James_Berlin.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements,

and people who shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren.

Quintilian was a transitional figure of rhetoric. Born in a Roman province of Spain to a Spanish

family at around 35 CE, he lived both geographically and temporally at the peripheries of the

Roman Empire. Quintilian was, as everyone was, influenced by Cicero and the Greek instructors,

Progymnasmata, which we've talked about in an earlier episode. He was deeply concerned with

questions about the education of rhetoric. As a teacher of rhetoric, his students were mostly

historians, like Tacitus, or authors, like Juvenal, instead of politicians. In fact, his student Tacitus

will later argue that there wasn't much space for rhetoric as the Roman Empire became more

authoritarian. Who's going to argue with an Emperor? But Quintilian was deeply interested in not

just creating better rhetoric, but better rhetors. The most famous idea from Quintilian is probably

his insistence that the rhetor will be a good person all around. Educated, kind, refined. As Bruce

Herzberg and Patricia Bizzell say in their introduction, "Quintilian's insistence on the moral

element may bespeak his own quiet desperation about what sort of leader would be needed to

galvanize the corrupt Rome of his day." Whatever Quintilian's motivation, he explains in detail,

hundreds of pages of detail, how rhetors are to be educated.

>> That's right, Mary. To illustrate Quintilian's preoccupation with the intersection of ethics and

the art of oratory, it's worth noting that his definition of rhetoric is "a good man speaking well.”

Without good words and good morals, there cannot be good rhetoric. There can be no divorce

between the content and the form of statement. The reverse was also important for Quintilian,

that training in rhetoric could have some sort of moral impact on the student. Quintilian hoped

that people would be more moral for their rhetorical training. Although he was teaching at a time

when rhetoric and Roman society was at "no longer a severe discipline for training the average

man for active citizenship." Good citizenship depends, not just on speaking technically well, but

also morally well. How does the student develop this kind of technical and moral excellence in

speaking? Primarily, through the impact of good examples. Nurses, classmates, and especially

the teacher should "all be kept free from moral fault" or "even the suspicion of it." Classmates

can have good effects on students. Instructors should also frequently demonstrate because now

that we teach, examples are more powerful even than the rules." This sort of reminds me of the

kind of scaffolding that Lev Vygotsky, Ridley, and Carroll talk about. When students are

surrounded by students doing work that is just a little bit more difficult than what

they're accustomed to, they can see how their near peers rise to the problems and learn how

to imitate those strategies as well.

>> So teachers, classmates, instructors, you can tell from all of these influences that Quintilian is

so worried about, he believes in the little sponges model of pedagogy. Some influences like

nurses and classmates maybe accidental, but Quintilian also emphasizes the conscious use of

imitation exercises to strengthen the student. In fact, Quintilian declares that "an orator ought to

be furnished, above all things, with an ample store of examples." The things that

Quintilian recommends imitation, though, vary from the standard Progymnasmata.

The Progymnasmata gave students topics like kidnappers and smugglers. Standard Hardy Boy

stuff. But Quintilian believed that students should imitate the sort of things they're actually going

to be writing. Real life writing. In this sense, you can see how Quintilian would be comfortable

with some of the scholars who emphasize learning to write in the disciplines. All of this is sort of

a social-constructed view of good rhetoric, even something a little pre-writing in the disciplines.

Quintilian talks about how every species of writing has its own prescribed law, each to its own

appropriate dress. So this sort of emphasizes the idea that there's not just one type of good

writing and you can't teach somebody just good writing or good rhetoric. He saw that you needed

to practice in the types of forms that you're actually going to be doing. This is really kind of

revolutionary stuff and it's surprising that it didn't get picked up earlier until in the past, about

100 years has been a real emphasis on beginning to teach writing not just was a transferable skill,

but something that is really specific to a specific task. But at the same time, Quintilian believed

that his students should be generalists, because eloquence "requires the aid of many arts." So

even things like gymnastics, to improve lung capacity and posture, and geometry should be

taught to the would-be rhetor. A sort of balance between the liberal arts and sort of like a specific

kind of technical training. But especially, you have this reading, writing, listening all being

taught at the same time, because they influence each other, and Quintilian says that they are

so inseparably linked with one another and that they should be taught, not as separate skills, but

as sort of one fluid type of learning about language.

