Mere Rhetoric

Gorgias podcast




Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped Rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I have--




Big news! Thanks the generous support of the University of Texas Humanities Project, you may notice that this is a beautiful recording. We’ve got a real microphone and not just my iPhone and a real editor and not just—me. So it sounds nice, yeah? That means we’ll be rerecording and rebroadcasting Vintage Mere Rhetoric in this snazzy, cleaned up and impressive new form as well as recording all our new episodes this way.




Tell us what you think about the new quality and suggest new episodes, because summer reruns are what?—the worst. Our email address is mererhetoricpodcast, all one word, at gmail. I totally read every email I get and it can change how the series goes, so that’s internet fame for you.




For instance, remember how listener Greg Gibby recommended we do a series or a countdown and now we’re counting down the villians of rhetoric?






In our “Villans of rhetoric” series we met the taxonomy-obsessed Peter Ramus and the monarchy-loving Thomas Hobbes. We heard arguments against rhetoric by a cast of Renaissance naysayers of smooth sayers and the Enlightenment criticism of rhetoric. Now we have the number one villain of rhetoric on today’s show.




Okay, so here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, who is the villainous villain of rhetoric? Well. Socrates.


P-what? Yes, the guy featured in the Phaedrus, which not only defended rhetoric, but suggested a broader application of rhetoric, one that includes the private as well as the public stage. But while Socrates wants a more inclusive rhetoric in the phaedrus, in the Gorgias, he vehemnetally opposes the exclusive, political or demonstrative forms of rhetoric.




Gorgias is a dialogue writing by plato, which, like all dialoges is named after the main interlocutor, in this case the great sophist, Gorgias. Gorgias was a rock star rhetor. He gave sold-out performances of speeches that were counter intuitive. We’ll talk more about Gorgias in the future, but for now all you need to know is he was fabulously wealthy because of his rhetoric and people wanted to make gold statues of him. So there you have that.




When Socrates confronts Gorgias about his field, he’s taking on THE rhetor of the day.


Socrates interrogates Gorgias in order to determine the true definition of rhetoric, framing his argument around the question format, "What is X?" (2).[1] He asks, "…why don’t you tell us yourself what the craft you’re an expert in is, and hence what we’re supposed to call you?" (449e). He also challenges Gorgias on the immorality of rhetoric. Socrates gets Gorgias to admit that “effecting persuasion in the minds of an audience” is the only function of rhetoric (13).  There’s no sense that rhetorical thought can lead to any discovery or invention itself—which is quite different from the view of rhetoric as private as well as public and inspirational; the view of The Phaedrus.  So, rhetoric relies on duping the non-expert, over an expert (459a).  This creates immoral power differences. How can a teacher teach students to mislead people?




While it is true that rhetoric is amoral, it is not true that rhetoric is necessarily immoral. The best analogy of what rhetoric is in this dialogue is that of the boxer.  This is the example that Gorgias uses to defned teaching rhetoric—the trainer of the boxer isn’t responsible for making someone a bruiser and a bully because that boxer could also use his skills to defend women, children and small animals.




Gorgias is correct that the teacher is not ultimately responsible for the student’s morality. But additionally, the ability to fight well is one that, especially in Greek culture, was one that was without intrinsic right or wrong. It is right that people who can fight should fight to defend their country, their family, or a weak innocent. It is wrong that a person should use that same set of skills to harm the previously mentioned groups, in fact the action becomes treason, abuse and bullying, respectively. But fighting can also be neither good nor bad, as in the case of boxing exhibitions and competitions, which is only fighting for entertainment. With rhetoric, it is similar.




Another metaphor Gorgias and Scorates argue over is that of cookery. Socrates says that rhetoric is like good cooking, which makes things pleasant to the patient, instead of medicine, which tastes terrible, but is healthy. Nutrition arguments aside, Socrates doesn’t think about how if cookery could make medicine taste better, the people who need to take medicine would be more willing to do so. And while cookery’s capacity to do real good may depend on medicine, without cookery medicine might not be able to do any good if the patient is entirely unwilling to take it. This is the smaller argument for rhetoric that Socrates eventually makes. His view of rhetoric is that it “isn’t concerned with all speech” (7), isn’t the “only agent of persuasion” (15), and is only about serving other, deeper knowledges. Socrates concludes that rhetoric can maybe be okay as long as it is “used in the service of right,” like an appendage or ornament (527c).




