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  • Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's "On Temporality as a Characteristic of Argumentation":Commentary and Translation
  • Michelle K. Bolduc and David A. Frank

"The last third of the twentieth century," Gerard Hauser writes, was marked by "a flurry of intellectual work aimed at theorizing rhetoric in new terms" (2001, 1). The year 1958 was key in this flurry, with five major works appearing on a rhetorically inflected philosophy and theory of argumentation: Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition (on the relationship between the vita contemplativa and vita activa); Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge (on the role of tacit knowledge, emotion, and commitment in science); Stephen Toulmin's Uses of Argument (on the use of argument in nonformal contexts); Walter Ong's Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (on the history of the separation of rhetoric and logic); and Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's Traité de l'argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique [The New Rhetoric] (on a rapprochement of rhetoric and logic). These books mark a "rhetorical turn" in twentieth-century thought.

Of the five, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's work had the greatest influence on rhetorical theory in the twentieth century. Indeed, we believe the post–World War II rhetorical turn is best codified in The New Rhetoric, as [End Page 308] it responds to the postwar crisis of reason with a rhetorical system designed to extend reason into the vita activa, grant the role of tacit knowledge and commitment in knowledge, display the importance of argumentation as a counterpart to formal logic, and bridge the separation Ramus made between rhetoric and logic (Frank and Bolduc 2004; Frank 2007). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca were among a host of thinkers who sought to redress the failure of reason to address questions of ethics and the world of the living.

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's The New Rhetoric was the result of a ten-year collaboration, one that sought to set forth a system of argumentation designed to persuade embodied audiences. According to Perelman's daughter, Noemi Mattis-Perelman, the final product was over 2,000 pages; the press required the collaborators to condense it to 738 pages. The rather underdeveloped, elliptical writing in The New Rhetoric may be due to space limitations. Concurrent with the 1958 publication of The New Rhetoric, Perelman alone and with Olbrechts-Tyteca published articles on the relationship between thought and action (Perelman, "Rapports théoriques de la pensée et de l'action"), classical and romantic topoi in argument (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, "Classicisme et romantisme"), pragmatic argument (Perelman, "L'argument pragmatique"), and the role of time in argumentation (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, "De la temporalité comme caractère de l'argumentation").

These articles remain unavailable to an English-reading audience. They provide a more thorough explanation of several key concepts of the new rhetoric project than can be found in The New Rhetoric. In this essay, we contextualize and then provide a translation of "De la temporalité comme caractère de l'argumentation" ["On Temporality as a Characteristic of Argumentation"], which was first published in a special issue of the Italian journal Archivio di filosofia devoted to time. This article provides a much clearer conceptualization of argumentation and its relationship to time than can be found in The New Rhetoric and serves as a bookend to Perelman's 1949 article, "Philosophies premières et philosophie regressive" in the Swiss journal Dialectica. It constitutes, in essence, Perelman's philosophical justification of his turn to rhetoric (see our commentary and translation [Frank and Bolduc 2003]).

In "On Temporality," Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca develop a theme that may seem banal to a twenty-first century reader or academic:

The oppositions we notice between classical demonstration, formal logic, and argumentation may, it seems, come back to an essential [End Page 309] difference: time does not play any role in demonstration. Time is, however, essential in argumentation, so much so that we may wonder if it is not precisely the intervention of time that best allows us to distinguish argumentation from demonstration.

However, the thesis they advance was striking at the time, providing Western...


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