>> That's right, Mary. Quintilian saw speaking, writing, and reading as important skills of

course, but not things that could be separated from the human experience as a whole. In fact,

Quintilian saw it as his duty as a teacher to cultivate not just good rhetors, but the whole person.

That might sound a little authoritarian, but just because Quintilian believed that students should

write real-life exercises, doesn't mean he didn't think that they should have fun. Rhetoric, in

varying forms appropriate to age, surrounds the student's cradle to the grave. Little children and

babies could be given alphabet blocks as toys, and young students should be allowed to play with

their own writing and the student should be daring, invent much, and delight in what he invents.

Practice alone, though, won't lead automatically to greatness. "Talent does matter, but he who is

honorably inclined will be very different from the stupid or idol," Quintilian says, "and the wise

instructor will give matter designed as it were beforehand in proportion to the abilities of each,

and the teacher will help them to find their strengths and apply chiefly to that in which he can

succeed." Help make students succeed. The students should be happy with what they are

producing even if it isn't what a professional writer would write. Not everyone has to become a

famous writer but any skill in rhetoric will pay dividends for the wealth, honor and friendship,

greater present and future fame," Quintilian writes, "No matter how much or how little you

obtain or feel you use."

>>Unlike many other teachers of rhetoric, Quintilian rejected stylistic anachronisms and effects.

"Language is excellent, perspicuous and elegant and should have the public stamp like currency.

Current practices matter so much that custom in speaking, therefore, I shall call the agreement of

the educated just as I call custom in living the agreement of the good." There's an obvious

influence here on enlightenment rhetors like Hugh Blair who similarly reject the idea that you

should speak in an old timey way and that you need to consider what the modern style is for your

own region. Incidentally, Blair thought that Quintilian was the best of all the rhetoricians.

Overall, students should develop fasilitas, the readiness to appropriate language for any situation.

To be fluid with understanding what the social conventions are and how you can apply language

to it. And after a good career, Quintilian even advises the rhetor to bow out gracefully, not full of

reunion tours and botox, but to leave at your peak, "Because it becomes him to take care that he

speak not worse than he has been in the habit of speaking." That's not to say that retired people

are off the hook. They're still expected to study like Marcus Cato who learned Greek in his old

age. But Quintilian definitely sets out a line of the entire rhetor's life, from their earliest years

playing with blocks to when they retire at an old age.

>>So Quintilian clearly would have been no fan of Rocky V and VI, is what we're saying there


>>How many people were? [laughs]

>>I think only a few perhaps. If all of this seems like a lot of work to raise the writer, then you're

absolutely right. Quintilian describes such an involved pedagogy from cradle to grave, that the

relationship is less like a teacher and more like a parent. The focus in Quintilian's pedagogy is

less quick and dirty tricks, and more the formation of a rhetorical character. He feels that

learning rhetoric will help make you a better person. The good man speaking well and because of

that he passionately promotes a study of rhetoric. In fact, we can't put it any better than he does,

so we'll end with his inspiring words and if these don't make you excited about studying rhetoric,

I just don't know what will. "Let us then presume with our whole powers the true dignity of

eloquence then which the immortal gods have given nothing better to mankind and without

which all nature would be mute and all our acts would be deprived alike of present honor and

commemoration among posterity and let us aspire to the highest excellence for, by this means,

we shall attain the summit and if it does not ring great advantage to studious youth it will at least

excite in them what I desire even more, a love for doing well."

[musical outro]

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Quintillian.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

[guitar music]  

Welcome to New Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, events, and ideas that have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren and today I actually get to respond to a listener who wrote in, named Greg Gibby. And Greg wrote in saying that he would love to know some sort of ranking system; some way to see who are some of the most important figures in rhetorical history and sort of how they might relate to each other. So because of Greg, for the next month, we are going to be counting down the villains of rhetoric. Not that there are any you know, mustache twirlers per say, but these are folks who sort of give rhetoric a bad name, and contributed to rhetoric becoming a pejorative. 

So today, in honor of Greg, we are going to be start out our series. We are going to be starting with, Thomas Hobbes. Now, you probably remember Hobbes from your political science classes. He's the one that came up with the idea of the social contract. You remember this. You have a bunch of people all living together and life is nasty and terrible and brutish, and then they decide, "Hey if we all get in this together and make somebody in charge of us, we don't have to live like animals." So they create a contract. 

