Mere Rhetoric

Hermogenes of Tarsus


Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today is a rebroadcast of an old episode, thanks to the Humanities Media Project here at the University of Texas. Hope you enjoy!


Hermogenes of Tarsus was a bit of a boy genius: he wrote many important rhetorical treatises (of which we only have sections) before he was 23 years old. And when Hermogenes was fifteen years old, in 176 AD, something remarkable happened. The philosopher emperor of the Roman empire, Marcus Aurelius himself, came to listen to him speak. This is all the more impressive because Hermogenes was of Tarsus, which, if you know your ancient geography well you’ll note is pretty far east from Rome. Marcus Aurelius heard him declaim and speak extemporaneously. “You see before you, Emporer,” Hermogenes reported said, “An orator who still needs an attendant to take him to school, an orator who still looks to come of age.” The emporer was duly impressed with the boy’s rhetorical powers and showered him with gifts and prizes


From such auspicious beginnings, things quickly went downhill fast for poor Hermogenses. While still young he lost his brilliant mind. It’s impossible to know for certain what led to Hermogenes’ deterioration. Some propose that it was a psychological breakdown from the stress of being such a shooting star, and certainly that sounds reasonable—once you’d declaimed for the emporer of the world, where do you go from there? Others suggest that there was a physiological reason, like meningitis from a bout of infectious disease or early onset dementia. Ancients as well as moderns were fascinated with how someone who showed so much promise could so quickly become the butt of cruel jokes. Antiochus the sophist once mocked approach of the once-brilliant Hermogenes: “Lo, here is one who was an old man among boys and now among the old is a but a boy.” Byzantine texts, who loved a local rhetorical hero, speculated that when he died that his heart was huge and…hairy. Do you remember that JK Rowling story about the hairy heart? Every time I think of Hermogenes I think of that. But let’s talk about his ideas instead of whether his heart could be hairy.


We actually know surprisingly little of Hermogenes’ works. We know a lot of rumor about how great he was, but of the five treatise under his name, only one and a half are likely to be genuinely his work. The one is called “On Types of Style” and in it Hermogenes describes seven types of style: Clarity, Grandeur, Beauty, Rapidity, Character, Sincerity and Force. Some of you who are familiar with your Roman or medeval rhetoric are maybe scratching your heads here—seven? Seven types of style? What ever happened to high, medium and low? And what the heck is “character?” These are legitimate questions. Remember two things: first this is the period of the Second Sophistic, when there’s a heightened interest in rhetoric and in Greek rhetoric in specific, so that means that people are looking for something a little more off the beaten path. Rhetoric plus. Instead of just aping Cicero, Hermogenes comes up with these seven categories that are more specific and less immediately associated with rhetorical situation. It’s like a more byzantine approach to style. And yes, that’s a Greek empire pun.


The other thing to remember about Hermogenes’ style guide is that he was probably a teenager when he wrote it. And a celebrated prodigy at that, so that just accelerates the cocky self-assuredness. Remember those kids in high school who insisted that they were smarter than all of the teachers and were pretty certain that they could be president—if they wanted to descend to politics? Yeah, Hermogenes was probably that kid.


Wow, it’s hard not to talk about Hermogenes the person instead of his ideas. He’s just an interesting guy. Okay, so these 7 kinds of style.


Clarity comes first because clarity is most critical. But don’t think that just because clarity is important that it’s simple. Oh no, clarity consists of two parts—purity, which is sentence-level clarity, and distinctness, which is about big-picture organization. So you need to have each sentence clear as well as the organization over all.


The next style point is grandeur. Oh, don’t wory, grandeur, too, has sub parts—six of them, arranged in 3 groups: solemnity and brilliance come first. Solemnity is using abstract statements about elevated topics. “Justice comes to all.” “Honor never tarnishes” “Love is a many-splendored thing.” Solemn statements are short, bold and unqualified. Brilliance takes those abstracts down to specifics, and becomes longer: “It’s good when two friends meet around the board of fellowship.” They may sound similar because they are pretty close.


The third part of grandeur is amplification. It’s not just talking a lot, but expanding the topic to make it seem “bigger” than it would be if discussed in casual conversation. Nuff said.


The last chunk of grandeur comprises three parts: aperity, vehemence and florescence. In short, sudden strong emotion. Asperity for shart criticism, vehemence for distaine and florescence to ease back off a bit and sugar coat the strong feelings.


Having done with grandeur, Hermogenes points out that beauty is also useful, although, surprisingly, he doesn’t break this category down too much.


The next type of style is rapidity—quick short sentence, rapid replied, sudden turns of thought in antithesis. “Am I happy? No. You disappoint me. No, you destroy me.” That sort of thing.

The fifth style is that mysterious character. Strangely this is pretty muh what Aristotle calls ethos. You migh have to think a little abstractly about how character can be a style, but Hermogenes insists that this type of what we might classify as argument I actually a style. Okay. He’s the genius, not me. The subcategories of character are simplicity, sweetness, subtlety and modesty, which do sound a little more like something you can create in style.


Finally, Hermogenes recommends to us Sincerity. The speaker must let his audience know that he is “one plain-dealing man addressing another in whose judgement he has perfect confidence.” The idea is to create the illusion that the speaker is talking more or less extemporaneously. They can’t appear to be written into the speech or that ruins the whole effect. Imagine how different you feel when someone in the heat of a speech says, “Oh, I can’t stand it!” versus when you see written in the notes “Oh. I can’t stand it [with vehemence.]”


The last style is actually just the correct balance of all six of these types of style. By using these types of styles well, the speaker has force with his audience. He sums up “the ai of clarity is that the audience should understand what is said, whereas Grandeur is designed to impress them with what is said. Beutyf is designed to give pleasure. Speed to avoid boredome, ethods helps to win over the audience by allying them with the speaker’s customs and character and verity persuades them he is speaking the truth. Finally, Gravity sitrs up the audience and they are carried away by the completeness of the performance, not only to accept what they have heard, but to act upon it.”


