New Rhetoric, The
eBook - ePub

New Rhetoric, The

A Treatise on Argumentation

Chaïm Perelman,L. Olbrechts-Tyteca

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

New Rhetoric, The

A Treatise on Argumentation

Chaïm Perelman,L. Olbrechts-Tyteca

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The New Rhetoric is founded on the idea that since "argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced, " says Chaïm Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, and they rely, in particular, for their theory of argumentation on the twin concepts of universal and particular audiences: while every argument is directed to a specific individual or group, the orator decides what information and what approaches will achieve the greatest adherence according to an ideal audience. This ideal, Perelman explains, can be embodied, for example, "in God, in all reasonable and competent men, in the man deliberating or in an elite." Like particular audiences, then, the universal audience is never fixed or absolute but depends on the orator, the content and goals of the argument, and the particular audience to whom the argument is addressed. These considerations determine what information constitutes "facts" and "reasonableness" and thus help to determine the universal audience that, in turn, shapes the orator's approach.

The adherence of an audience is also determined by the orator's use of values, a further key concept of the New Rhetoric. Perelman's treatment of value and his view of epideictic rhetoric sets his approach apart from that of the ancients and of Aristotle in particular. Aristotle's division of rhetoric into three genres–forensic, deliberative, and epideictic–is largely motivated by the judgments required for each: forensic or legal arguments require verdicts on past action, deliberative or political rhetoric seeks judgment on future action, and epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric concerns values associated with praise or blame and seeks no specific decisions. For Aristotle, the epideictic genre was of limited importance in the civic realm since it did not concern facts or policies. Perelman, in contrast, believes not only that epideictic rhetoric warrants more attention, but that the values normally limited to that genre are in fact central to all argumentation. "Epideictic oratory, " Perelman argues, "has significant and important argumentation for strengthening the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds." These values are central to the persuasiveness of arguments in all rhetorical genres since the orator always attempts to "establish a sense of communion centered around particular values recognized by the audience."

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The Framework of Argumentation

§ 1. Demonstration and Argumentation

The special characteristics of argumentation and the problems inherent to its study cannot be better conveyed than by contrasting argumentation with the classical concept of demonstration and, more particularly, with formal logic which is limited to the examination of demonstrative methods of proof.
In modern logic, the product of reflection on mathematical reasoning, the formal systems are no longer related to any rational evidence whatever. The logician is free to elaborate as he pleases the artificial language of the system he is building, free to fix the symbols and combinations of symbols that may be used. It is for him to decide which are the axioms, that is, the expressions considered without proof as valid in his system, and to say which are the rules of transformation he introduces which will make it possible to deduce, from the valid expressions, other expressions of equal validity in the system. The only obligation resting on the builder of formal axiomatic systems, the one which gives the demonstrations their compelling force, is that of choosing symbols and rules in such a way as to avoid doubt and ambiguity. It must be possible, without hesitation, even mechanically, to establish whether a sequence of symbols is admitted in the system, whether it is of the same form as another sequence of symbols, whether it is considered valid, because it is an axiom or an expression deducible from the axioms, in a manner consistent with the rules of deduction. Any consideration that has to do with the origin of the axioms or the rules of deduction, with the role that the axiomatic system is deemed to play in the elaboration of thought, is foreign to logic conceived in this manner, in the sense that it goes beyond the framework of the formalism in question. The search for unquestionable univocity has even led the formalistic logicians to construct systems in which no attention is paid to the meaning of the expressions: they are satisfied if the symbols introduced and the transformations concerning them are beyond discussion. They leave the interpretation of the elements of the axiomatic system to those who will apply it and who will have to concern themselves with its adequacy for the end pursued.
When the demonstration of a proposition is in question, it is sufficient to indicate the processes by means of which the proposition can be obtained as the final expression of a deductive series, which had its first elements provided by the constructor of the axiomatic system within which the demonstration is accomplished. Where these elements come from, whether they are impersonal truths, divine thoughts, results of experiment, or postulates particular to the author, these are questions which the logician considers foreign to his discipline. But when it is a question of arguing, of using discourse to influence the intensity of an audience’s adherence to certain theses, it is no longer possible to neglect completely, as irrelevancies, the psychological and social conditions in the absence of which argumentation would be pointless and without result. For all argumentation aims at gaining the adherence of minds, and, by this very fact, assumes the existence of an intellectual contact.
For argumentation to exist, an effective community of minds must be realized at a given moment. There must first of all be agreement, in principle, on the formation of this intellectual community, and, after that, on the fact of debating a specific question together: now this does not come about automatically.
Even in the realm of inward deliberation, certain conditions are required for argumentation: in particular, a person must conceive of himself as divided into at least two interlocutors, two parties engaging in deliberation. And there is no warrant for regarding this division as necessary. It appears to be constructed on the model of deliberation with others. Hence, we must expect to find carried over to this inner deliberation most of the problems associated with the conditions necessary for discussion with others. Many expressions bear witness to this, but two examples may suffice. The first, relating to preliminary conditions as they affect persons, is such a saying as “Don’t listen to your evil genius.” The other, having to do with preliminary conditions as they affect the object of argumentation, is a saying like “Don’t bring that up any more.”