At the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates made him promise that he would engage in dialogue (Socrtate’s speacialty) and not launch into speechmaking, which is Gorgias’ strong point. As usual,, though, Socrates dominates the conversation while insisting Gorgias is restricted to yes or no statements. It’s kind of playing dirty.


Eventually Gorgias gets either bored or frustrated and just leaves Scorates—who can blame him? That leaves Socrates to debate with Gorgias’ disciples, who are less principled than their teacher.




First he talks with Polus


Polus states that rhetoric is indeed a craft, but Socrates replies, "To tell you the truth, Polus, I don't think it's a craft at all" (462b). The dialogue continues:


"POLUS: So you think oratory's a knack?


SOCRATES: Yes, I do, unless you say it's something else.


POLUS: A knack for what?


SOCRATES: For producing a certain gratification and pleasure" (462c).


Socrates continues to argue that rhetoric is not an art, but merely a knack: "…it guesses at what's pleasant with no consideration for what's best. And I say that it isn't a craft, but a knack, because it has no account of the nature of whatever things it applies by which it applies them, so that it’s unable to state the cause of each thing" (465a).


Callicles is a Neizche  in embryo. He argues that might makes might and that suffering wrong is worse than doing it. He says enslaving people, killing and pillaging is only by convention shameful, and it is not wrong by nature. Nature says that if you can take it, you should take it. Pretty much he’s a bully.




There’s an argument implied by the way that Socrates begins by debating someone who is benevolent, if a little spacy and then by following his students and colleagues discovers that those who follow rhetoric’s precepts eventually descend into immoral cruely.






This dialogue had HUGE influence on the attitudes towards rhetoric. All the good platonists said, “nope, I can’t like rhetoric—it’s tricky and not universal and leads to tyranny.” In fact, most of our villians of rhetoric have directly mentioned Socrates as a source for why rhetoric is immoral, or else they have alluded to his same arguments about the lawlessness, fickleness or violence of rhetoric. Strangely, a lot of Socrates’ claims later show up in Phaedrus’ mouth, so he ends up contradicting himself later in the Phaedrus.




Also Aristotle and Cicero will have to respond to the claims that Socrates makes in the Gorgias about the social use of rhetoric—Cicero especially demands the kind of expertise in other topics that Socrates claims is missing. To be fair, Socrates’ complaints against rhetoric seem valid. But just that he’s attacking what we might see as the very worst of bad rhetoric, which leaves him open to change his position in the Phaedrus to accept a new definition of rhetoric.






Direct download: 01_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Gorgias_Edit_2.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 9:28am CST


“Today,” I.A. Richards begins his 1936 lectures, rhetoric “is the dreariest and least profitable part of the waste that the unfortunate travel through in Freshman English! So low has Rhetoric sunk that we would do better just to dismiss it to Limbo than to trouble ourselves with it--unless we can find reason for believing that it can become a study that will minister successfully to important needs” (3). this is just what Richards sets out to do in a series of lectures at Bryn Mawr that eventually became the thin book The Philosophy of Rhetoric.


For Richards, a literary scholar by training and one of the founders of the Close REading and New Criticism, rhetoric had been for too long about disputes and argumentation. Instead he proposes that rhetoric should be “a study of misunderstanding and its remedies” and investigation in “How much and in how many ways may good communication differ from bad?” To this end, the proposes a sort of philological rhetoric, one where there is to be “persistent, systematic, detailed inquiry into how words work that will take the place of the discredited subjuect which goes by the name Rhetoric” (23). This description may rankle contemporary rhetoricicans. We like argumentation, and resist the idea that what we should be doing sounds like the very work schoolmarmn sentence diagramming, but Richards recognized that the way words work cannot be divorced from society.