"We will all obey the sovereign, and the sovereign will protect us." 

Well, this is all very well and good until you include rhetoric. Hobbes kind of defines eloquence into two camps. One is philosophy, and the other is a passion.

 He says, "The one is an elegant and clear expression of the conceptions of the mind, and riseth partly from the contemplation of the things themselves. Partly from the understanding of the words taken in their own proper and definite signification. The other is a commotion of the passions of the mind. And derives from metaphorical use of words fitted to the passions." 

This is sort of going back to the old idea that you either have, sort of a philosophical understanding of what everything is, and you just sort of lay the words on top of it with one clear understanding. Or, you've tricky, tricky words which are going to create a commotion of passions of the mind, deriving a metaphorical use of words fitted to those passions. It's sort of a cold, contemplated way to sort of approach rhetoric, in this sense. So rhetoric is suspect, and in fact Hobbes is quite suspicious of the roll of rhetoric within, heaven forbid, a democracy. 

He says, "In a democracy, look at how many demagogues, that is how many powerful orators there are with the people."

And he says, "In a popular dominion there may be as many Nero's as there are orators who sooth the people."

It's kind of a scary idea for him that people will be able to speak, and have such a big influence. He goes even deeper with this when he talks about why there are so many demagogues, so many orators trying to grasp for power through the words that they use. 

He says, "Another reason why a great assembly is not so fit for consultation is because everyone who delivers his opinion holds it necessary to make a long tongued speech, and to gain more esteem from his auditors, he polishes and adorns it with the best and smoothest language. Now the nature of eloquence is to make good and evil profitable and unprofitable, honest and dishonesty. Appear to be more or less than indeed they are. And to make that seem just which is unjust. According as it shall best suit with his end that speaketh. For this is to persuade, and though they reason, yet they, not from their rise form true principles but from vulgar received opinions."

Now this is actually Hobbes getting at sort of a philosophy of rhetoric that has been around for a long time. The idea that received opinions are a way to reason. In ancient rhetorical theory this was kind of okay. It was called the common places, and you could argue from a common place. We talked about this a little bit in the podcast about the cannons, and a little bit of the [inaudible]. Well you could say, "Well everyone knows that a stitch in time, saves nine." And that would count as good evidence. But for Hobbes, he says that becomes dangerous because of vulgar received opinions. Now, these orators, he also criticizes by saying, "there is no reason why every man should not naturally mind his own praise, rather than the public business, but that here he sees a means to declare his eloquence, whereby he may gain the reputation of being ingenious and wise. Rejoice and triumph in the applause of his dexterous behavior." So he says that all these orators that are going in for public speech; they don't really care about the public in general. In fact, they should probably just mind their own business, but the only reason they are going into it is so that people will think that they are smart, and clever. Now that's not to say that there is zero space for conversation within Hobbes ideas. At the beginning of chapter 14 of Laws and Trespass, Hobbes does make a somewhat passing remark about the role of council. He says that those who confuse law and council are like those who, "think it is the duty of the monarch, not only to give ear for their counselors, but also to obey them, as if it were in vain to take council unless it were also followed." What? Hobbes! Did you just say that Monarchy could be influenced by something outside of the sovereign, but politically impactful? Let's take a look at the page again. "Council is directed to his end that receives it. Council is given to none but the willing." Council, then, according to Hobbes, doesn't necessarily persuade the sovereign as we might understand in rhetoric, but provides another pillar of reasoning for the Monarch to consider. In fact, such council looks a lot like that philosophical eloquence that Hobbes describes above. A clear, grounded, rationalist contemplation and divorced from emotional appeals. This kind of reminds me of Tacitus who was similarly enamored of the principatus, and his concern about demagogues' rhetorical sway. But he was, nonetheless, willing to admit that the sovereign could benefit from hearing what advisers have to say. So in the end, Hobbes is generally not in favor of rhetoric. Not for the masses, not for the people speaking of their own, not sort of even in assemblies, but he does have a tiny smidgen of space where a counselor could say something to a sovereign, that the sovereign -- moving forward from his own wisdom and not from anyone else's admission can take into account of make his own decision. So there you have it Hobbes; number four on our list of the villains of rhetoric. Next week we will continue on with our villains of rhetoric series by talking about Ramus. Until then, try not to let the demagogues bring you down. And always pay attention to what your sovereign has to offer. 

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Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Hobbes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT