Mere Rhetoric



Henry Hume, Lord Kames (1696-1782)




Henry Hume, Lord Kames was a distant relative as well as friend to David Hume, although they spell their names differently.  David Hume changed the spelling so that his English readers would pronounce it properly.  Henry Hume kept the original spelling H-O-M-E.        




Unlike David Hume, Lord Kames did not go to university nor even have the benefit of a sojourn to France to broaden his education. Much more like Jane Austen’s Lizzie Bennet, Kames was born the third son out of nine children to a heavily indebted but well-respected family.  He was educated at home with his siblings and was apprenticed as a solicitor.  Unlike Lizzie Bennet, who faces limitations due to her gender, Kames was able to participate in a number of philosophical societies and gentlemen’s clubs.  He further expanded his knowledge through jobs such as Curator of the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh which gave him access to a wealth of books. 




There are a number of factors contributing to Kames success.  Clearly two of these factors were his talent and his drive.  Another was the luck of a long life.  Kames was born in 1696 and lived through much of the eighteenth century to the ripe age of 86.  Contemporaries commented on his remarkable good health in old age, the longevity of his memory, and his feisty personality.  Kames is quoted as saying of old age “why should I sit with my finger in my cheek waiting for death to take me?’  He did not specify which cheek. 




After his apprenticeship he worked his way up through the judicial ranks to become a highly respected judge, which is how he acquired the title Lord—it was not a hereditary title but an honor associated with his work as a judge.  Lord Kames again like Lizzie Bennett benefited from a lucky marriage.  He waited until age 47 to finally decide to marry.  His bride, Agatha Drummond, an attractive socialite eleven years his junior came from the wealthy Blair Drummond family.  James Boswell’s journals praise her for her looks, conversational skills and sense of humor—high praise from Bozzie.  Agatha’s original marriage portion was a moderate £1000 without any prospects due to an older brother with a family of his own.  However in 1766, Agatha unexpectedly became heiress to the entire Blair Drummond estate upon the unfortunate death of her brother and his son.  Thereafter, she and her children styled themselves Home-Drummond to acknowledge her family’s legacy and her husband Kames actively worked to enjoy and care for the sumptuous estate.




The inheritance impacted Kames’ work by providing a country writing retreat.  He was a prolific writer with 8 legal histories, plus books on diverse subjects like agriculture, and political science.  His book with the greatest impact on the history of rhetoric and the subject of our talk today was Elements of Criticism.  Published in 1761, Elements of Criticism brought the Enlightenment’s “scientific” view of human nature to the critical evaluation of the fine arts.  I would like to highlight how this interesting eighteenth century text connects to some very recent conversations about multimodal, visual and spatial rhetorics.          




Elements of Criticism made a splash and was a bit controversial due to its expansive inclusion of the visual arts with belle lettres.  Developing a theory of criticism for the fine artsrequired Kames to take sides in debates about human nature, beauty, and human nature.  He is participating in these with writers like Frances Hutcheson, Thomas Reid, and Edmund Burke.  At the time he was writing the orthodox and moderate factions of the Presbyterian church were vying for power in Scotland.  Based on theological ideas going back to the Reformation, both sides had mixed feelings about the impact of visual arts like paintings and sculpture on the viewer. In some areas theater was illegal.   




Most of Elements of Criticism engages with literary texts for its examples and illustrations but his methods take into account the multimodality of the work.  For example, Kames takes encourages readers to take into account the musical and melodic qualities of poetry in his analysis of meter.  In spite of the disapproval of theater in Edinburgh, he works in criticism of plays and operas—not just the librettos but also of the staging and sets tacitly indicating through these inclusions his views on theater debate.




For those listeners interested in spatial theory or rhetorics of space, Kames applies the final chapter of the book the criticism of gardening and architecture.  The chapter thinks about how progression through space and the arrangement of objects in space can influence the mind and especially the emotions.  Kames emphasizes the natural style of gardening over more ornate or fantastic styles.  He presents the ornate French gardens as an example of what not to do, and praises the harmony of Chinese models.




Many of Kames’s proscriptive and prescriptive critiques participate in a larger Scottish Enlightenment conversation about taste in which moderates posed that fine arts were acceptable if morally improving to the audience or reader.  In this argument the wealthier members of society had an obligation to develop their taste as a sort of moral education.  For Kames, taste could also be developed by the lower classes through proximity to and observation of tasteful public works.  This idea represents a synthesis of ideas about the human tendency towards imitation and new concepts of the moral sense.  This chapter along with Sir John Dalrymple’s Essay on Landscape Gardening popularized the natural garden trend in mid-eighteenth century Scotland.        




Elements of Criticism had a lasting impact as a textbook well into the 19th century and was by no means confined to Scotland.  The work was quickly translated into German and appeared in the library of Emmanuel Kant.  It crossed the Atlantic where it was taught in rhetoric courses at Yale side-by-side with texts by authors like Hugh Blair and George Campbell, according to the research of Gregory Clark.  




To close our discussion of Elements of Criticism I would like to bring things back to the author himself.  Lord Kames, after all, did not have the benefit of a formal education, nor did he have the restrictions.  Although his writing is clear, he does not aspire to the heights of rhetorical eloquence.  In his judicial practice he was well known for using casual and even ribald language with his colleagues.  According to local legend, Kames at his retirement took leave of his colleagues with a cheery “Fare ye a’weel, ye bitches!”




Thanks for listening to our podcast today.  This is Connie Steel at the University of Texas for Mere Rhetoric.    




Chambers, Robert.  Traditions of Edinburgh, Vol 2.  Edinburgh:  W. & C. Tait 1825, p 171.   Googlebooks Web. 




Clark, Greg.  “Timothy Dwight's Moral Rhetoric at Yale College, 1795–1817.” Rhetorica:  A Journal of the History of Rhetoric.  Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring 1987) pp 149-161.


Home, Henry, Lord Kames. Elements of Criticism.  Edited with an Introduction by Peter Jones (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). 2 Vols. May 31, 2015. Web.




Lehmann, William C. Henry Home, Lord Kames, and the Scottish Enlightenment: A Study in National Character and in the History of Ideas.  The Hague:  Martinus Hijhoff, 1971.  (International Archives of the History of Ideas.  Info on Agatha and the family, on Agatha p 64-65.  “Bitches” 135 (from Chambers).




Miller, Thomas.  “The Formation of College English:  A Survey of the Archives of Eighteenth-Century Rhetorical Theory and Practice.”  Rhetoric Society Quarterly.  Vol. 20, No. 3 (Summer, 1990) pp 261-286.














Direct download: Lord_Kames.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 1:41pm CDT

Today we’re doing a podcast on Dionysius of Halicarnassus, not least because it’s so fun to say his name. Some people just have the kind of name that makes you want to say it all out, in full. Say it with me: Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It’s lovely. Fortunately, we’ll lget to say Dionysius of Halicarnassus several times today.


Dionysius of Halicarnassus, being of Halicarnassus, was Greek, but he wasn’t one of the 5th century golden age Greek rhetoricians--he lived around 50-6 BC during the Roman empire. Indeed, he studied in Rome and gave lessons there as part of the Greek educational diaspora. Dionysius of Halicarnassus could be seen as a great reconsiler between Roman and Greek thought, or he could be seen as a stoolie for the romans. He wrote of the Romans as the heirs of Greek culture and was always talking up the qualities of the Romans.


But he did love Greek rhetoricians. He writes admiringlyof Greek poets like Homer and Sappho of Greek rhetoricians Isocrates and Lysius, and even of Dinarchus, whom most people thought was kind of a lousy rhetor and even Dionysius of Halicarnassus admits was “neither the inventor of an individual style … nor the perfector of styles whcih others had invented” (1). He compiledhis thoughts on rhetoric into a more-or-less treatise known to us rather unimaginatively as the Art of Rhetoric. Not to be confused with all of the other Arts of Rhetoric, but the one by Dionyius of Halicarnasus. In the Art of Rhetoric and On Literary Composition, he offers in-depth analysis of many of the greatest Greek rhetors and rhetoricians, giving long examples in his text. As a matter of fact, much of the fragments we have from folks like Sappho comes from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, because he loved to quote big chunks of text and then go back and describe what was happening in those texts, even down to the level of the sounds of the vowels. that’s the level of analysis you get from dionysius of Halicarnassus.


And rather not surprisingly. Dionysius of Halicarnassus cited big chunks of text because he was a firm believer of imitation. Imitation,in this case, wasn’t the same as mimesis. Let me describe the differences: For Aristotle, Mimesis was about looking to nature and imitation from nature. So you see a bowl of grapes, and you get your teeny, tiniest paintbrush and you paint thos grapes so realistically that someone walking by might jam their finger reaching out to grab one. that’s mimesis. Dionysian imitation, though, is about imitating an author. Or authors. So now instead of staring at a bowl of grapes, you might stare at a poem about a bowl of grapes. Pedagogically, you might first emulate the poem, trying to recreate the poem as closely as you can, then adapt the poem, maybe now instead of a poem about grapes you make it a poem about plums. then you might rework and improve the poem, cutting back the long winded parts, or where the original author used a lame analogy or something. But then, in your own work, you continue this process with not just one poem, but dozens of poems, and not just by one author, but by dozens of authors. Through careful reading and analysis, you can identify the styles and methods most appropriate to your situation. This was popular for the Romans and it’s popular with us. If you’re going to write a love poem today, for instance, you might write a sonnet because of the successful love poems of Plutarch and Shakespeare, and you might find yourself using similar kinds of tropes and figures as Plutarch and Shakespeare, cataloging the beauty of your beloved, or comparing them to an animal or flower.this is all Dionysian imitation on your part. The Dionysian imitation caught on in a big way among Latin writers. Quintilian was a fan and included imitation of authors in his own pedagogy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ 3-volume treatise, known to us as--surprise--on imitation became a relative best seller. It makes sense considering the politics of greco-roman relations: if the Golden Age rhetors, Isocrates and Lysius, really are teh best, they can serve as models for Roman writers. these Roman writers, though, can exceed the Greek models. Just like how Dionusus of Halicarnassus thought that Romans were the literal descendents of later Greeks, he found a way that their writing could be descended from Greek style.


It may sound weird to us to not value originality, but Romans were sort of world-weary, “nothing new to be said” sorts who recognized the long literary precedent of Greek and Egyptian writers. Dionysian imitation could give them a way to feel that they were taking this long history and improving on it. And that meant a lot to them.


If you, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, have a fun name to say, or if you know of a rhetorician who, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, has a fun name to say, why not drop us a line at Until next time, Dionysius of Hallicarnassus.

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

Remember when you were a freshman and you took first year critical reasoning? Or in high school, when you took the AP thinking exam?


Of course not, because we don’t really teach philosophy or critical thinking. What we do teach is writing.




Welcome to MR the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements and people who have shaped rhetorical history. today we’ll be talking about the mid nineties text “Rhetoric of Reason,” winner of the 1997 MLA Mina Shannassy book prize.

Titles one chapter “The end of Philosophy and the Resurgence of Rhetoric” Provocative idea. but can rhetoric and writing classes take over the millenia of philosophy and logic instruction that have long been cornerstones of a liberal education?


Crosswhite conceives his own book to be “a challenge to teachers of writing… to become much more philosophical about the teaching and theory of argumentation” (8).Motivated by “a social hope that people will be able to reason together” (17) in a civil responsibly taught in FYC classes the nation over.  Because “The teaching of writing is nothing less than the teaching of reasoning” (4). Purpose of university education is to write reasoned argumentation, “about conflicts that are matters of concerns to many different kinds of people, to fellow citizens who may not share their specialized knowledge” (296).

Rhetoric is philosophy without absolutes (“including negative absolutism”) (35).  If there is an end of philosophy in the 1990s as the influence of deconstructionists like Derrida is splashing over departments of English, can writing and rhetoric fill the gap in teaching the new good reasoning?As one review put it, “Crosswhite clearly moves away from the static view of formal logic in which propositions are measured against internally consistent rules rather than the more complex and shifty criteria articulated by live audiences” (Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Reed Way Dasenbrock, Andreea Deciu, Christopher Diller & Colleen Connolly).


In this, he is highly indebted to the work of new rhetorics like the kind you’ll find in Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric, which I promise we’ll talk about one of these days. For our purposes the key thing Crosswhite adopts is the idea of a universal audience. The term “universal” can be misleading. Crosswhite points out that “Unviersiality … depvelops along different lines; there are different and sometimes incompatiable ways of achieveing more universal standpoints. Universality is an achievement of particular people at particular times for particular purposes” (215). But another way, he says “Even if argumentation is a relatively universal practice, the occasions on which one argues, what one argues about, the requency with which one argues, the people with whom one argues, how explicitly one argues, how far one carries and argument--all these things may vary strongly from culture to culture” (218). It sounds a lot like rhetoric, doesn’t it, all this considering the audience and kairos and stases? Rhetorically specific communities, though, all will detirmine what is good reasoning and reflect that back to their interlocutors.Reasoning “is dependant on a background of deep competences, moods, abilities, assumptions, beliefs, ways of being and understanding” (254). “Argumentation is a “relatively universal practice” but how, where, why and for what of argumentation “may vary strongly from culture to culture” (218). Fundamentally, “People can argue only concerning those things about which they are willing to learn, and change their minds” (283).


Imagine an audience that is broadly conceived yet culturally dependant. An audience of good reasoners.With such an audience, good reasoning is “a matter not simply of what is true, but of the measure of the truth yielded by argumentation" (153). Audiences are crucial, because “there are those occasion on which an audience repsonds in ways we had not anticipated and in fact goes beyond our own reasoning and our own ideas. sometimes, and audience evaluates our reasoning  and in ways we could not have foreseen--but which we nevertheless recognize as legitimate” (152). Contradiction is important, becoming “powerful enablers of discovery” (263) and as such “contradictions should be cherished, nurtured developed” (264)


Other key influences come from philosophy, notably Levinas and Cavell, because the ordinary, the acknowledgement of other people are important, builds”mutual trust and respect [to] make possible rather extraordinary uses of the ordinary possibilities of communication” (31).