If you’re curious about whether Hermogenes in thoughtfully preparing such a philsphy of style was adroit in it, the sad fact is that nothing in “On Style” suggests the boy rhetor who capitvated the emporer Marcus Aerlious. Translater Cecil W. Wooten says succinctly “he is a brilliant critic of style whose own style is really quite atrocious” (xvii)


In the same way that young Hermogenes took the basic divisions of style and expanded them, he did a very similar thing with the stases. We’ll talk more about the stases in a later podcast, but briefly, they’re a way of categorizing what it is you’re arguing about. Are you in conflict with your interlocutor about whether global warming exists or are you just debating what’s the correct policy to decrease warming emissions? In the stases of HermaGORAS ( who is not to be confused with our current hairy-hearted hero) and others throughout the classical world, there were four different stases: fact, definition, quality and procedure. Hundreds of years later, in the second sophistic, HermoGENES has expanded on these four. How much? Okay, fact, definition and procedure get to stay pretty much the same, but quality? Oh, quality gets blown up. Now instead of 4 stases we get—13. Yep, 13.


Hermogenes makes a big deal on whether an argument actually has issue—whether it can be argued about. Because, after all, he himself points out that “It is not the function of rhetoric to investigate what is really and universal just, honorable, etc.” but real, public issues. To have issue he set some requirements.

  • All parties have persuasion that are
    • (1) different and
    • (2) have force.
    • This means you can’t have straw men you’re fighting against
  • The verdict is
    • (1) not self-evident but
    • (2) in principle can be reached .
    • this means you can’t really argue whether chocolate or vanilla are better.


As the scholar Malcolm Heath has pointed out, this stuff was important for ancient rhetoric: “At the heart of ancient rhetoric in its mature form was a body of theory […] which sought to classify the different kinds of dispute […] and to develop effective strategies for handling each kind” (Heath). But classifying stases kind of lost its luster after the Renaissance. Heath’s translation and interest came as a result of work done by Kennedy (1983) and Russell (1983) opened up interest in Hermogenes again.


I think we’re primed for an increase in interest in the work Hermogenes, the boy wonder. I have to admit, though, the story of his life is especially touching to me. I can’t help but speculate what the young man would have achieved in his future if he had been able to continue to work and produce texts. Would he have expanded on other categories of ancient rhetoric? Would he have refined his definitions? It makes me remember the juvenile work of Cicero or Isocrates and wonder whether we’d honor them so highly if those were the only treatises we had from them. We’ll never know what Hermogenes could have become, what contributions he could have made in the second sophistic period, because his career was so tragically cut short before he could refine and develop his ideas.


Direct download: 16-02-18_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Hermogenes_of_Tarsus.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. And today I want to talk about the pedagogical tool of making kids have an argument. And an argument doesn’t just mean bickering.




Okay, even if there’s a difference between arguing and bickering , I will say, that hen I was a kid, I bickered a lot with my brother Dave. Dave is three years older than me, which meant he was farther along in school and knew more things. This bothered me, so if he said something, I said the opposite. If he said that hippos were more dangerous than lions, then I had to prove that lions were more dangerous than hippos. If he said that indoor games were better than outside, I have to prove that outside were better than inside. Sometimes, like boxers circling each other, we would switch positions and suddenly I was arging for hippos and indoor games and Dave was arguing for lions and outdoor games. It must have driven my mother crazy, especially on a long Sunday afternoon, but it turns out that what Dave and I were do has a long tradition in rhetorical education. We just didn’t have a word for it yet—dissoi logoi.


Dissoi logoi means “contrasting arguments” in Greek. You can sort of tease that out from the root word for “dissent” and “logos.” It goes really really far back, and we don’t know who came up with the first time, but the idea is that you argue your opponent’s position to better understand your own. There are two ways to practice dissoi logoi. One is the way I did as a 7 year old, by having an interlocutor and then switching positions. This method works great for school kids all learning together and you can see this practice in speech and debate classes even today. You research and write and then argue your heart out and then after you finish, the teacher holds up their hands and says, “Okay, switch.” When I argued what Dave would said, I’d know how to respond to his arguments, because I have heard his arguments.


The other way to practice dissoi logoi is to do it all yourself. You run through all the arguments on one side and then you run through all the arguments on the other side. You’re arguing with yourself in a sense. There’s a philosophical and cynical view to the practice of dissoi logoi. If you’re cynical you might say that this is an example of the relativism of the sophists at the worst. This is what people hate about lawyers and sophists—they don’t really care about the argument, but they only care about the language and winning, so they could arguing one thing just as impassioned as the other. It looks like you are two-faced or insincere if you can switch from caring deeply about one side and then, on the turn of a dime, care just as deeply about the other side. But the philosophical perspective sees dissoi logoi as an exercise for coming at a truthier truth. In fact, another term for dissoilogoi is dialexis, and the term is related to dialectic—the opposing forces method of getting at truth espoused by Socrates, Plato and other heavy hitters of classical Athens.


The practice of Dissoi Logoi is articulated in a text called the Dissoi Logoi, which was found at then end of a much later manuscript, and wasn’t published until the renaissance. It was proably written around 425 BC, based on its references to historical figures and style of writing. The Dissoi logoi looks like student notes, which is what a lot of rhetorical tezts are, but there’s no way of saying it was one thing or another for certain, and we don’t know whose class the author was sitting in. It kicks off by saying that good and bad “are the same thing, and that the same thing is good for some but bad for others, or at one time good and at another time bad for the same person.” All of this is to say that some actions have different moral weight, depending on who you are and under what circumstances you engage in them. Then follows a series of examples—in sports, a certain outcome will be good for one team, but bad for the other; shoddy workmanship is bad for customers and good for the manufacturers, etc. The same event could be good or bad depending on who experiences it. Then there’s a list of the circumstances which are shameful in one setting and praiseworthy in another, like ow for Spartans, girls would walk around bare armed or naked while Ionians would never. You can kind of imagine a list of examples from an instructor. And some of the examples seem awfully sensational—not just regular suicide, murder, exhibitionis, and adultery, but drinking from your enemies’ skulls and eating your parents and cross dressing and incest. It’s all these off-color examples that make me think the Dissoi Logoi was an educational text—nothing gets kids’ attention like sex and violence.


And as a bit of a tangent, the question of education comes up explicitly at the end of the tract, where the question is asked whether wisdom and moral excellence can be taught. The author takes care not to claim that wisdom can be taught, but dismantles the arguments against such an education and argues for the ideal of the person who can “converse in brief questions and answers, to know the truth of things to please one’s cause correctly, to be able to speak in public, to have an understanding of argument-skills and to teach people about the nature of everything” (8.1). Oh, if that’s all an education takes… But it sounds a lot like the education which Cicero describes in the dialogs on the Orator.


It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to say that two thinkers could have independently come up with the idea that the best education would be to know everything, but there’s also a possibility that the ideas of the dissoi logoi made it over to Roman thought. But heading back the other way, there may have just been a common ideal floating around in the Greco-Roman world. So did the Dissoi Logoi influence Cicero?


Yes, I think, and no. Whatever one Dave doesn’t think.

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

When last we left our intrepid hero, Chaim Perelman was describing universal audiences with his collaborater Lucie Obretch-Tycteta and setting up what he called the new Rhetoric. Today, we’ll talk about his solo text, The Realm of Rhetoric and critical responses to his philosophies.


The first thing you’ll notice about the Realm of Rhetoric is that is it around a fourth of the size of the New Rhetoric. I think that’s probably a function of having writing a ground-breaking magnum opus and then following it up.


Let’s start with the spoilers. What is the realm of rhetoric? It is“communication tr[ying] to influence one or more person, to orient their thinking, to excite or calm their emotions, to guide their actions” of which dialectic is one part (162). In another place, Perelman says “Argumentation is intended to act upon an audience to modify an audience’s convictions or dispositions through discourse, and it tries to gain a meeting of minds instead of imposing its will through constraint or conditioning” (11). Some of this sounds a little Burke-y, doesn’t it? All this talk about how talk isn’t about force, even psychological force.


Perelman’s words here state that, “the new rhetoric is concerned with discourse addressed to any sort of audience” (5) not just a specific group of people hanging out in the marketplace listening to speakers.


The presence of controversy means that dialectical reasoning always involves audiences, and always involved received opinion. For instance, if I try to tell you that we should visit Italy for vacation this year, I’m relying on opinions that say that Italy is a good place for vacations, that traveling for vacation is a good idea, etc. Perelman says that dialectical reasoning is about justifiable opinion and it isn’t invalid because it deals with opinion, but just different. And different disciplines require different types of argument: “It is as inappropriate,” he writes “to be satisfied with merely reasonable arguments from a mathematician as it would be to require scientific proofs from an orator” (3).


So the realm of rhetoric is different: “A argument is never capable of procuring self-evidence, and there is no way of arguing against what is self-evident… argumentation… can intervene only where self-evidence is contested” (6).


That isn’t to say that there are constraints in this realm of rhetoric. Even if you decide to make every argument to support a proposition, so that it can reach all audiences, there are “psychological, social and economic limits that prevent a thoughtless amplification of the discourse” (139). And if we have to limit the arguments we make, we have to think about making the best ones, the ones that have efficacy and validity in various forms. Efficacy is mercenary: does it work for that audience? Does it, to use PErelman’s term, persuade?The other option is validity, which is linked to convincing, to the universal audience “above and beyond reference to the audience to which it is presented” (140).


Perelman ultimately accepts a big version of rhetoric “As soon as a communication tries to influence one or more persons, to orient their thinking, to excite or calm their emotions, to guide their actions, it belongs to the realm of rhetoric” and get this “Dialectic, the technique of controversy, is included as one part of this larger realm” (162).

Dialectical reasoning needs to get off its high horse, Perelman suggests because “We can immediately see that dialectical reasoning begins from theses that are generally accepted, with the purpose of gaining the acceptance of other theses which could be or are controversial” in other words “it aims either to persuade or convince” (2). So yeah, what’s the realm of rhetoric? Everything.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_PerlemanPt2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:47am CDT


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people, and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren, and this last week, I had the fantastic experience of meeting one of you. That's right, an actual listener in the actual flesh. Somebody who wasn't just one of my colleagues, or one of my friends, or my mom, who listens to this podcast. It was a really cool experience. And she was very nice and very enthusiastic, and I'm really grateful that I got the chance to meet her. But it made me think a little bit about who I think you guys are when I make these podcasts, how much I create who you are in my mind, and how much you respond to the way that I've created you.

This made me think of a really important article that came out back before I was born in May of 1984. The article is called "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy." And it was written by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, who are kind of the dynamic duo of composition theory. They co-authored a lot of articles together, and kind of became synonymous with each other. 

In this groundbreaking article, they summarize a debate that's taking place at the time -- a debate with sort of two sides. On one side, audience is concrete and should be appeased. You think about the audience that is out there, and you respond to their own needs. On the other side is audience invoked: an audience that is invented -- that comes from the imagination of the writer. In describing the audience addressed, Ede and Lunsford sort of pull to this new movement -- this writing in the disciplines idea where in some ways the degree to which the audience is real or imagined and the ways it differs from the speaker's audience are generally either ignored or subordinated to a sense of the audience's powerfulness. Audience, in this situation, is everything. And writers should respond to the needs of the audience. 

