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For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief (review)

From: Philosophy and Rhetoric
Volume 38, Number 1, 2005
pp. 95-97 | 10.1353/par.2005.0008

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Philosophy and Rhetoric 38.1 (2005) 95-97

For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief. Eugene Garver. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Pp. 264. $55.00, hardcover; $22.50, paperback.

Professor Garver's book, For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief, is a provocative and illuminating study of practical reasoning, and one that develops many of the ideas found in his magisterial study, Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). The previous book concluded by arguing that Aristotle's Rhetoric is philosophically more interesting today than it was in Aristotle's time, in part because for us there is no polis to which the argumentative facility of rhetoric would be subordinate (1994, 233ff.). This idea is echoed in the present book when Garver writes: "The more we take disagreement to be a permanent part of the situation of practical reasoning, and not something soon to be overcome by appropriate theory or universal enlightenment, the more rhetorical facility becomes a central part of practical reason" (2004, 175). It is, indeed, a fascinating feature of For the Sake of Argument that it defends the autonomy and integrity of practical reason through Aristotle's insights on the various connections between argument, persuasion, and ethos (153), and illustrates these through examples such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, and subsequent Supreme Court decisions.

The book is divided into eight chapters, and, as Garver explains, these represent four pairs of essays in which a more concrete or "applied" chapter is followed by a chapter that draws generalizations from the examples of the prior chapter. Among the themes most prominent in the book are the connection between reason and character, on which Garver writes, "Practical reason has its own integrity when who we are and how we think are intimately connected" (2); the compatibility, within practical reason, of truth and one's own interest; the "ampliative" nature of practical reason, such that the implications of one's beliefs can lead to discoveries unanticipated at the beginning; the connection between the ethos of a leader and the ethos of a community; and the underappreciated power of epideictic rhetoric "to affirm values and articulate new vocabularies" (178). In addressing such broad themes, Garver's attention to concrete examples, like Brown v. Board of Education, is thoroughly instructive. The Brown decision, he argues, is "an epideictic declaration that equality and antidiscrimination are fundamental American Constitutional values" (73). Brown clearly demonstrates the ampliative nature of practical reason in that the conclusion it reaches is stronger than the premises from which it begins (i.e., the Fourteenth Amendment); moreover, it generates what Garver calls an "ethical surplus" that allows for unanticipated implications that are stronger still, such as the later Court decision striking down antimiscegenation laws (71–73). This "increase" in strength in proceeding from premises to conclusion is "impossible under a purely deductive conception of rationality," Garver writes (73), yet it is well explained by his Aristotle-inspired account of practical reasoning.

Surely some readers will recoil from Garver's more provocative claims, such as that "we decide . . . to be convinced and choose to find a line of reasoning compelling" (119), offered within a discussion of the responsibility we bear in ethical argumentation. However, the issue that is more problematic, to my mind, concerns Garver's treatment of Plato. This may seem odd, given that Plato only appears as a foil in the book—but the problem is that it is merely a caricature of Plato that Garver allows to act as a foil. Garver argues against "the Platonic program which will save reason by removing it from human contamination" (3) and "the Platonic hope of replacing ethical reasoning by the certainties of science" (5). He sides with Aristotle's idea that we can aim at effectiveness and at rightness together (48, 200) over against the allegedly Platonic idea that we must choose between truth and our own interest, reason and emotion, and so forth, or else embrace the "Platonic dreamworld" in which logical consistency is identical with the ethical wholeness of...

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