Mutual respect does not, though, mean consensus. In fact, Crosswhite is  bullish on dissent in general "Where there is no conflict of any kind,” he says, “there is no reason" (72). “We don’t need courses in ‘critical thinking’ nearly as much as we need course in suspending critical thought in order to read deeper understandings” (201), focusing more on questions than consensus (199). This proves a problem when looking at a significant third of traditoinal rhetoric: the epideictic. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and co-authors observe, this “view, however, forces Crosswhite to quickly pass over how both aesthetic discourse (he cites fiction, poetry, and plays) and, less quickly, how epideictic rhetoric complicate the way that rationality and argumentation be- come embodied and therefore persuasive.” Instead, the epideictic for crosswhite “seems to lack the connectio with social conflict and looks more like a struggle with nature” (104) and the only way is to “try to show how epideictic, too, is a form of social conflict” (105)--a proposition he invokes but doesn’t develop.


But let’s get back to what he does get to, which is surprisingly pragmatic for a book that cites so much Gadamer and Heidegger. He says That students simply “need more familiaryt with more diverse and more universal audience, with audiences which demand more explicit reasoning” (273) Crosswhite gives an extended example of what this looks like in his own classes.


Here’s the useful, wheels-on-the-road stuff: “ writing courses and textbooks often lack focus and purpose; they simply try to cover too much” (189); and he recommends more workshops with student-to-student audiences because “writers need real interlocutors and audiences—a real rhetorical community” (281). Crosswhite’s writtena  pretty brainy and philosophical text here, but he’s also made an argument for bringing questions of reasoning and philosophy into the writing class as key to what we do and key to what philosophy should do. What do you think? Should we be responsible for teaching reasoning in the university? How do we fit it in when we have so much to cover? Drop us a line at and let me know. Should first year composition be retitled first-year reasoning and writing?

Direct download: crosswhite.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 2:28pm CDT

Shownotes (transcript available upon request)

Complaint that Gorgias has not written a true encomium, but an apologia--a defense. He only defended her actions as not her fault instead of saying what she was actually excellent at. Isocrates complains that the encomium of helen is flaky, like the encomiums of bees or salt that other sophist have written. And, like so many of us, he uses this technicality to fuel his own attempt. It kind of reminds me of the Phaedrus, where Socrates wants to correct the speech he has just heard from another sophist. Something about seeing something done wrong makes you want to do it right.


And Isocrates is certain that is has been done wrong. First lines of his encomium demonstrate that: “There are some who think it a great thing if they put forward an odd, paradoxical theme and can discuss it without giving offense” Complaints against the sophist especially gorgias--Isocrates was one of those people who thought Gorgias was disreputable, moving around all the time, proving impossibles all the time, and, damningly, a political.  “The most ridiculous thing of all is that they seek to persuade us through their speeches that they have knowledge of politics” (9).  Writing about trivial things means that people will listen, admire--but not debate. By taking novel topics instead of political, they are easily the best--like being the best player of Calvinball. Instead, Isocrates praises in a political vein, using Helen as a figure for a contemporary controversy. But he does so in a roundabout way.


So to praise Helen, starts by praising her absconder. He mentions himself that “it would not yet be clear whether my speech is in praise of Helen or a prosecution of theseus” (21) But he argues by association: those who are “loved and admired her were themselves more admirable than the rest” (22). So, that argument goes, those who wanted Helen were the best sort, so she was, by assoication, pretty great. There’s a lot of praise of Theseus here for a supposed praise of Helen, but the Theseus Isocrates paints is a hero, not just of himself, like Hercules was, but for the Greek people in general he “freed the inhabitants of the city from great fear and distress” (25) and “thought it was better to die than to live and rule a site that was compelled to pay such a sorrowful tribute to its enemies” (27). Theseus was a selfless, poltical heo who has “cirtue and soundness of mind … especially in his managment of the city. He saw that those who seek to rule the citizens by force became slaves to others and those who put others’ lives in danger live in fear themselves” (32-33).


In deed, there’s so much civic love for Theseus here that you set the idea that Isocrates here isn’t just talking about fiction, or myth, or history , but politics. This is not just a fun triffle , a parodoxologia like where Gorgias made Helen a hero instead of a villian. this is not paignion, a fun peice of exhition. George Kenedy argues that Isocrates goes on at such great length about theseus because “theseus is worthy of Helen” and similarly “Athens is worth of the hegemony which it should take from Sparta” (81). In other words, The Helen is “in fact a clear statement of Isorates’ program of Panhellenism” (80)--a united federation of greek city states helmed by Athens.


The praise of Helen herself backs up this idea: “It is due to Helen that we are not the slaves of the barbarian” paraphrases Kennedy (82). Isocrates talks about Helen the way that 19th century americans talked about manifest destiny: “A longing for beautiful things,... is innate in us, and it has a strength greater than our other wishes” and “we enslave ourselves to such people with more pleasure than we rule others” (55-57). Helen wasn’t just beautiful--she was devine. She “acheive more than other mortals just as she excelled over them in appearances. Not only did she win immortality, but she also gained power equal to the gods’” (61). While Theseus was honored by association to be chosen to judge the gods, Helen was defied, and --and this is important for the political analogy--she was able to assist in the apotheiosis of Menelaisis and others.