But Ricahrds also broadened the idea of what rhetoric could be--not just strict argumentation, but an exporation of all language. “Perausion is just one of the aims of discourse” he writes. “It poaches on others.” This opens up rhetoric to more than argumentation, and Richards’ focus on words, words, words does not come at the expense of thinking about meaning.


In fact, he derides what he calls the Proper Meaning Superstitution, the fallacious ida that “a word has a meaning of its own (ideally, only one) independent of and controlling its use and purpose for which it should be uttered” (11).

Instead “What a word means is the missing parts of the contexts from which it draws its delegated efficacy” (35). It’s all context.


In order to illustrate the importance of context, Richards gives the example of the metaphor, one of the four master tropes. He separates the metaphor into its two parts: the tenor and vehicle. the tenor is the thing behind the metaphor and the vehicle is the means of conveying it. So if I said love is a battlefield, love is the tenor and battlefield is the vehicle. That girl is a firework. girl is tenor, firework is the vehicle. So far so good? So metaphors, Richards says, “may work admirably without our being able with any confidence to say how ti works or what is the ground of the shift.” Richards gives his own, slightly outdated example “If we call some one a pig or a duck, for example, it si little use looking for some actual resemblance toa  pig or a duck as the ground. We do not call someone a duck ro imply that she has a bill and paddles or is good to eat” (117). Little venture into canniblistic imagry there, I.A., but, of course, we call someone a duck becuase they are “charming and delightful”--or we could call someone a duck if we were a little more british. But the duck example highlights that while some metaphors work because of a “direct remblance” between the tenor and the vehicle and sometimes because of a similar attitutude to both--love is like a battlefield because there are similar feelings to being at war and being in love. This all sounds like a lot of poetics, but it demonstrates Richards concern for the very small elements of communication.


Words are vitally important, down to the detail, for Richards. “Words are the meeting points at which regions of experience which can never combine in sensation or intuition, come together. They are the occasion and the means of that growth which is the mind's endless endeavor to order itself. That is why we have language. It is no mere signalling system. It is the instrument of all our distinctively human development, of everything in which we go beyond the other animals." (131)


Ultimately, he envisions a philosophical restructuring of rhetoric were “we may in time learn so much about words that they will tell us how our minds work” (136). Further, he goes on “It seems modest and reasonable to combine these dreams and hope that a patient persistence with the problems of Rhetoric may, while exposing the causes and modes of the misinterpretation  of words, also throw light upon and suggest a remdial discipline for deeper and more grievous disorders; that, as the mall and local errors in our everday misunderstandings with language are models in miniature of the greater errors which disturb the development of our personalities, their study may also show us more about how these large scale disasters may be avoided (136-7). The man who pioneered New Criticism proposes a New Rhetoric beyond argumentation.


for all that, you won’t read much rhetorical scholarship pulling on Richards. Back in 1997, Stuart C Brown pointed out that while most rhetoric students read the Philosophy of Rhetoric, or at least excerpts of it, rhetorical scholars don’t really pay much attention to Richards. Maybe they have a word or two of “faint praise” and ackowledge him as part of our tradition, but they don’t spend much time on him. Brown thinks this is a mistake and that Ricahrds “ established the basic argument for establishing a truly new rhetoric” (219) By acknowledging the multiplicity of meanings, the instabliity of langauge, Richards opens up space for rhetorical interpretation. Brown makes an indepth defense of the value of Richards’ work. But still, 1997 was a long time ago and Richards still hasn’t come to the forefront as a rhetorical influence.


that being said, we’ll get to spend a little more time with Richards, because next week we’re going to talk about Richard’s other major work--the Meaning of Meaning--so get ready to get hipster about your rhetorical theoretians next time on Mere Rhetoric.

Direct download: Richards_Philosophy_of_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 1:11pm CST

When 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 eachother, 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: dissoi_logoi.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 10:38am CST



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 CST

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 CST

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 CST

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 CST

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 CST

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 CST

Transcript available upon request.

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