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  • Rhetoric Achieves Nature. A View from Old Europe
  • Philippe-Joseph Salazar

I would like to quote a well-known example used by Frege to illustrate the difference between Sinn and Bedeutung, as a point of departure for this essay: Venus is the morning star and the evening star—it depends on the beholder1 —but Venus, the celestial body, it objectively is. In the eyes of the beholder lies "sense" (Sinn); in an objective view, resides "reference" (Bedeutung). Or, to put it rhetorically: Venus is this or that, according to a given set of commonplaces, it is address-bound; whereas, in an objective and cohesive language, it is what science explains it to be.

Henry Johnstone, in his 1973 article "Rationality and Rhetoric in Philosophy," gives his own version of this aphrodisiac exemplum. In his essay, "rationality" behaves not unlike Venus, as for the philosopher rationality awakes at dusk, in the flight of the Hegelian owl, while, for the rhetor, it shines at sunrise, when arguments begin to be exchanged on the market place. Hauser neatly encapsulates this when he writes, "the addressed character of philosophical argument . . . [does] not permit a clear dividing line between what [is] philosophical and rhetorical in an argument" (2001, 5). Rationality is bound by the "addressed" nature of arguments that, prudentially, make our civil life bearable or, at the very least, less beastly, and help believers in the morning star to live side by side with those of the evening star. The recent success of the French referendum (in May 2005) when, following deliberative mobilization by a large number of non-governmental organizations, voters declined to accept a choice presented them by media and politicians united, as the only rational option, and voted "no," has highlighted the Sinn/Bedeutung political tension. I would go as far as to say that the Sinn/Bedeutung game is democratic or republican civility's aphrodisiac. Without its incentive, argument in politics may be reduced to a handbook of quotations held as "truths," with no escape from "rectification," in the words of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (no date, 9).

This aphrodisiac tension between Sinn and Bedeutung enters civil life every time political choices offered the sovereign, either directly (through [End Page 71] popular vote) or by simulation (through elected representatives), are pre-cast by rational choice practitioners as no-alternative decisions. When the latter face defeat, as in May 2005, for failing to understand the energy coiled within the tension, they often resort to admonishments that "more pedagogy is needed." The sovereign is treated as unreceptive to reason, stuck in the ("rhetorical") illiteracy of "senses." The professional political class, by contrast, heroically defends "reference." Politicians, indeed, trained in rational choice theory and whose skills are honed in business or public administration schools, those two great mirages of scientific-like politics, of objectified politics, must be staunch believers in Bedeutung although they play, of course, on Sinn whenever it suits them. The despairing side of this game is that republics that wish to embody the lessons of the eighteenth century, and to a different degree non-republican Western democracies, live a life whereby the political class keeps telling the sovereign that Sinn is good so long as national security is not at stake. The people are conceded, for instance, the right to have different "senses" of community rights or religious beliefs—"diversity" is the ruling commonplace, activating the topics of quality and posteritas, should we say if we were Quintilianists—but national policies must rest on "reference," this Bedeutung being the precinct of those who practice a scientific-like language, that of modern governance, made of interrelated "truths." International relations are of course a prime locale for the fabrication of Bedeutung.2 Never has the game between sense and reference been so widely played in our Enlightenment-inspired democracies than today. Never has Venus known so many unprofessed idolaters.3

I should like now to leave Venus to her own devices and—without making any claim, however, to be a better interpreter of the French situation on matters of rhetoric, argument and rationality than some—to present how in France the vexed situation of "argument" in relation to rhetoric and philosophy...


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