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The Rhetorical Centrality of Philosophy: From the Old Metaphysics to the New Rhetoric

From: Philosophy and Rhetoric
Volume 32, Number 2, 1999
pp. 160-174 | 10.1353/par.1999.0003

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Philosophy and Rhetoric 32.2 (1999) 160-174

Convictions create evidence.

--Marcel Proust


Cassandra Heidegger (see Heidegger 1969) had already warned that the end would come together with its very triumph. Philosophy's finality would be its finale. The oracle was infallible. When philosophy reunited its ultimate possibilities, it would perish. In completing itself, it would consume itself. And that is what seems to have happened. The end has not come from without. It has not been some extraneous catastrophe, but, rather, was programmed within its own core. Still, when the philosopher recounts the history of philosophy, he resembles an elderly father, a King Lear whom even his loyal daughter, logic, is about to abandon, who cries of the ingratitude of his youthful daughters for having partitioned the kingdom of being and thus left him alone in the wretched penury of nothingness. In doing so, he ignores the possibility that what his offspring have done may correspond to the conduct of a legitimate legatee who, far from avoiding the parental word, has complied with it to the letter. In their alarm, the father's elderly eyes confuse contiguity with causality, effect with cause. The sciences, daughters of philosophy, have surely succeeded it; philosophy's aging condition coincides with the sciences' vital youth, yet the latter are not responsible for the former's paternal agony. They are not its cause, but the natural consequence of his exitus vitae. Oedipus can only obey a destiny that he did not write.

The oracle tells us that philosophy's end is not exterior to philosophy itself; it does not owe to random events that might have been otherwise overcome. Rather -- as with Bellerophon, who carried the letter that communicated his own death -- the end is internal and intimate. It was characteristic of philosophy, intrinsic to its normal development, its fulfillment. Thus, instead of a mere historisch point of view, a geschichtlich, one presents philosophy's fulfillment into science as the natural ripening of its fruit. Perhaps one could even assert that there is no schism between philosophy, as a transcendental discipline, and the sciences, but that the latter are regional ontologies that possess the same appetite for supremacy over being as ancient metaphysics, which has been transformed into cybernetics, the new general ontology.

Philosophy, metaphysical at its origins and ever since, sought to be the origin, to obtain the scepter, to take power, to find the ark, to take the arché. Its "monarchic" tendency led it to isolate a strip of reality so as to rule, from there, each reality, all reality. It was a question of finding the code that would decode the mystery of being. And the best code, as Plato early knew, was mathematics. Philosophy was the mathesis universalis. Today the mathematics of worldwide reach is computing. That this technology dominates the earth is no accident; rather, it has an antecedent: the inherent, technical zeal in philosophy since its start. Hence, while, over time, technology has succeeded the sciences, appearing as their technical application, there is a logical precedence of the former over the latter. Technology precedes science: it is its very telos.

To place thought in a field foreign to the principle of sufficient reason -- against which the Heideggerian Besinnung is polarized -- and thus to renounce the demonstration ex firmis principiis, is to imply the acceptance and promotion of a knowledge different from that which Plato advanced. Indeed, he did not conceive of his work as separate from the sciences; his was a scientific labor par excellence. What opposed a philosophical science was the pseudoscientific rhetoric, the Sophists' activity. Instead of searching for the truth, the Sophists limited themselves to appearances, thereby echoing public opinion instead of defending the opinion that is not merely opinion because it is science. At this point, the schism between philosophy and rhetoric opens and is maintained.

Aristotle, however, not only opposed Plato's negative attitude, but reconceived rhetoric -- making it crucial for anyone seeking to resituate philosophy, releasing epistemic deadweight -- insofar as it deals with doxic knowledge, which helps one make decisions without certainty. What is more, according to Estagirita's definition (Topics 1.100a25-32), rhetoric need not draw its arguments from...

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