This is the stuff that you will often get in a first year composition class, where you're asked to go read the newspaper that you want to publish in, you might go to a website like Wikipedia or Quantcast to find out information about who subscribes to that newspaper, and sort of do everything you can to respond to that audience that is sort of out there. In some ways, this is a great way. Especially to teach young college students who might have a hard time thinking outside of their own lives. But in another sense, this model puts more emphasis on the role of the audience than it does on the writer itself. As they say, one way to pinpoint the source of the imbalance in this formulation is to note that they emphasize the role of readers, but are wrong in failing to recognize the equally essential role that writers play throughout the composing process, not only as creators, but as readers of their own writing as well.

Instead, this perspective says in a typical writing in the disciplines way, "we defend only the right of audiences to set their own standards and we repudiate the ambitions of English departments to monopolize that standard-setting. If bureaucrats and scientists are happy with the way they write, then no one should interfere."

There's sort of a "you do you" theme going on here that, in some ways aeems a little unethical. Listen to this example that they give.

"The toothpaste ad that promises improved personality, for instance, knows too well how to address the audience."

But such ads, they say, “ignore ethical questions completely." After all, as they cite Burke, "we're in the art of discovering good reasons. There's an imbalance that has ethical consequences. For rhetoric has traditionally been concerned not only with the effectiveness of rhetoric, but been concerned also with truthfulness."

Another concern that they have is that envisioning audience as addressed, something out there, suggests an overly simplified view of language. Discourse isn't just something that we put on our words and our ideas. You need to have some sort of unifying, balancing understanding of language use, and not overemphasize just one aspect of discourse.

Now on the other hand, they're not entirely off the hook on those who are on the audience invoked side. These audience invoked sorts believe that the audience is a created fiction. The best example that they have is Walter Ong's study, which is -- appropriately enough -- titled "The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction". In this, Ong says -- and they quote him –

"What do we mean by saying the audience is a fiction? Two things at least. First, that the writer must always construct in his imagination, clearly or vaguely, an audience cast in some sort of role... Second, we mean that the audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself."

In this sense, the writer is creative. They're able to project and alter audiences. But Ede and Lunford do take issue with Ong's idea that you can do whatever you can to create a reader, but there are still "constraints on the writer and the potential sources of and possibilities for the reader's role. And they're more complex and diverse than this perspective might imagine." Ede and Lunsford point out that the reader is willing to accept another role, but also perhaps may actually yearn for it. They may be willing to accept some roles and not others. In this sense, there are constraints what the writer can do. The writer can't make her audience into something that they don't want to be. In accepting a certain role, her readers do not have to play the game of being a member of an audience that does not really exist, but they do have to recognize in themselves the strengths and the characteristics that the writer describes, and accept the writer's implicit [inaudible] of these strengths and characteristics to what the writer hopes that the audience's response will be to any proposal. This is because a reader's role "has already been established and formalized in a series of other conventions. If a writer is successful, they will effectively internalize some of these conventions and present the material in a way that will be effective for the audience."

So the answer that Ede and Lunsford give is that both are appropriate. At times, the reader may establish the role for a reader that indeed does not coincide with the role in the rest of their life. At other times, one of the writer's primary tasks may be analyzing the real life audience, and adapting discourse to it. As they say, 

"One of the factors that makes writing so difficult is that we have no recipes. Each rhetorical situation is unique, and thus requires the writer, catalyzed and guided by a strong sense of purpose, to reanalyze and reinvent solutions." 

Think about it. As they say, 

"All of the audience roles we specify -- friend, self, colleague, critic, mass audience and future audience -- may be invoked or addressed. It is the writer who, as writer and reader of her own text, one guided with a sense of purpose and with the particularities of a specific rhetorical situation, establishes the range of potential roles an audience may play. There needs to be, in some sense, a synthesis of the perspectives we have termed 'audience addressed' with its focus on the reader, and 'audience invoked' with its focus on the writer. 

One last quote, I promise. Ede and Lunsford finally say,

"A fully elaborated view of audience then must balance the creativity of the writer with the different, but equally important creativity of the reader, and must account for a wide and shifting range of roles for both addressed and invoked audiences. Finally, it must relate the matrix created by the intricate relationship of writer and audience to all of the elements in the rhetorical situation."

I think this is a really useful model to think about the ways that we deal with audience. In some ways, any sort of writer needs to know what her audience is like, what are some of their characteristics and constraints? What are they willing to see themselves as, and what seems beyond the pale? This sort of audience analysis is really useful in a lot of situations. Additionally though, the writer can invoke the audience -- talk to them in a certain way that encourages them to respond.

This is something I thought about in meeting this listener of the podcast earlier this week. In some ways, I thought about who she was. An advanced and graduate student, somebody who is going to go to graduate school soon, who is interested in rhetorical history in some way. And I thought about what her needs might be in terms of a podcast for something like this. To keep it interesting, keep it relevant, keep it focused on rhetoric. But in another way, I invoke her and the rest of you when I make a podcast. I talk to you as if you are interested in rhetoric. As if this is something important to you. And you somehow willingly fill the role. Well, thanks for doing that. Thanks for being the audience.

If you want to show me how real you are, or invoke me right back at you, please feel free to send me an email. My email address is And until then, thanks for being real and addressed, and thanks for being imagined and invoked. 

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

Sometimes I make a podcast and I think, “Golly I hope I did justice by that idea, person and movement that shaped rhetorical history.” Sometimes I make a podcast on the work of someone living, like Scott Stroud’s book about John Dewey, and sometimes I make a podcast on someone dead, like Kant. If I misrepresent a dead person, who will stop me? A living one. today, on Mere rhetoric, not exactly a retraction, but a revision of a previous episode on Immanual Kant, the philosopher who has been long-identified, including by me, as diametrically opposed to the field of rhetoric. Scott Stroud’s Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric, today on Mere Rhetoric.


Intro music


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, specially thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas for their support in making these new episodes both possible and awesome. Also thanks to Jacob in the booth, and Scott Stroud, also of the University of Texas. I emailed Dr. Stroud when I talked about his book in the Dewey episodes, and he told me he was working on a book on Kant that may change my opinion on him. Alright, I thought, let’s hear it.


