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EXORDIUM If translated into English, most of the ways economists talk among themselves would sound plausible enough to poets, journalists businesspeople, and other thoughtful though noneconomical folk. Like serious talk anywhere-among clothing designers and baseball fans, say-the talk is hard to follow when you have not made a habit of listening to it for a while. The culture of the conversation makes the words arcane. But the people in the unfamiliar conversation are not from another universe. Underneath it all (the economist's favorite phrase) conversational habits are similar. Economics uses mathematical models and statistical tests and market arguments, which look alien to the literary eye. But looked at closely they are not so alien. They may be seen as figures of speech-metaphors, analogies, and appeals to authority. Figures of speech are not mere frills. They think for us. Says Heidegger , "Die Spracht spricht, nicht der Mensch": The language speaks, not the human speaker. Someone who thinks of a market as an "invisible hand" and the organization of work as a "production function" and her coefficients as being "significant," as an economist does, is giving the language a lot of responsibility. It seems a good idea to look hard at the language. Finding that the economic conversation depends substantially on its verbal forms would not mean that economics is not a science, or just a matter of opinion, or some sort of confidence game. Economics is pretty successful as a science. In fact its failures over the past fifty years-they are boyish but correctable-can be related directly to its sleepwalking in rhetoric. Good scientists also use language. The best scientists, the Goulds and Feynmans and the like, use it with self-awareness. Using scientific language wide awake requires attention to the other minds present when you speak. The paying of attention to one's audience is called "rhetoric," a word that I later exercise hard. You use rhetoric, of course, to warn of a fire in a theater or to arouse the xenophobia of the electorate. This sort of yelling is the newspaper meaning of the word, like the president's "heated rhetoric" in a press conference, or the "mere rhetoric" to which our enemies stoop. Since the Greek flame was lit, though, the word has also been used in a broader and more amiable sense, to mean the study of all the ways of accomplishing things with language: inciting a mob xix xx Exordium to lynch the accused, but also persuading readers that a novel's characters breathe, or bringing scientists to accept the better argument and reject the worse. The newspaper definition is Little Rhetoric. I am talking about Big Rhetoric. In Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent Wayne Booth gives many useful definitions. Rhetoric is "the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe, rather than proving what is true according to abstract methods"; it is "the art of discovering good reasons, finding what really warrants assent, because any reasonable person ought to be persuaded "; it is "careful weighing of more-or-Iess good reasons to arrive at more-or-Iess probable or plausible conclusions-none too secure but better than what would be arrived at by chance or unthinking impulse "; it is the "art of discovering warrantable beliefs and improving those beliefs in shared discourse"; its purpose must not be "to talk someone else into a preconceived view; rather, it must be to engage in mutual inquiry" (Booth 1974a, pp. xiii, xiv, 59, xiii, 137). The question is whether the scientist-who usually fancies herselfan announcer of "results" or a stater of "conclusions" free of rhetoricspeaks rhetorically. Does she try to persuade? I think so. Language, I just said, is not a solitary accomplishment. The scientist doesn't speak into the void, or to herself. She speaks to a community of voices. She desires to be heeded, praised, published, imitated, honored, loved. These are the desires. The devices of language are the means. Rhetoric, to make a little joke with the definition of economics that helped make it narrow and sleepwalking, is the proportioning of means to desires in speech. Rhetoric is an economics of language, the study of how scarce means are allocated to the insatiable desires of people to be heard. It seems on the face of it a reasonable hypothesis that economists are like other people in being talkers who desire listeners when they go to the library or the computer center as much as...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299158132
Related ISBN
9780299158149
MARC Record
OCLC
608692467
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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