In the end, Isocrates’ Helen is several things at once: it is a criticism of the Gorgias and the other traveling sophists, who made their living by proving the impossible in demonstration speeches that delighted and caused, to paraphrase Gorgias’ own words, amusement for the authors. He’s presenting a political tract, similar to the one in the PanAthenaicus, where he argues for a more involved Athenian hegemony in panhellenic unity. He’s also presenting a pedagogical advertisment: study with me, he says, and you’ll create real political speeches, not fluffy bits of taffy. At the end of the speech, ever the teacher, Isocrates says “If, then, some people wish to elaborate this material and expand on it, they will not lack material to stimulate their praise of Helen beyond what I have said, but they will find many original arguments to make about her”--yes, he’s setting up his potential students to use his encomium--a real encomium--as a model for their own, future, semi-scaffolded work.

Direct download: Isocrates_Encomium_of_Helen.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 4:46pm CDT

Transcript available on request


Return from hiatus. Dissertation submitted to readers.




Gorgias. Not The Gorgias, but gorias himself.








There are very few rhetoricians who get a shiny golden statue made of them. In fact, I don’t personally know anyone who has one. But when I think of solid golden statues, I think of one man in specific—Gorgias. People built a golden statue to Gorgias. Sold. Gold. Awarded many honors that were usually reserved for citizens. Traveled around like a rock star.




And what do you do when you’re a rock star? What did the Beatles do? Find greater challenges.




Helen of Troy’s position in society








Why did he it—it’s fun (also money) “I wishes to write a speech which would be a praise of Helen and diversion to myself”—but also demonstrate the power of language, arguing implicitly that his speech has been effective. While he’s describing that Helen couldn’t help herself, everyone in the audience is being swept away, too. paignia, a playful piece. Shining example of “paradoxologia.”






it’s a bit contradictory to have an orator tell you to beware of the things people say in beautiful ways because they could lead you astray. He certainly isn’t making a case for straight-talking, the way he’s speaking, but the idea that speech can be good and bad and can be immensely powerful makes Gorgias himself into a supposed kind of benevolent dictator of people’s opinions and emotions.


How he does it: Gorgiac figures divices like antithesis and paronomasia.






“opinion is slippery and insecure it casts those empllying it into slippery and insecure successes” “Speech is a powerful lord” “is she was persuaded by speech she did not do wrong but was unfortunate.




Say H had been physically abducted—certaitnly she wouldn’t be at fault. G says that Helen being seduced by words was just as powerful. Since speech can “stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity” Speech is “comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies”






The dual nature of speech is strongly marked by Gorgias’ use of antithesis. He discusses “a passion which loved to conquer and a love of honor which was unconquered” to describe Helen (45). He is not only defending Helen, but using Helen’s dual nature to prepare his listeners for his explanation of the positive and negative potential of rhetoric. “




isocolon; he describes cities and manpower, body and beautiful, soul and wisdom, action and virtue, and speech and truth (44). By drawing connections between these things, Gorgias sets the stage for his thesis about the necessity for speaker to speak truth or else immorally lead people astray against their ability to stop the speaker. Speaking of setting the stage, while Gorgias uses isocolon quite liberally, he only uses two significant metaphors, both dealing with the nature of speech. He describes speech as both a lord and a drug, two metaphors which describe the irresistible nature of speech as well as speech’s power to be both benevolent and maleficent (45-46).








Why did they love him so much? Well, he was an innovator, for one: he is one of the first generation of sophists, the father of sophistry, if you will.




Not everyone loves him, though. : Aristotle also criticizes Gorgias’ showmanship and money grubbing. Isocrates wrote a later encomium of Helen and he accuses Gorgias of not having really written an encomium—no praise of her, but defense (Kennedy 21).Father of sophistry becomes Socrates’ foil in Gorgias, and it’s not surprising given the cheerfully deceiving and deceived of the Encomium’s radical departure from Greek traditional view of Helen.




Next week: Isocrates’ Encomium of Helen


Direct download: Gorgias_Encomium_of_Helen.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 2:17pm CDT

Show Notes (transcript available upon request):


Why and how does rhetoric break down? For Wayne Booth the issue is that there has been a loss of faith in the idea of good reasons--that we can, indeed, persuade each other to change minds. The crucial assertion is that we are able to change minds.

Modern dogmas--either sciencism or romanticism-- assert that"the purpose of offering reasons ... cannot be to change men's mind in the sense of showing that one view is genuinely superior to another" but it all must be trickery (87). Because of the dogmas of modernism "what had once ben a domain with many grades of dubiety and credibility now becomes simply the dubious (for scientism) or the arena of conflicting faiths (for irrationalism)" (89). The poster boy for these--conflicting enough-- positions is Bertrand Russell, or--rather--Bertrand Russells. Booth splits Russell's work into three parts: Russell I, "the genius of mathematical logic" who was all into proof and facts, Russell II who "tried to disestablish certain past beliefs and establish the more adequate beliefs" of science, and Russell II who was "the man of action and passion, the poet and mystic" (46-7). Both the completely, sterilely rational and the impassioned romantic are part of the modernist perspective that can undermine rhetoric.

The crazy thing is that "Not only do we talk and write and create art and mathematical systms and act as if we shared them: we really do share them, sometimes. Sometimes we understand each other" (113).

Boothe can take it a step further and say that not only do we understand each other, but we actually make each other. We "successfully infer other human beings' states of mind from symbolic clues" but also we "characteristically, in all societies, build each other's minds" (114). This is, in fact, "the supreme purpose of persuasion"-- to "engage in mutual inquire or exploration" and rhetoricians should be committed to learn "whatever conditions make such mutual inquiry possible" (137). "Rhetoric is a supremely self-justifying activity for man only when those engaged in it fully respect the rules and the steps of inquiry" (138). In the rhelm of rhetorical inquiry "we can add value fields that modernism would exclude: in love by lovers, in gastronomy by gourmets, in ever kind of value by those who have some to know a good reason from a bad" (143)--in short what I have called, before, untenetable claims.

The way to do this is through--surprise--thoughtful dialoge. "as I do so I will know that the justic of my action is determined by whther what looks like good reasons" are, in fact (149). We must "somehow constitute [society] as a rhetorical field" (149). Ultimately, "it is not a comfortable community nor a stable one. Even those who join it consciously and sustematically, as we all do by talking together here, cannot provide a convenient list of gods and devils, friends and enemies. But at the same time it can give us some ease in whatever subcommunity we have already assented to" (203).

There's also a great part on rhetoric of poetics and narrative, which I could include in a rhetoric of poetics course--"story as reasons" "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 one place as another" (181).
"if there are good reasons for confidence in the values of discoursing together, then we can get about our business, what ever that may be" (100)

"truth is not always on the side o th rebel"..."simply to say no when everyone else is saying no is just antoher form of group compliance, a disguised and therefore feeble yes" (195)

Motivism is a dogma "not because I think that all or most value choices are made on the basis of fully conscious and 'scientifically cogent reasoning' but because I find many people assuming, without argument, that none of them ever can be. 'Look for the secret motive'"(25). In practice, motivism has often led to a cutting down of man's aspirations and capacities to the 'merely animal' or, in a natural further step, to the chemical or physical" (29)






Direct download: Modern_Dogma_and_the_Rhetoric_of_Assent.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 11:16am CDT

Transcript available upon request.

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Category:Education -- posted at: 12:03am CDT

Transcript available upon request.

Direct download: Canagarajah.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 8:52am CDT


MOST mornings, I wake up, put on some stretchy pants and very bright t-shirt and strap on my phone for a run, because for some reason you need a phone to go running. Why do I do that? Is it because I am a master of my fate, and I choose my fate to be sweaty and singing along to Shakira through the wilderness trails near my home? Or is it because I am being influenced by the institutions of the beauty industry, the fitness industry, the nature industry and the Spandex industry to conform to a certain predictable type, which happens to include skipping over rocks and dirt while a GPS tracks my every step?




Pierre Broudieu—not to be confused with bourdoux—is convinced that it’s not about just my free will nor entirely just society structures that makes me go for a run, but  continuous give-and-take between them. What I think I want to do are shaped by past events and institutions that in turn are influenced by what I choose to do. Because choosing to wake up and run, I get feedback from structures that reinforce what I think of as my choice to wake up and run. This combination of choice and society stricture, Bourdieu calls habitus  and it’s his most famous contribution to rhetoric and to sociology.




Habitus is a combination of deep-rooted, even unconscious, desires and what we choose to desire, which has been formed from childhood. It is, as Bourdieu often described it, “the feel for the game.” I don’t know how to articulate how and why I run, but I know it’s something I do, because it’s also something that my society does.




Sometimes it’s hard to see how institutions support a habitus unless you see the opposite, something that happened to my sister when she was doing medical surveys in a very remote village in Tanzania. She woke up one morning and went for a run—and flummoxed the villagers. “What are you running from?” said one person, huffing up beside her. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m just running.” “Why?” “I don’t know—to burn calories maybe?” The villager, who had been working with her on, among other things, questions of nutrition, paused a moment and then asked incredulously, “You want to burn calories?”




The feel for the game that my sister had was for a totally different game than the one that made sense in a small fishing village struggling to get and keep calories rather than burn them. The feel for the game wasn’t something that my sister conscious set out to learn, and it was somewhat only when she bumped against a different rule that she noticed that she was doing something wrong.  Habitus is created and reproduced unconsciously, ‘without any deliberate pursuit of coherence,” as Bourdieu says “without any conscious concentration’ (ibid: 170).




Although our habitus can cause embarrassing mismatches when we’re in a different culture, it adept at taking us through our native environments, as we play the game around us like insiders.