And I did. Stroud wrote a few articles about Kant’s views of education which suggested that there may be a rhetoric of Kant after all, and they piqued my interest to the point when I was ready to jump on this book when it released.


Essentially Stroud argues that Kant didn’t hate rhetoric as much as we think so, which is pretty high because Kant says things like, “Man, I hate rhetoric.” Stroud even points out that Kant turned down a position as professor of poetry even though he wanted “academic advancement and funds” (4), just because he seemed to dislike linguistic fla-dee-la. But it’s possible that some of Kant’s antipathy towards rhetoric is just antipathy towards a certain kind of rhetoric.


Kant’s frienemy, Christian Garves, was a loud-and-proud Ciceronian, which criticized Kant openly and behind anonymity. “Kant rejected this way of doing philosophy,” Stroud writes “and in doing so, rejected the notion of rhetoric that appeared connected to it in practice” (23). He hated the idea of all the self-interest inherent in Garves’ understanding of rhetoric, felt like it was categorically opposed to the categorical imperative: that any action you undertake could be a universal law. Remember when your mom would catch you littering or picking the neighbors’ flowers and ask, “What if everyone did that? What would happen then?” That’s essentially the mom version of the categorial imperative.


But rhetoric isn’t about universals. It’s not about telling people to do things that are applicable to everyone in every situation--it’s hopelessly conditional. Garston in Saving Persausion, another book we’ve talked about on the podcast, banishes Kant from the world of rhetoric because he loved universals so much. Stroud responds to GArston’s complaints. “Rhetorical message are primarily not universal, since few things relevant to pressing decisions in the present are of such general scope,” he admits “Yet Kant’s philosophy seems to demand that practices be universalizable.” (187) The detachment usually described as a condition of scholarly logic is actually “an orientational or dispositional feature as as such is applicable to all forms of communicative activity” (189)  There are things that are universalizable in how we do rhetoric, even if each instance of rhetoric may be specific to its moment of kairos. As Stroud says, “Kant did not insist that a reason be a reason for every potential listener; he does seem to insist, however, that it be a reason for everyone in a comparable situation” (190).


Okay, that’s all well and good, but what about the fact that Kant pretty much straight out says, “Do you know what I hate? rhetoric. I really hate that field. Ugh.”? Well, first off, that’s paraphrase, but secondly, it’s also translation. There are multiple words that could be translated as rhetoric. Even in English, we have rhetoric and eloquence and persausion and all sorts of words that fan out like a Vann diagram with overlapping meanings. Some of the terms are manipulative, but not all. “clearly, the larger genus of ‘skilled speaking’ or elequence is re (42)levent to Kant’s moral project.” stroud says, but “If one honors the complexity of the phenomena of human communication and the range of terms being used by Kant, one can conceptualize rhetoric simply as the persuasive use of language in community with others “ (43). And that’s something that Kant can get behind

Okay, so if we accept that Kant doesn’t have a deep abiding hatred for all things communication, what would a Kantian rhetoric look like? Building fromKant’s philosophy, what if he had taken that poetry job? what would he have said to the writers in his class? That’s the second task that Stroud takes, after his resuscitation of Kant into the field of rhetoric. Or as he himself puts it: “what sense of such rhetorical action are enjoined by Kant’s complex thought on morality, religion, politics, aesthetics, and education? Taking ‘rhetoric’ not as a simple term but as a complex concept, what uses or forms of rhetorical activity fit into Kant’s mature thought, especially the important topic of moral and the formation of the ideal sort of human community?” (7).


There are two venues where Kant’s ideal human community really comes out: education and religion. Both are troublesome to the fundamental question of rhetoric for Kant: how can you honor someone’s autonomy and their freedom and still try to change them? Kant hated manipulation, but you wouldn’t necessarily say that fourth-graders and manipulated into learning long division or state capitals, and you don’t even need to say that they’re manipulated in learning how to share, cooperate and treat others with respect.


Stroud points out that “Kant is notably hostile to rhetoric, but only one version of it--that of persuasive speech used with an orientation toward selfish and manipulative use of one’s social skill. Avoiding such an orientation is the primary aim of education” (106). Part of Kant’s ideal community is that people learn to do the right thing for the right reason. Maybe they can be constrained in the kingdom of right, but in the ideal kingdom of ends, people all do the right thing collectively because they are committed to it individually. Learning how to commit is the object of education.


The most moral way to teach people--especially young people--how to develop the internal discipline to choose the right thing instead of the selfish thing is to present them with lots of good examples. Examples don’t threaten or bully, but present themselves to autonomous agents who can decide for themselves how to interpret the actions and consequences. But since the internal state is key for Kantian ethics, the internal state of the example has to be part of the story. Using examples, especially as a way to teach, uses hypothetical about internal motives for making the choice. “They are, in an important sense, unreal and fictional” (116), even when actual and historical. Take the story of Washington at Valley Forge. If you tell kids that Washington persisted because he believed in the promise of our country, you will forge patriots. If you tell them that he endured because he thought he would wind up on people’s currency you create mercenaries. So in this sense, examples are always fictions of the people who tell them.


Let’s lay aside education and stories for a moment and turn to religion. Religion, too, involves a lot of stories and examples, but it also lets people participate in self-denying actions like prayer, especially traditional, public, set prayers.  When you’re reciting along with other people, you can’t express your inter state as much as alter it to match up with everyone else and the traditional prayer. Praying “forgive us our debts as we forgive our tresspassers” reminds you to be forgiving, even if your inclination is otherwise. Devotees who all gather together, in person or world wide, to say “as we forgive our trespassers” form an “invisible church”: a group of people who all have accepted the same internal conditions together. As Stroud explains it: “the invisible church is the ideal ethical community that we ought to aspire to form--a community that encompasses all agents who are members of it by virtue of their willing of the moral law over the incentives of inclination” (144). As opposed to a nation or a family, these community members opted in because of something they all agreed to believe internally together.


finally Stroud turns to the hardest sell: Kant as political rhetorician. He describes how rhetorical critics (those listening to rhetoric) and critical rhetors (those producing rhetoric) can do so most ethically. there are a lot of lists here, so get out your pens and paper.


