Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha – The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation

Perelman, C., and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1969. Print.

In this classic text on argumentation originally written in French by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha, the authors presented a “new rhetoric” that reintroduced argumentation into rhetoric and reason. The two asserted their theory of argumentation by establishing its link to Greek rhetoric and dialectic in order to break with Cartesian concepts of reason and reasoning which they claimed had defined Western philosophy for the previous three centuries. The exigence behind their argument is that traditional logic and reasoning alone cannot help resolve all disputes (and they never have); to this end all available means need to be explored. Under Cartesian logic, claims that are not self-evident could/ would be considered false, but Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha argued against this reasoning and for the exploration of the plausible:

“…the post-Cartesian concept of reason obliges us to make certain irrational elements intervene every time the object of knowledge is not self-evident. Whether these elements consist of obstacles to be surmounted-such as imagination, passion, or suggestion-or of suprarational sources of certitude such as the heart, grace, “Einfuehlung,” or Bergsonian intuition, this conception introduces a dichotomy, a differentiation between human faculties, which is completely artificial and contrary to the real processes of our thought.” (3)

The consideration of these irrational elements, nor argumentation are “new” to rhetoric; however, Perelman and Olbrechs-Tytecha posited that these elements had been neglected to the detriment of rhetorical theory and criticism. They wrote: “The effect of restricting logic to the examination of the proofs termed ‘analytical’ byAristotle, together with the reduction of dialectical proofs-when anyone felt they were worth analyzing-to analytical proofs, was to remove from the study of reasoning all reference to argumentation” (509). Their text is an attempt to reduce and further reduction of proofs to formal logic.

In this treatise on argumentation, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha put forth numerous technichal elements of argumentation which they said only scratched the surface. A major takeaway is that argumentation is audience-centered, not form-centered and as such:

  • has the goal of persuading a “universal audience” which is a construct of the author’s mind (the audience can legitimately be treated as universal because “for legitimate reasons, we need not take into consideration those which are not part of it” (31).)
  • is more influenced by ethos (18)
  • dictates that the presumption and “burden of proof” are dictted by the audience, not the question or rhetor (105-106)
  • relies on the “community of minds” or what Burke would call identification (14)
  • uses strategies associated with sophistry, like dissociation (the constant constantly detaching from or adding “appearances” to notions in order to appeal to their audiences) (412)

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha acknowledged that their theory of argumentation and with these proofs that fall outside of formal logic sound sophistic, and would typically be dismissed as a “misleading form of reasoning” (512); however, they argued that “absolutist epistemology” has not served us as well as desired.

“Only the existence of an argumentation that is neither compelling nor arbitrary can give meaning to human freedom, a state in which a reasonable choice can be exercised. If freedom was no more than necessary adherence to a previously given natural order, it would exclude all possibility of choice; and if the exercise of freedom were not based on reasons, every choice would be irrational and would be reduced to an arbitrary decision operating in an intellectual void.” (514)

“The theory of argumentation will help to develop what a logic of value judgments has tried in vain to provide, namely the justification of the possibility of a human community in the sphere of action when this justification cannot be based on a reality or objective truth. And its starting point, in making this contribution, is an analysis of those forms of reasoning which, though they are indispensable in practice, have from the time of Descartes been neglected by logicians and theoreticians of knowledge.” (514)

Biesecker – Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 232-246. Print.

In this essay Barbara Biesecker challenged rhetoric theorists and critics to further destabilize Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation. While Richard Vatz inverted Bitzer’s hierarchy between the event and rhetor, but Biesecker questioned the potential for not “simply choosing sides” but using Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and différance to upset the hierarchy altogether. Biesecker pointed out that deconstruction hadn’t been productively appropriated by critics working in Rhetoric. She, therefore, sought in her essay to do a reading of the rhetorical situation from within the frame of deconstructive practice in order to the possibilities  for useful analysis of rhetorical events. One example of the limitations of prior considerations of rhetorical consideration she gave is that rhetoric was seen as only having the power to influence, but not to form new identities (111).

After taking up taking up text as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation and fleshing out how Derrida’s différance as demonstrated in his essay “Glas” could be used to better understand how meaning can be made in rhetorical discourse, she then focused on “audience” as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation.

“It is in the middle or the suspense of the two previously unjoined texts that meaning can be said to have been made. In fact we might go so far as to suggest that the blithe proposition in Glas is: everything deliberately and unavoidably happens in its crease, in its fold. It is in the structural space between the Hegel column and the Genet column that Derrida’s text would play out its ‘meanings’.”

Biesecker’s application of différance can be understood in comparison to Bitzer and Vatz’s understanding of where meaning is situated in the rhetorical situation. For Bitzer, meaning is intrisic to the event and for Vatz meaning is derived from the creative act of the rhetor. Using Derrida, Biesecker argued that meaning is found in “the fold” or the differencing zone (119): “Derridean deconstruction begins by considering thè way in which all texts are inhabited by an internally divided non-originary ‘origin’ called différance” (120).

Biesecker asserted that use of this framework would lead to a deconstructive displacement of questions of origin to questions of process. In turn, this would free rhetoric theorists and critics from reading rhetoric discourses and their ‘founding principles’ (either seen as “the event” by Bitzer or the “rhetor” by Vatz ) as either the determined outcome of an objectively identifiable and discrete situation (Bitzer) or an interpreting and intending subject (Vatz) (121). “That is to say,” Bieseckers wrote, “neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation nor its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a séries of historically produced displacements” (121).

This framework also challenged rhetoric’s understanding/ treatment of the subject and audience.  Biesecker argued that most scholarship, including Bitzer’s on the rhetorical situation included “audience” as a constituent element; however it is simply “named” it and not complicated it. According to Biesecker, the “subject” or “audience” had been discussed as a stable, rational, human being.

But once deconstructed, Biesecker explained that the identity of the subject then was/ is not stable, but deffered. It is deffered by “… virtue of the very principle of différence which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element in an economy of traces” (125).

Biesecker presented implications for both the rhetorical situation and rhetoric as a field based on this treatment of “audience.”

For the rhetorical situation:

“From within the thematic of différance we would see the rhetorical situation neither as an event that merely induces audiences to act one way or another nor as an incident that, in representing the interests of a particular collectivity, merely wrestles the probable within the realm of the actualizable. Rather, we would see the rhetorical situation as an event that makes possible the production of identities and social relations. That is to say, if rhetorical events are analysed from within the  thematic of différance, it becomes possible to read discursive practices neither as rhetorics directed to preconstituted and known audiences nor as rhetorics “in search of” objectively identifiable  but yet undiscovered audiences.” (126)

For the field of Rhetoric:

“Simply put, the deconstruction of the subject opens up possibilities for the field of Rhetoric by enabling us to read the rhetorical situation as an event structured not by a logic of influence but by a logic of articulation. If the subject is shifting and unstable (constituted in and by the play of différance), then the rhetorical event may be seen as an incident that produces and reproduces the identities of subjects and constructs and reconstructs linkages between them.” (126)

Biesecker argued that the radical potential in this approach to work against essentializing and universalizing claims presented “one possible way to reivigorate the field, not as the first step towards renunciation of it” (127). Biesecker advocated not using deconstruction as a means to get to a singular “truth”, as Bitzer positioned his theory to do, but as a tool to produce more possibilites of rhetoric.

Bitzer – The Rhetorical Situation

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 217-225. Print.

In this foundational text, Lloyd Bitzer made the case that rhetorical stuation had not been adequately attended to by theorists, including Aristotle. Bitzer asserted that prior theorists have focused on the method of the orator to address the rhetorical situation, or ignored it completely. He then unfolded his theory of situation. He stated that this essay, originally given as a lecture at Cornell University in November 1966, should be understood as an attempt to 1) revive the notion of rhetorical situation, 2) provide an adequate conception of it, and 3) establish it “as a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory” (3). Bitzer concluded by drawing comparisons between the role of science in an imperfect world and the need for rhetoric in an imperfect world. He provided the exigence for his own theorization and argument regarding rhetorical situation and argued for the importance  and relevance of rhetoric as a discipline beyond the understanding that it is merely the art of persuasion, which he asserted was necessary to warrant justification as a practical discipline:

…rhetoric as a discipline is justified philosophically insofar as it provides principles, concepts, and procedures by which we effect valuable changes in reality. Thus rhetoric is distinguished from the mere craft of persuasion which, although it is a legitimate object of scientific investigation, lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline. (14)

Bitzer distingushes rhetorical situation from context:

Let us regard rhetorical situation as a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which strongly invites utterance; this invited utterance participates naturally in the situation, is in many instances necessary to the completion of situational activity, and by means of its participa-tion with situation obtains its meaning and its rhetorical character. (5)

Bitzer contended that rhetorical situation should be given priority because of the strong role of plays in a wide range of rhetorical discourse:

So controlling is situation that we should consider it the very’ ground of rhetorical activity’, whether that activity is primitive and productive of a simple utterance or artistic and productive of the Gettysburg Address. (5)

Prior to the creation and presentation of discourse, Bitzer said there are three constituents of rhetorical situation: exigence (an imperfection marked by urgency, an obstacle, something waiting to be done); audience (persons capable of being influenced – even one’s self); and constraints.

Bitzer also outlined six features of rhetorical situations:

  1. Are called into existence by a situation/ invitation (9)
  2. Invite a response that fits the situation (10)
  3. Dictate the purpose, theme, matter, and style of the response.
  4. Are derived from “real” situations and exigencies, not “sophistic” ones (11)
  5. Exhibit structures which are simple or complex, and more or less organized (11)
  6. Come into existence, then either “mature or decay or mature and persist — conceivably some persist indefinitely” (12)