Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric by Scott Stroud (review)
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Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric. By Scott Stroud. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014; pp. ix + 271. $79.95 cloth.

Scott Stroud’s Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric provides a thoughtful, creative, and heuristically provocative book about Immanuel Kant. Stroud strategically builds a case for the connection between Kant and rhetoric that is attentive to the texts of Kant and implications that extend beyond Kant’s immediate project.

Stroud examines the contentiousness between Kant and philosophical contemporaries and specifically addresses Kant’s disdain for rhetoric as manipulation. Stroud’s first chapter lays the groundwork for his explication of Kant and rhetoric. Stroud alerts the reader to an alternative perspective of Kant’s outright dismissal of rhetoric. Granted, Kant puts aesthetics, poetry, and the beautiful within a space of superior height; however, the entrance of rhetoric connects to the moral and the ethical. Its function is moral development and cultivation. The quandary Stroud faces is offering an antidote to coercion when rhetoric is intimately tied to manipulation within an Enlightenment ethos intoxicated by individual autonomy.

In the third chapter, we discern Stroud’s principal thesis. Rhetoric, for Kant, is manipulative when engaged within an external community, but it is essential for self-legislation. The value and necessity of rhetoric emerge in Kant’s connection between autonomy and self-cultivation of morality. Rhetoric assumes a principal force in the education of the person responsible for judicial decisions that originate from self-legislative restraint and judgment.

Stroud then moves the reader into Kant’s educational commitment. He states that Kant did not pen a work on rhetoric, but did point to the nonmanipulative nature of rhetoric connected to education and self-legislation. I quote, “One might even call Kant’s rhetoric self-educative, since one’s autonomy and discipline play such a role in non-manipulative persuasion” (136). Rhetoric is central to the internal, educational, dialogic nature of Kant’s conception of an autonomous moral agent. Self-dialogue is the rhetorical ground upon which both self-education and individual personhood emerge. [End Page 190]

Stroud asserts that the religious community was a central component of Kant’s schema of moral transformation. This movement engages exteriority that impacts the interiority of the human person. Within internal dialogue, educational rhetoric shapes critical thought and judgment. Whatever community one is situated in, the morality and discussion of what matters impact a communicative agent. However, with Kant’s stress on autonomy, the communicative reaction to any communicative environment, specifically a community with external standards, requires a critical stance. Rhetoric resonates internally—within the person—challenging what has been met in the external world. The maxim of Kant’s rhetoric assists moral education, cultivating one’s own internal rhetorical critic. Self-criticism is essential to the Enlightenment project.

Kant, as the principal philosopher of the Enlightenment era, brings us ethics, autonomy, and self-legislation. His project requires discipline. He wrote in an era of rebellion against blind adherence to authority and external communities that unreflectively impose truth positions. Kant does not seek to dismiss or eradicate external communities of moral significance. His project is both more modest, and, perhaps, revolutionary. The external community becomes fodder for internal rhetoric. Moral communities are critically engaged and understood as a necessary text for self-evaluation, consideration, and education. A communicative agent is called forth into action, testing critical judgment against the maxim of a categorical imperative. We find the meaning of an educational particular rhetorically engaged within an imagined universal. Without critical educational rhetoric, autonomy cannot materialize nor propel what we term the Age of Reason. Educational rhetoric takes community seriously and understands morality of tradition without absorbing positions void of critical examination.

Kant furnishes us with an understanding of educational rhetoric in operation—the human being is a self-critic engaged in an ongoing internal dialogue. Questioning external assertions occurs for one fundamental reason—self-legislation requires that each position I take and each idea I utter rest on an admission of responsibility. If one were to reflect upon the oddity of Adolf Eichmann’s repetitive referencing of Immanuel Kant’s conception of duty, one discovers a fundamental misuse of a Kantian...


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