So manipulative rhetoric has three characteristics: For Kant, manipulative rhetoric can be seen to have 3 characteristics 1-inequality of knowledge, between speaker and audience 2- this sort of rhetoric exerts a causal force on its listeners. “How rhetoric can treat humans as inherently valuable rational beings, or as machines with causality” (44), 3- idiosyncrasy of the goals of this rhetoric--private own goals. (44)


Non manipulative rhetorics have their own list of four characterstics 1- domain-specific concepts and knowledge--somthing to talk about 2- uses what Kant calls “lively presentations” especially through examples (44-5) 3- nonmanipulative rhetoic doesn’t violate respectability in language and “respect for the various parties in the interaction” (45) 4- public goals or transitive across agents (45)


Above all, you are to treat your audience as though it were comprised of autonomous individuals, not elements of the environment that can be manipulated. The best critical rhetors, “ should see the process of public testing as a way to optimize beliefs,” says Stroud, “including their own views. This quest implicates them in using second-personal reasons in an effort to con (214) vince others that the grounds for their views are sufficient subjectively and objectively. Seeing one’s audience as mere causal objects, however, inclines one to find the right utterances to say to move them as causal objects” (215) “Seeing people as part of the natural world is a vital step in using or manipulating them as a mere means, since this conceptualization of a person as an object with predictable causal interaction with other natural objects is a vital starting point to intelligently using them for some contingent purpose” (218).


And when you’re taking in the rhetoric, you similarly must abide by a set of standards:


Rules of criticism

  1. always treat the rhetor being studied or listened to as an equal
  2. always consider the utterance or object of study as at least a bearer of truth claims and second-person reasons. Do not make casual explanations exclusionary of attributions of dignity to a rhetor
  3. Do not believe that your criticism of such utterances is certain or exclusive of alternative readings (229)

All of this is pretty life-affirming, and I have to admit that I was moved by Stroud’s (and Kant’s) description of the ideal world of rhetoric, just as I was at the end of his text on Dewey. In fact, I’m going to let Stroud have the last word because he puts the ideal in such a clear way.


“thus, Kant answers the ‘Q question’ [need the rhetor be moral] with a nuance reply--a moral agent may not necessarily be eloquent, but the most complete agent is perfected in pragmatic and moral ways. The complete agent is both a morally good person and person who possess the capacity to speak well” (234).


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Kant_and_the_Promise_of_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 1:51pm CDT