Playing the game like an insider was a really important thing for young Pierre Bourdieu, who came from a working class family in southern France. Southern France is like, the sticks, for French people, and his family had a strong accent, both in the lilt to their speech and the things that they believed were important. Going to study in Paris certainly would have highlighted the differences between his home culture and the elite intellectual world. The Elite intellectual world became a sociological phenom to Bourdieu as exotic and interesting as the Algerian tribes he did his field work with. The ways that elite intellectual used language, used taste, used culture became the basis of his landmark book Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste, which was published in 1979. Distinction highlights the way that the elite create an insider habitus. As B says, “symbolic goods, especially those regarded as the attributes of excellence, [are] the ideal weapon in strategies of distinction.” If you do or don’t like opera, if you do or don’t see running as recreation, if you do or don’t value certain food, cultures, presentation or any other type of distinction, creates the social class fracture that distinguishes the upper class from the middle, or the very upper. Are snails a pest or a delicacy? That sort of thing. People don’t even ask why they think opera is just good music or snails are just plain tastey, because it’s deeply engrained in their lives since almost birth.




 This so-called social capital is learned from a very young age as part of your habitus, and if you grow up thinking that You don't kick a dressage horse after a failed pas de deux, you live in a very different world than where you don’t kick a man when he’s done.




But none of this is to say that once you’re in (or out) you’re stuck.  According to one commentator on Bourdieu, habitus “is not fixed or permanent, and can be changed under unexpected situations or over a long historical period” (Navarro). Somewhere along the way, for example, the elite picked up jazz as the preferred music to opera, and snails gave way to craft beer and high end cupcakes and—going for runs? Not only can the cultures and institutions switch, but people can switch, too—Bourdieu, for all of his criticism of the elite, ended up in the in-group of often cited scholars in rhetoric, philosophy and sociology. And I used to hate running. But here I am, waking up most mornings to put on some stretchy pants and very bright t-shirt and strap on my phone for a run, because for some reason you need a phone to go running.




If you have a deeply engrained habitus, why not tell us about it at We’d love to hear from you and any other comments or ideas you may have, including distance running tips, because there seem to be a disproportionate number of distance runners in higher education. Must be something about the habitus…


Direct download: Habitus.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:21pm CDT

A few weeks ago I was at an excellent lecture by Collin Brooke here at the university of Texas and he was talking about applying the master tropes to different models of networks. Then I thought--by Jove, the Master Tropes! What a brilliant idea for a podcast! So with all deference to Dr. Brooke, let’s dive into these four beauties of the world of tropes.


A trope, you may or not know, is a way of presenting thought in language. A trope is different from what’s called a figure because it doesn’t deal with arranging words, but rather arranging thought. For example, a figure might be something like hyperbaton, which is the the way that Yoda talks: “Patience you must have” just means “you must have patience” there’s not change in the thought behind the words, but the refiguring of the words creates interest, so Yoda says things like “Miss them do not” instead of do not miss them, but the ideas aren’t changed at all. That’s figures.


Occasionally, though, Yoda will use a trope. For example, once he said ““In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” This is, as it turns out, a metaphor: knowledge doesn’t actually cast a glow, but it does make things metaphorically clear. The words transform the ideas: light equals knowledge. It’s not that Yoda changed the words around--all considered this is pretty syntactically straight-forward for the sage-green sage--but he’s presented the ideas in a different way. This is a trope, not a figure.

It is, as a matter of fact, one of the four master tropes: Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy and Irony.  It’s possible that these terms aren’t familiar to you, or only in a vague, AP English sort of way, so let me provide examples and definitions. Metaphor is the trope that is most familiar to us: knowledge is light, the Force is a river, many Storm troupers are a wall. So I’m going to skip over that. Synecdoche is--aside from being difficult to pronounce, using the part to represent the whole. I always think of that movie Synecdoche New York, where the guy builds a replica of New York for a movie. The standard examples include things like “earning your bread and butter” when you’re hopefully earning much more than that or “putting boots on the ground” when the military often needs soldiers, too, to fill those boots. I used to joke with my Mormon comedy group since everyone prays to “bless the hands that prepared this food,”  if there was a terrible accident in the kitchen and everyone died, at least the hands would be preserved. So you get the idea. Metonymy can sometimes be a little more confusing, because it, like Synecdoche, involves using a word associated with the idea to stand in for the idea itself. We say things like “the White House has issued a statement” when the building itself has done no such thing, or “Hollywood is corrupt” to represent the movie business generally. Some people will say that synecdoche is just a specific kind of metonymy, like how simile is a specific kind of metaphor. Finally, irony may seem like a simple, straightforward trope, but it can be notoriously complex, as Wayne Booth describes in greater detail in The Rhetoric of Irony. How we we know when someone is being ironic? How much is irony dependent on understanding cultural cues? Why do we say the opposite of what we mean as a way to say what we want? Tricky stuff all around.

The four master tropes are probably most familiar to rhetoricians as the essay found way in the back of Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Methods, way way back as an appendix. There, Burke equates these over-arching tropes with different epistemic perspectives: metaphor correlates with perspective, metonymy with reduction, synecdoche with representation, and irony withdialectic. The way that we construct thought depends on how we use these four master tropes.

Remember when we talked about the Metaphors we live by? Well, Burke says that we don’t just live by metaphors individually, but also by the idea of metaphor, or by reduction, representation or dialectic. The tropes, instead of just being a way to make your writing more flowery, can be a critical part of invention, and how you see the world more generally. Are you inclined to think inductively, looking at a couple of examples of Sith lords and there after making generalizations about the group as a whole and their capacity to run a competent daycare? It’s possible to think in terms of irony, transpositioning one view of truth with an anti-thetical perspective: can Anikin be both on the dark side and not on the dark side? Can you both do and do not if you only try? These master tropes are not just ways of expressing ideas about the world, but coming to make ideas as well.

I’m a huge fan of Burke, but I’m afraid that I can’t give him credit for coming up with the idea of four master tropes that encompass other ways of figuring ideas. I’m sorry to say that that distinction goes to--ew--Petrus Ramus. Yes, Ramus, the mustache-twirling villain of rhetoric himself. Back when we did our series on the villains of rhetoric, Ramus was public enemy number one, removing invention from rhetoric and diminishing the whole affair to a series of branching “yes and no” questions and needless ornamentation. And yet it was Ramus, in his eagerness to classify everything into categories and subcategories who coined the idea of the master tropes back in 1549. Fortunately the idea was taken up by a more palatable figure of rhetorical history, Giambattista Vico, who in the 18th century, identified the master tropes as basic tropes, or fundamental tropes, being those to which all others are reducible.  

Since Burke, though, others have taken up the idea that these tropes of arranging ideas might become ways to think about the world in general. Hayden White, for instance, saw the master tropes as representing something about literature.




('mode of emplotment')


('mode of argument')


('mode of ideological implication')


















He constructed a table where each trope has its own genre, worldview and ideology. Metaphor, for instance, was about romance--or we might say fantasy--and was associated with formism and an ideology of anarchism because anything might apply as a metaphor. Metonymy was associated with comedy, organicism and conservatism--presumably because if you assume that “the White House” speaks for the country, you’re putting a lot of stock in the traditional power that dominates. Conversely, synecdoche was associated with tragedy, mechanism and radicalism. Irony, naturally enough, was the trope of satire and its world view of contextualism and liberalism. Once White had come up with this tidy table, he because to think about the tropes not just statically, but how they might evolve temporally, both in terms of an individual child’s development and in a civilization.

Metaphor was the earliest stage, corresponding to infants up to two years old and aligned with Foucault’s conceptualization of the Renaissance. Then metaphor gives way to metonymy, the domain of children from 2-7, which White lines up with the Classical period and the Enlightenment--very conservative and fond of straight-forward comedy. Next comes synecdoche of tweens and the modernist period--radically breaking from the past and finally, in crowning achievement, irony, the stage of teenagers and adults, corresponding to the post-modernist era, with its love of counterintuitive and contradictory thought.


Hayden White's Sequence of Tropes

Piagetian stages of cognitive development

White's alignment of Foucault's historical epochs


sensorimotor stage (birth to about 2 years)

Renaissance period (sixteenth century)


pre-operational stage (2 to 6/7 years)

Classical period (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries)


concrete operations stage (6/7 to 11/12 years)

Modern period (late eighteenth to early twentieth century)


formal operations stage (11/12 to adult)

Postmodern period

Others have highlighted the philosophical or historiographical possibilities of the mastertropes, including Jakobson and Foucault himself. Which brings me back to this fascinating, exploratory lecture by Collin Brooke.


Brooke suggested another correlation for the master tropes: not ways of thinking or periods of time, but networks of connection. Networks are a big stinking deal for digital humanists and new media rhetoricians like Brooke, and some of the different types of networks, brooke proposes, may correlate to the master tropes: hierarchies, for instance, are like metaphors, which correspond across groups--the padowan learner doesn’t really tell us much about the Jedi master who trains her, but you expect the role of that padowan learner to be similar to the role of another padowan who studies under another master. Synecdoche, though, can be seen in truly random networks. A network of 200 that is truly random, is representative of a network of 2000, or of 2 million. Some networks are neither analogous like metaphor or random like synecdoche. In situations that produce what’s been called the long tail--citations for example, some groups or people are more popular because they are more popular. the more people who fear Jabba the hut--peons, bounty hunters-- the more he is feared. It creates a snowball effect that is similar to metonymy. Brooke’s ideas are inchoate and he admits that he’s not sure what network might correlate to irony--it’s all a work in progress, afterall, but it goes to show that the organization appeal of the master tropes continues. The idea of tropes that rule all the other tropes and say something meaningful about the ways in which we construct and understand the world around us is a timeless appeal that goes all the way back to Vico--er, let’s just say Vico, okay.  Until next week--miss us you must not because patience you must have.


Direct download: Master_Tropes.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 11:14am CDT