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  • Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric by Scott R. Stroud
  • G. L. Ercolini
Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric by Scott R. Stroud. State College: Penn State University Press, 2014. 288 pp. Paper, $34.95.

For Hannah Arendt, the promise serves as currency in a world where predictability of outcome in the realm of human action is impossible, where courage is required in order to submit oneself in word and deed in the public realm, and where forgiveness serves as recourse when things go differently than hoped. Each of these points in Arendt's political philosophy is indebted to Immanuel Kant, a thinker who is often characterized as rejecting rhetoric on aesthetic and moral grounds alike. In Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric, Scott Stroud takes up the apparently straightforward but ultimately complicated question of Immanuel Kant's treatment of, and disposition toward, rhetoric.

While Kant is typically characterized as both dismissive and antipathetical toward rhetoric (in contrast with philosophy), Stroud's thoughtful, well-informed, and nuanced examination of the communicative and rhetorical underpinnings of Kantian thought focuses on identifying a nonmanipulative, educative rhetoric underscoring Kant's ethical, aesthetic, pedagogical, religious, and critical writings. This is not Kant's promise, at least wittingly—Stroud does the work in outlining the promise of rhetoric in Kant, at least insofar as his philosophy implicitly relies on a repertoire of communicative, discursive, embodied, and even performative practices. If, as Jaspers noted, Kant is the philosopher of the Western tradition, then interrogating the relation between rhetoric and philosophy requires a sustained and thoughtful intervention into the question of Kant's attitudes toward rhetoric—not merely a passing consideration of esoteric or occasional interest but a fundamental and essential intervention. Stroud's work offers the first book-length direct examination of this question.

Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric presents a compelling counterreading to a prevailing and predominant narrative from both philosophy and rhetoric, namely, that Kant dismissed rhetoric wholesale in favor of philosophy. While much attention is paid to the monuments of Western thought known as Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment, the critical philosophy only represents part of the Kantian enterprise. In accordance with the recent turn to Kant's so-called occasional works and his anthropological writings (see Robert Louden, Kant's Impure [End Page 207] Ethics [2000]), Stroud's investigation incorporates lesser-discussed works from Kant such as Religion Beyond the Bounds of Mere Reason, Metaphysics of Morals, and lectures on both anthropology and pedagogy and does so in order to suggest that Kant's attitudes toward rhetoric are far more complicated and nuanced than has been recognized in his critical philosophy.

The central question of this project is "can we reclaim rhetoric as a part of Kant's project of moral improvement, of molding an individual into a caring and consistent community member?" (8). Stroud grounds his examination in the aesthetic and ethical works (and, importantly, the relation between them) in order to situate and trace the communicative and discursive dimensions that disclose different facets of Kant's educative rhetoric—not only in how Kant prioritized lively examples in teaching but in the function and practices of narrative, symbol, and ritual in constituting the ethical community of religion, as well as in how secular argumentation serves as a critical rhetoric for both rhetor and audience. Stroud identifies rhetorical experience as the core of Kantian educative rhetoric, defined as "the use of experience of a message receiver in the persuasion of that receiver" (8). He carries this perspective throughout the study in showing how rhetorical experience forms an understated, even assumed, yet central function in Kant's ethical project.

The first chapter, "Tracing the Sources of Kant's Apparent Animosity to Rhetoric," both provides an overview of the standard take that Kant dismissed rhetoric and embarks on some contextual sleuthing to determine the basis of that negative characterization. His attacks on rhetoric are aimed at particular and situated targets—the popular Ciceronian philosopher Christian Garve—while the criticism focuses on both methodological and ethical considerations—a particular instrumental and ends-oriented view of persuasion. This chapter distinguishes Garve's Ciceronian-inflected popular style...


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pp. 207-211
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