Audio: Modern_Dogma_and_the_Rhetoric_of_Assent.mp3
In 1969 in Chicago, Illinois, a group calling themselves The Committee of 5000 Plus Against Disciplinary Procedures issued demands. They demanded that the issue of discipline would be seen in context that expulsions would be rescinded, that cases against protesting students be dropped. At the end of the list of the demands, they demanded that the failure of the Committee of the council, which is to say, the council of the University of Chicago, to respond satisfactorily to these demands by Tuesday noon March fourth will in and of itself constitute grounds for further militant action.
The University had a series of different ways to try to respond to this. There were a lot of faculty discussions about what to say, but officially in February 26, 1969, the faculty spokesman for the executive committee of the elected faculty council addressed the faculty and students of the University of Chicago as follows: and in which spot they responded with the exact same list of demands that the students had made, ending with failure to respond so within the time specified will automatically result in expulsion. How had such a breakdown of rhetoric happened, that one group was unable to respond at all to the demands of another, simply dismissing them? And believing that reprinting the exact words in almost the exact language would demonstrate the apparent ridiculousness of such a position. How had rhetoric broken down?
Well that's the question today on Mere Rhetoric where we get to talk about weighing boots, modern dogma, and the rhetoric of a cent where he as a member of the University of Chicago faculty at this time and one of the great founders of the 20th century tradition of rhetoric had a chance to respond to this as it was going on and a little bit in retrospect as he did revisions of the lectures that he gave that eventually became modern dogma and the rhetoric of assent. Wayne Booth is sometimes grouped among the neo-Aristoteleans which means that he likes to categorize things and he's pretty classical in some senses. He's very interested in how rhetoric could possibly break down and for him there's been a loss of faith in the idea of good reasons by the 1960's. The idea that we can indeed persuade each other to change minds. That we can change minds at all.
The reason why this loss of rhetoric has happened, he argues, has been the creeping approach of modern dogmas, these modernist ideas that are either scientist or romantic. Both of these positions, even though they seem antithetical, are opposed to the idea of rhetoric. They assert that the purpose of offering reasons cannot be to change men's minds in the sense of showing that one view is genuinely superior to another, but it all must be trickery. Because of the dogmas of modernism, what had once been a domain with many grades of dubiety and credulity now becomes simply the dubious for scientism or the arena of conflicting faiths for irrationalism. 
For Booth, the poster boy for all of these conflicting positions is Bertrand Russel, or rather, Bertrand Russels'. Booth asserts that Bertrand Russel is sort of the hero of the modernist age and claims that he sees a lot of students with posters of Bertrand Russel up in the dorms which maybe was a big deal in the 60's because I've never met anybody with a poster of any philosopher, even Bertrand Russel, but maybe back in the 60's things were different. So he says that Bertrand Russel has become sort of the hero of both of these positions -- scientist and romanticism. Booth splits his work into three parts.
Russel one, the quote, genius of mathematical logic, unquote, who was all into proof and facts. Russel, too, who tried to disestablish certain past beliefs and establish the more adequate beliefs of science, and Russel, three, who was the man of action and passion, the poet and mystic -- both the completely sterilely irrational and impassioned romantic are part of this modernist perspective that can undermine rhetoric. Either things can be factually argued down to the very last point as a matter of the absolute motives. This motivism is a dogma not as Booth says, because I think all or most valued choices are made on the basis of fully conscious scientific cognate reasoning, but because I find that many people, assuming without argument that none of them ever can be, look for the secret motive where in practice motivism often leads to a cutting down of man's aspirations and capacities to the nearly animal or in a natural further step, to the chemical or physical. Getting down to the chemical or physical seems like a really blunt way of trying to discover truth, one that doesn't allow for any dialogue. You just cut down to why people are saying what they're saying in a chemical sense. The opposite of this is a sort of mysticism that insists that my idea is always correct even though as Booth says, truth is not always on the side of the rebel. To simply say no when everyone else is saying no is just another form of group compliance, a disguise and therefore and feeble yes. And therefore some of these student protesters who are so insistent that their way is correct because it was a new way was behaving in sort of a romantic, or to be less charitable about it, irrational way, insisting that the faculty could simply not understand their position at all and had to be given a list of demands to comply or not comply with instead of engaging in dialogue.
Well the opposite of this is of course rhetoric. The supreme purpose of persuasion is to engage in mutually inquiring and exploring and that rhetoricians learn to be committed to learn whatever conditions make such mutual inquiry possible. What leads to such failures as the Chicago demands and what can prevent such failures? The remarkable thing about rhetoric for Booth is that we successfully infer another human being's states of minds from symbolic clues but also -- and this is very important -- that in all societies we build each other's minds, that we contribute to each other. If there is no rhetorical inquiry, we can't do that anymore. Rhetoric is a supremely self-justifying activity, Booth says, for man only when those engaged in it fully respect the rules and steps of the inquiry. The way to do this, surprise, is through thoughtful dialogue. 
As I do, when I know that justice of my action is determined by whether what looks like good reasons are in fact good reasons. In this sense, Booth asserts that we must somehow constitute society as a rhetorical field. Ultimately this rhetorical field of society is not a comfortable community nor a stable one. Even those who join it consciously and systematically as we almost do by talking together here -- here being the lecturers that he's presenting -- cannot provide a convenient list of gods and devils, friends and enemies. But at the same time he can give us some ease into whatever sub community we have already assented to. We have to find space for a rhetorical field. For conversation, not just breaking things down to the scientific or insisting my way or the highway.  In this realm of rhetorical inquiry, Booth says we can add value fields that modernism would exclude. In love by lovers. In astronomy, by [inaudible]. In whatever kind of value those who have some knowledge of a good reason from a bad. In short, what some people might call untenable claims can join into the part of rhetoric. 
Also, there's an excellent part of this book that talks about the rhetoric of poetics and of narrative. If we can convince each other that lovers know something about love, then maybe there can be something to be taught from literature as well. He calls this section the story as reasons and he claims every kind of argument that anyone could ever use in real life might be used in a narrative work and it could presumably carry as much force from one place as another. If there are good reasons for confidence and the values of discoursing together, then we can get about our business importantly, whatever that may be. 
This becomes the key point. We have to go about discoursing together and then we can do whatever our business is -- arguing about business or politics or religion --, but not unless we have confidence for the value of discussing together. 
This book, written even back in the 70's, paves the way for the listening rhetoric that Booth will eventually develop in the 90's and 2000's. Not that we learn to argue less, but that we learn to argue better.
Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Modern_Dogma.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements and people who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today we get to continue on in our theme of the villains of rhetoric. Today though, instead of just focusing on one person like Raymus or Hobbes. We get to talk about three and the reason why we get to talk about three is because a fantastic book that Wayne A. Rebhorn wrote. It's called “Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric.” This is a great volume. It's a compilation of a lot of short pieces by a lot of different authors during the renaissance, starting pretty early and going pretty late. You can see the way that they respond to each other and how they respond to voices that you don't even really see in the book that are just sort of out there. Like, people say this or people say that.

But today we're going to be talking about distinct criticisms of rhetoric. The first is from Agrippa. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa who was German as you might suspect and he was a captain in the army of Maximillian the 1st so that gives you sort of a time frame. This is very early 16th century. He was maybe a magician. He worked in sort of occult philosophy and kabala and all sorts of stuff like that. And he even defended a witch legally. So definitely a free thinker. 

Now this criticism he makes against rhetoric is on the uncertainty and vanity of the arts and sciences. This may be sarcastic, we're not entirely sure. But it's definitely bringing up some interesting points against rhetoric. 

He says mostly that rhetoric is very sneaky. He says, "The entire discipline of rhetoric from start to finish is nothing other than the art of flattery, adulation, and some might say more audaciously, lying.” Well you don't get any more critical of a criticism of rhetoric than to just say this is straight up lying. But even if it isn't lying, it's pretty terrible. He says, "in short, it appears that rhetoric is nothing other than the art of persuading and moving the emotions." Okay, that sounds like the sort of thing that anybody would be okay with. But then it gets worse -"Seizing the spirits of the thoughtless by subtle eloquence, exquisite deception and cunning appearance of probability, leading them into the prison of error while perverting the sense of the truth." Okay so that sounds like pretty strong criticism against rhetoric.

Another voice that Rebhorn highlights in this compilation of the debates in the renaissance comes from John Jewell. John Jewell may not have been an accused witch, in fact he was sort of a spokesperson for the Church of England. A sort of a balance between the extremes of Protestantism in Europe and Catholicism. He publicly spoke against the Porters of Rome during the mid-16th century and sort of had a reputation of being a great preacher, being very eloquent. But just like with Agrippa, Jewell may or may not be sarcastic in his criticisms against rhetoric. We don't really know for sure, especially because he was such an eloquent preacher. 

But in the oration against rhetoric, he points out that the entire pursuit of eloquence I say, “which so many Greek and Latin writers enrich, I openly proclaim here there offers neither dignity nor benefit and is entirely idle, empty, futile, and trifling." So instead of saying that it's something that's evil and really big and bad, Jewell here says that rhetoric is just that stupid. It just takes a lot of time and doesn't really do anything. 

