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The Marriage of Pragmatics and Rhetoric

From: Philosophy and Rhetoric
Volume 32, Number 2, 1999
pp. 107-130 | 10.1353/par.1999.0001

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Philosophy and Rhetoric 32.2 (1999) 107-130

A recent collection, Rhetorical Hermeneutics: Invention and Interpretation in the Age of Science (Gross and Keith 1996), testifies to a crisis in rhetorical theory and rhetorical criticism. Can an art whose origin is the Greek city-state and whose practice has been almost exclusively devoted to the production of speeches, be transformed into an art of interpretation, a hermeneutics of persuasion? The answers in the volume range from the profound skepticism of Dilip Gaonkar to the robust optimism of Deirdre McCloskey. In some cases, alternatives are offered: William Keith offers a programmatic solution whose origin is in reverse engineering; David Kaufer offers a detailed solution whose origin is in artificial intelligence. That no one calls on the achievements of a century of philosophy of language, beginning with Gottlob Frege, and including Bertrand Russell, J. L. Austin, Peter Strawson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Paul Grice, is a tribute perhaps to the insularity of the academy, the difficult-to-negotiate borders between disciplinary formations. The omission of Paul Grice is especially significant. In philosophy of language, no one ranks at this level of influence other than Austin; no one ranks above, with the exception of Wittgenstein. In the pragmatics of language, however, in the interactions of speakers and hearers, which will be our central concern, Grice reigns supreme. Though nearly a half-century old, his early essays have lost none of their hold on the intellect of scholars interested in communicative interchange. Though Grice never generalized his theory, he was never interested in anything less than a general theory: "I have stated my maxims [as if the purpose of talk exchanges] were a maximally effective exchange of information; this specification is, of course, too narrow, and the scheme needs to be generalized to allow for such general purposes as influencing or directing the actions of others" (1989, 28). It is this statement that opens the door to a union of pragmatics and rhetoric.

But it is a union with problems on both sides of the aisle. To reconstruct rhetoric as a cognitive theory, we must place inference at its center. As regards the canon of invention and the logos at its heart, this move seems natural; as regards "proofs" from emotion and character, and the canons of style and arrangement, this move seems counterintuitive. There is another problem as well: Gricean talk exchanges rule out misdirection, and a rhetorical theory that cannot account for misdirection will lack plausibility. Finally, though Grice's theory concerns only a single speaker and hearer and Aristotle's only a single speaker and an audience, we mean our reconstruction to apply generally.

Fortunately, we will be assisted in this effort of reconciliation by the labors of philosophers and classicists. A cognitive theory of rhetoric must acknowledge a debt, not only to Aristotle, but also to Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca; in our view, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (1969) is the finest modern attempt to reconstruct Aristotle's Rhetoric. The New Rhetoric integrates into a cognitive, inference-based theory, not only the inventive material of the first two books, but also much that Aristotle has to say about style and arrangement in book 3. But as its subtitle, A Treatise on Argumentation, hints, its treatment of Aristotle's proofs from character is deficient, and its treatment of emotional proofs is virtually nonexistent. We think that this imbalance must be corrected; thanks to classicists William Fortenbaugh and Martha Nussbaum, and philosopher William Lyons, we think that it can be. All three see Aristotle's theory of the emotions as cognitive, one in which inference is necessarily involved.

Classical rhetoric and Gricean pragmatics

According to Grice's Cooperative Principle, "[E]ach participant recognizes in [talk exchanges], to some extent, a common purpose, or set of purposes, or at least a mutually accepted direction" (1989, 26). In such talk exchanges, moreover, all that is said is said according to meaningNN. Summarizing his views on meaningNN, Grice says: "[W]e may say that 'A meantNN something by x' is roughly equivalent to 'A uttered x with the intention of inducing a belief by means of the recognition of...

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