§ 2. The Contact of Minds

A whole set of conditions is required for the formation of an effective community of minds.
The indispensable minimum for argumentation appears to be the existence of a common language, of a technique allowing communication to take place.
But the minimum is not enough. No one shows this better than the author of Alice in Wonderland. The beings inhabiting that country understand Alice’s language, more or less, but her problem is to make contact and open a discussion, as in Wonderland there is no reason why discussions should begin. The inhabitants know no reason for speaking to one another. On some occasions Alice takes the initiative, as where she plainly addresses the mouse with the vocative, “0, Mouse.”1 And she considers it a success to have managed the exchange of a few rather pointless remarks with the Duchess.2 However, in her earlier attempt at conversation with the caterpillar, a deadlock is reached immediately: “I think you ought to tell me who you are, first,” she says. “Why?” says the caterpillar.3 In our well-ordered world, with its hierarchies, there are generally rules prescribing how conversation may be begun; there is a preliminary agreement arising from the norms set by social life. Between Alice and the inhabitants of Wonderland, no hierarchy, precedence, or functions requires one to answer rather than another. Even those conversations which do begin are apt to break off suddenly. The lory, for instance, prides himself on his age:
This Alice would not allow without knowing how old he was, and as the lory positively refused to tell its age, there was no more to be said.4
The only preliminary condition fulfilled here is Alice’s wish to enter into conversation with the beings of this new universe.
The set of those a speaker wishes to address may vary considerably. For any particular speaker it falls far short of all human beings. In the case of a child, however, to whom the adult world is in varying measure closed, the universe he wants to address is correspondingly extended by the inclusion of animals and all the inanimate objects he regards as his natural interlocutors.5
There are beings with whom any contact may seem superfluous or undesirable. There are some one cannot be bothered to talk to. There are others with whom one does not wish to discuss things, but to whom one merely gives orders.
To engage in argument, a person must attach some importance to gaining the adherence of his interlocutor, to securing his assent, his mental cooperation. It is, accordingly, sometimes a valued honor to be a person with whom another will enter into discussion. Because of the rationalism and humanism of the last few centuries, it seems a strange notion that the mere fact of being someone whose opinion is taken into account should constitute a quality; but in many societies a person will no more talk to just anybody than, in the past, a man would fight a duel with just anybody. It is also to be observed that wanting to convince someone always implies a certain modesty on the part of the initiator of the argument; what he says is not “Gospel truth,” he does not possess that authority which would place his words beyond question so that they would carry immediate conviction. He acknowledges that he must use persuasion, think of arguments capable of acting on his interlocutor, show some concern for him, and be interested in his state of mind.
A person — whether an adult or a child — who wants to “count” with others, wishes that they would stop giving him orders and would, instead, reason with him and concern themselves with his reactions. He wants to be regarded as a member of a more-or-less equalitarian society. A man who does not cultivate this kind of contact with his fellows will be thought a proud, unattractive creature as compared with one who, however important his functions, takes pains to address the public in a manner which makes clear the value he attaches to its appreciation.
But, as has been said many times, it is not always commendable to wish to persuade someone: the conditions under which contact between minds takes place may, indeed, appear to be rather dishonorable. The reader will recall the story of Aristippus, who, when he was reproached for having abjectly prostrated himself at the feet of Dionysius the tyrant in order to be heard by him, defended himself by saying that the fault was not his, but that of Dionysius who had his ears in his feet. Is the position of the ears, then, a matter of indifference ?6
The danger seen by Aristotle in carrying on discussion with some people is that the speaker may thereby destroy the quality of his argumentation:
A man should not enter into discussion with everybody or practice dialectics with the first comer as reasoning always becomes embittered where some people are concerned. Indeed, when an adversary tries by every possible means to wriggle out of a corner, it is legitimate to strive, by every possible means, to reach the conclusion; but this procedure lacks elegance.7
It is not enough for a man to speak or write; he must also be listened to or read. It is no mean thing to have a person’s attention, to have a wide audience, to be allowed to speak under certain circumstances, in certain gatherings, in certain circles. We must not forget that by listening to someone we display a willingness to eventually accept his point of view. There is great significance in the attitude of a Churchill forbidding British diplomats even to listen to any peace proposals German emissaries might try to convey or in the attitude of a political party when it makes known its willingness to hear any proposals of a politician engaged in forming a ministry, because they prevent the establishment or recognize the existence of the conditions preliminary to possible argumentation.
Achievement of the conditions preliminary to the contact of minds is facilitated by such factors as membership in the same social class, exchange of visits and other social relations. Frivolous discussions that are lacking in apparent interest are not always entirely unimportant, inasmuch as they contribute to the smooth working of an indispensable social mechanism.

§ 3. The Speaker and His Audience

The authors of scientific reports and similar papers often think that if they merely report certain experiments, mention certain facts, or enunciate a certain number of truths, this is enough of itself to automatically arouse the interest of their hearers or readers. This attitude rests on the illusion, widespread in certain rationalistic and scientific circles, that facts speak for themselves and make such an indelible imprint on any human mind that the latter is forced to give its adherence regardless of its inclination. An editor of a psychological journal, Katherine F. Bruner, likens such authors, who do not worry very much about their audience, to discourteous visitors:
They slouch into a chair, staring glumly at their shoes, and abruptly announce, to themselves or not, we never know, “It has been shown by such and such ... that the female of the white rat responds negatively to electric shock.”
“All right, sir,” I say. “So what? Tell me first why I should care; then I will listen.”8
It is true that these authors when addressing a learned society, or publishing an article in a specialized journal, can afford to neglect the means of entering into contact with their public, for the indispensable link between speaker and audience is provided by a scientific institution, the society, or the journal. In such a case, then, the author has merely to maintain, between himself and the public, the contact already established by the scientific institution.
But not everyone is in such a privileged position. For argumentation to develop, there must be some attention paid to it by those to whom it is directed. The prime concern of publicity and propaganda is to draw the attention of an indifferent public, this being the indispensable condition for carrying on any sort of argumentation. It is true that in a large n...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  10. I.: Agreement
  11. II.: The Choice of Data and Their Adaptation for Argumentative Purposes
  12. III.: Presentation of Data and Form of the Discourse
  14. I.: Quasi-Logical Arguments
  15. II.: Arguments Based on the Structure of Reality
  16. III.: The Relations Establishing the Structure of Reality
  17. IV.: The Dissociation of Concepts
  18. V.: The Interaction of Arguments