He says, "If something is clear and distinct, it has enough support in itself and does not need the allurement of polished speech. If it is obscure and unattractive, it will not be discovered despite all the glamour and flood of words. In other words, truth needs no ally and error deserves none."

Further on in his oration against rhetoric, he makes the claim that there's something seditious about rhetoric which is a claim that you will hear a lot during this time that rhetoricians are kind of sneaky and evil. An example that he pulls up is the Demosthenes who is definitely sort of a big bad wolf in a lot of the Renaissance views of rhetoric. He says, "who among us has not heard of the lamentable plundering of that greatest and most ancient of cities, Athens which was nevertheless leveled to the ground and almost completely uprooted and destroyed thanks to the eloquent tongue of Demosthenes?"

He says, "for when I have shown how states have been overturned by the most eloquent men and great empires converted into wasteland, all the things that you've heard so far which are very serious, will be thought to be nothing. It seems to me that whoever first introduced eloquence into human affairs gave the worst advice possible. Eloquence is really the one responsible for all of these faults he says."

So even though at the beginning he says it's just a waste of time and it’s idle and foolishness, he seems to be crediting the fall of the Greek empire to rhetoric and rhetoricians. He goes on to talk about how Demosthenes was such a bad person personally that he has sort of this sear of treason. He says, “why did the greatest orator, Desmothenes lose his mind, his reason, his very self when he stood before Phillip? What is the meaning of all this trepidation, power, hesitation, confusion and shaking? If the case is good, why are they afraid? If it is bad, why do they take it on?” This criticism against rhetoric, that it's something sneaky, he says is actually just endemic to the idea of rhetoric itself. He says that when you are an orator, you're always trying to make people think that you're not really an orator. That you didn't stay up all night working on it.

This is something we still have sort of today. The idea that somebody's trying too hard on writing a speech or being persuasive. That somehow everything should just sort come in a flash of light- probably inspiration of something that's going to be naturally good. He points out that tailors, medicine peddlers, and bods seek crowds into light, showing their merchandise openly and freely in public. Only the orator does not dare to parade his skill, but behaves in such a way that just when he was making the maximum use of the art of his tongue, he seems then to be the farthest away from the art and utterly inarticulate as if he had learned nothing. 

This is a really interesting point. We kind of have an idea that if somebody is demonstrating that they worked hard to make something persuasive that sort of makes it lose all of its power. Now both of these speakers that we talked about were maybe probably just being sarcastic and not really meaning what they said because they were such great writers.

The next two may legitimately have problems with rhetoric as it is. Francesco Patrizi was from Dalmatia -- sort of the area that we now think of as Croatia. And he was an Italian philosopher. He was very platonic and as we talked about in other places, Plato was not super excited about the idea of obedience to these strict rules like Aristotle. Instead, he believed sort of in this divine revelation.

So he creates a dialogue between two people where he uses this dialogue to sort of put himself in conversation and speak against rhetoric. He says in this dialogue that the orator always strives for victory but, "he doesn't care about justice or duty." Things that are really important if you're a big plan of Plato. "Further, he says if an orator would never undertake to defend anything other than a just case, and would always prosecute unjust ones, would he always be acting justly in so doing? Just as on the contrary one who always undertook to prosecute a just case and defend an unjust one would be wrong. But if there is fan orator who defended cases that went beyond both justice and injustice and prosecuted similar cases, he'd be sometimes good and sometimes bad. Finally, Patrizi comes to the conclusion that an orator is a man between good and evil. And because of this middle position, he will act equally to defend and to prosecute a just man and an unjust man. Because of this he points out that he is motivated only by the sake of winning. Glory and gain are dear to him says Patrizi, than justice is. 

He even goes as far as to say that the orator can't be valued, that he is feared, that he is violent and the descendant of tyrants because he doesn't care about justice -- only about getting his way. It's a pretty damning [?] criticism of rhetoric.

The final villain in this team is Michel de Montaigne who is probably best known for writing essays, tons of them. He kind of invented the genre of the essay. He too is critical about rhetoric, mostly because he believes in honesty above all else and being self relavatory. Much like some of these other critics, he believes that rhetoric is a little bit tricky and often immoral. He says that rhetoric is a "tool invented to manipulate and stir up a mob in an unruly populous. A tool that is employed only in six states, like medicine in states such as those of Athens, Rhodes, and Rome where the crowd of the ignorant where all people had power over all things.”

That might not sound so bad to us who live in a democracy, but really he saw that rhetoric was something that only existed where people were fighting. In fact he goes as far as to say that eloquence flourished most at Rome when affairs were in the worst condition and were disturbed by the storm of civil wars. 

This criticism against rhetoric says that when do we need rhetoric? When do we need a lot of people asking persuasive arguments? Well when there's a lot of unease. Where we don't know what the right answer is and we have sort of a battle.

If we were all agreed, if we were unified, there wouldn't need for rhetoric. This is an argument that you can still kind of see today when people talk about politics. If we just all have some unity or patriotism, or we're behind our leaders, then we wouldn’t have all this contentious discussion.

 So these critics of rhetoric, Agrippa, Jewell, Montaigne, and Patrizi, all bring up arguments that we still her today against rhetoric. But there are plenty more who are defending rhetoric during this same time. The renaissance was a rich time for rhetoric and even though we don't really talk about it, or we think of renaissance rhetoric as just being classical rhetoric warmed over. It was really dynamic and a lot of the arguments they were making were specific to their particular cultures and respective countries.

I highly recommend you check out the book. “Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric” by Wayne A. Redhorn. 

It provides a lot of different perspective and a lot of different texts about something that we don't even really think about very often. The renaissance and its relationship to modern rhetoric. But you don't have to take my word for it.


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Renaissance_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT