Discuss the future of rhetoric in our electronic age. Look at major theorists and movements, and how they have expanded our current understanding of rhetoric. You might take a closer look at concepts such as Deconstruction or the Rhetoric of Display insofar as they influence our post-modern discourse. You might note how rhetoric has substantially changed from the classical model, and incorporate the different socio-political climates and other factors relating to the degree of influence/importance on our present-day rhetoric.
Future of Rhetoric in our Electronic Age
The early use of rhetoric is evident in Plato’s work, ‘Gorgias’, written in 4th century B.C. Plato held a negative view of rhetoric – rhetoric was the means by which clever individuals in society exploited their audience. The clever used rhetoric to convince their audience into doing what they wished, and for their advantage or gains. Plato’s ideas on use of philosophy seem to have influenced other philosophers such as John Locke who held the belief that rhetoric might mislead the judgment of individuals. While particular philosophers felt that rhetoric was more of an uncanny way to influence others, others found value in the use of rhetoric various literal fields. Various icons in literary works such as Wayne Booth have come out strongly to defend the use of rhetoric. He argues that rhetoric dominates all other verbal pursuits such as history, grammar, poetry, and others.
Major theorists and movements have tremendously expanded the current understanding of rhetoric in the modern world. The Sophists played a great role in expanding the current understanding of rhetoric. Sophists comprised of a group of orators, advocates, and educationists. The Greek word ‘Sophistes’ referred to an educator, or the modern day equivalent of a professor. In the traditional period, Sophists provided various services related to rhetoric, or the use of words to persuade or please others. As such, majority of them considered themselves as educators, while others worked as professional speechwriters. Others delivered speeches either for entertainment value or for legislative purposes such as in court. Sophists gained popularity for their “extravagant displays of language” (Herrick, 2015, P. 34). They had unique and brilliant styles that they often used to woo their audience. Additionally, they maintained flamboyant personalities.
In the early period, sophists gained fame and prominence due to their outstanding style of language and their ability to command the attention of the audience. They were also wealthy and thus able to maintain lavish lifestyles. Sophists were great teachers. They would make their students memorize speeches, also known as dialectical teaching. Nonetheless, the Sophists also drew controversy due to the use of stylistic techniques and wit to win arguments or persuade crowds. In fact, some developed contempt towards Sophists and their teaching methods – this group held the notion that their methods were mainly deceptive (Kennedy, 2011). Philosophers such as Aristotle described Sophists as deceptive and manipulative. However, a part of the reason why the Sophists elicited contempt from people is because they charged exorbitant fees for their services, while philosophers and others were mainly teaching free. In the process, they became wealthy and thus drew more attention to themselves.
Gorgias played a critical role in influencing the Sophists’ style of teaching in ancient Greece. Gorgias developed a theory of rhetoric that became the benchmark for later Sophist scholars and educators. Gorgias described his profession as purely a persuader. His other roles involved teaching rhetoric in ancient Greece. He also strongly defended the practice of rhetoric against critics. Gorgias used persuasive words to make people agree in his views. Gorgias’ influence was so strong that majority of scholars described it as having the magical powers similar to those exuded by Pythagoras (Herrick, 2015). Gorgias payed keen interest to specific sounds of words that he believed could manipulate audiences if used well. To Gorgias, words served as a specific replica of reality. Gorgias developed numerous stylistic devices meant to convince the audience. He believed that words were powerful and could inspire the human spirit. Gorgias developed the antithesis stylistic device commonly used even today. Antithesis is the use of opposing words or ideas in a paragraph.
Protagoras is another famous stylist who greatly contributed to the expansion of the field of rhetoric. Protagoras improved the theory surrounding rhetorical practices. Protagoras is among the first Greek Sophists known to charge for their services, which mainly involved teaching (Herrick, 2015). Protagoras believed in the aspect of relative truth. In line with this, he held a strong belief that it was impossible to prove the existence of gods owing to the mysteries surrounding the topic and the brevity of life. Protagoras contributed immensely to the field of rhetoric. He introduced practical approaches to problem solving especially with regard to personal questions and political dilemmas. On his view about rhetoric inquiry, all arguments have particular or matching counter arguments. This is similar to the position or opinion held by Gorgias (Herrick, 2015). Protagoras method of teaching involved drawing contradictory statements relating to any subject under concern. Accordingly, strong arguments are those that withstood the criticism of those against them.
Isocrates is another notable practitioner that greatly advanced knowledge and understanding on rhetoric. He spent a part of his career life writing speeches for powerful individuals for a fee. In 390 B.C., he developed the first rhetorical school that was located in Athens (Herrick, 2015). Isocrates drew inspiration from Gorgias, and at one time became his student. He was mostly interested in the ongoing in the Greek political arena. His works show his enthusiasm in politics and political involvement. Isocrates developed the earliest political writings that later became political treatises. Isocrates speeches not only meant to persuade the audience, but rather to help the political leaders make the correct choices. Isocrates was concerned with improving Athens’s political field rather than making entertaining speeches (Herrick, 2015). Isocrates introduced two critical concepts in rhetoric, which include thematic and pragmatic elements. Thematic element relates to the relevance of the rhetoric to important matters while the pragmatic element relates to the impact of rhetoric on the audience’s life.
Deconstruction has a pervasive and profound impact in post-modern discourse. The term ‘deconstruction’ has a technical term that was developed by Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida as a method for reading and understanding texts (Norris, 2002). Misunderstandings of the term deconstruction have occurred in various places such as the U.S. where it refers to reader response theory. The reader response theory proposes that a reader understands text through encountering it. The true meaning of the term is evident in the European context where it the interpretation is viewed as reaction to structuralism. For this reason, various scholars commonly regard deconstruction as the poststructuralist approach or way (Norris, 2002). Proponents of structuralism held the belief that linguistic structures defined individual thought. Structuralism hence disregarded the importance of particular subjects in establishing cultural meanings. Thus, the perception here is structuralism nearly broke down the subjects into various cultural forces.
Deconstruction argued that the various structures of meaning were neither stable nor universal. However, it concurred with the idea that human subjects are merely a cultural construction. Scholars refer to deconstruction model as “anti-humanist” (Norris, 2002). This is because it is similar to the social theories that categorize human action or thought as a form of cultural structures. Contrary to expectation, scholars misunderstood deconstruction in the U.S., and later known as the anti-humanist theory. This led to the misrepresentation that texts refer to or mean what a person construes as what they mean. According to Derrida, deconstruction does not mean a method of reading, but it is an activity involved in reading texts. Deconstruction uses discernible techniques in enriching the activity of reading. As such, majority of deconstructive arguments involve evaluating the conceptual oppositions present in a reading, for instance, the opposition found between speech and writing.
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A person involved in deconstructing is supposed to look for variances in meanings of words as used in social practice, argument, or text. Particular words, such as those considered as general or normal words, may receive privilege while others may be exceptional. Others may be privileged based on perceptions of having more value, or being true, than their opposite. Deconstructing privilege can occur in several ways. For instance, an individual may seek to find the reasons for privileging a particular word or concept over another, and whether the opposite applies (Norris, 2002). Deconstruction is widely applied in legal circles in form of an ideological critique. In this case, deconstruction is more useful since ideologies involve putting extra favoritism on particular social life features while disregarding others as less important. Deconstruction emphasizes more on looking for what is overlooked, suppressed or deemphasized in various ways, especially in relation to established legal doctrines.
Derrida’s approach to deconstruction is a postmodern attempt to reverse the Western rationalism on the same. Derrida arguments serve to counter the traditional thinking relating to language and meaning (Herrick, 2015). As aforementioned, deconstruction is not a method, but rather a process or an activity. With regard to the postmodern discourse, deconstruction does not serve as a means of interpreting texts, but rather a process of reading texts. Derrida focuses attention to language of texts, arguing that the major aim is to ensure the text considers the linguistic, social and historical conception of individual’s practices or beliefs. Derrida observes that philosophy, like other doctrines, is not exceptional from the various vagaries that affect writing. Not only is language construed as a means of taking the place of words, but also a means through which the various oppositions and relations can be clearly defined (Herrick, 2015). Derrida goes beyond the traditional notion involving simple oppositions such as “faith and reason”, or “mind and body”.
Deconstruction influences the postmodern discourse by reevaluating the traditional concepts relating to opposition, meaning and structure. The traditional view of these fundamental concepts establishes stability in situations where there should be none (Kennedy, 2011). These concepts are unstable and hence the traditional notion fails by introducing the aspect of stability. Derrida holds the view that “meaning” fails to provide any conceptual definition, perhaps the reason why he referred to deconstruction as a “process”, rather than giving it a conceptual meaning. Deconstruction of discourse is thus relevant in helping individuals reexamine arguments that might show misrepresentation from carelessly attributing meaning to terms. Deconstruction thus looks at the various “oppositions” present in a particular discourse and that give the probable meaning. Deconstruction also helps in establishing ways in which concepts are interrelated and with regard to their respective opposites.
When identification of oppositions in text occurs, much of them may seem self-defeating or self-contradictory. Deconstruction is thus a way of establishing the major premise or concept of a particular argument. Jonathan Culler describes deconstructing discourses as “to show how it undermines the oppositions on which it relies, by identifying in the text the rhetorical operations that produce the….key concept or premise” (as cited in Herrick, 2015, p. 256). Derrida provides a concise example of how deconstructing a discourse may occur in relation to nuclear deterrence. Terms such as “war” considered as stable are defined by contrasting them with their opposite, which is “peace”. Therefore, when individuals evaluate the likelihood of war occurring, then it becomes imperative to contrast the term to peace. According to Derrida, those who advocated for nuclear deterrence based their argument on defense or the possibility of a nuclear attack.
Substantial changes in rhetoric from the classical model
Contemporary rhetoric is substantially different from the classical model. In the classical model, rhetoric is common during the Greek and Roman influence. Use of rhetoric is also evident in Christian Europe. Rhetoric was widely used during the renaissance period in Europe. Rhetoric in the classical model was primarily used in letter writing, making influential speeches, and in drafting important documents such as legal documents (Herrick, 2015). During the renaissance period, rhetoric was highly regarded due to its importance in speech. Indeed, during this period, speech was a critical determiner of success (especially in gaining political power). The renewed interest in speech increased the demand for learning the classical rhetoric and using it for influence through public oratory. Renaissance scholars relied much on scholars from the classical periods such as Isocrates, Gorgias, and others. Contemporary rhetoric has evolved in form and function from the classical model as shown in the section below.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was reduced interest in rhetorical theory worldwide. Use of rhetoric was considered traditional and having no place in the contemporary world with new ways of thinking and doing things. The superiority of the scientific method was incomparable to any traditional methods such as the use of rhetoric, and therefore became the standard for logical thinking. However, with time, the realization occurred that the scientific method did not offer sound solutions or rationale to the moral and social problems bedeviling the society (Herrick, 2015). This is because science is only suited for conducting investigations on natural phenomena, rather than social occurrence. Some of the scientific arguments did not go through thorough tests, but only accepted based on persuasiveness. This was another major setback on the use of science. In the contemporary understanding, rhetoric is a means by which assessment of human values occurs, and the way to solving conflicts among individuals or communities.
The modern rhetorical discourse is different from the classical model in that it provides argumentation about the structure. Various contemporary scholars such as Chaim Perelman, Jurgen Habermas, and Stephen Toulmin have dedicated their work to examining the logical structure of common arguments (Herrick, 2015). Such scholars establish the relationship between arguments and any values inferred. The goal of contemporary scholars is to deepen the current rhetoric in such a way that it can provide solutions to much of the social problems or challenges facing individuals. Contemporary rhetoric thus aims at improving the quality social lives of individuals. In the classical model, rhetorical discourse aims at improving public oratory, mainly for the politically ambitious. Classical scholars mainly utilized rhetorical knowledge to advance speeches, which was a way of earning a living for them. In the contemporary world, the scholars do not apply rhetorical discourse as a means of enrichment.
In the contemporary settings, various cultures maintain different values that often breed confusion in trying to establish moral claims. Contemporary scholars such as Olbrechts-Tyceta and Perelman argue that no claim can be justifiably true on its own. However, through public argumentative processes, testing about the truthfulness of various prepositions can occur. This is rather different from the classical rhetorical scholars. Classical models assume that claims can be self-evidently true (Perelman, 1979). For instance, the classical scholars held the notion that any argument could be true, depending on the way they argued and using rhetoric to persuade the audience. The duo asserts that effective argumentation can only occur when the audience is sufficiently knowledgeable in the propositions under consideration. This different from the classical scholars whose main aim was to woo the audience with stylistic techniques.
Rhetoric has substantially changed in relation to the nature of audience and the permissible behaviors or utterances of the orator. In other words, contemporary rhetoric emphasizes the need for orators to take into consideration the presence of a universal audience. Contemporary orators must imagine themselves as addressing a universal audience in order to avoid falling prey to the use of local prejudices. Modern orators should also perceive their audience as rational thinkers who have the capabilities to evaluate what they say. According to Perelman (1979), modern orators must act as moral advocates who are both rational and open to the concept of universality of human beings. The orator is thus able to treat all people equally, with dignity & respect, and further recognizing and appreciating individual differences. The orator cannot favor anyone, and must be impartial to the ethnic background of the audience.
Contemporary scholars emphasize the importance of argument in rhetoric, noting that it solves the challenges that emerge in the social context of individuals (Herrick, 2015). Other scholars argue that rhetoric is a reflection of the structure, logic, and language present in a particular narrative or drama. In the classical model, the main point of rhetorical discourse was on the audience. In the contemporary discourse, there are additional points of view such as the cultural context and the nature of the rhetoric itself. Contemporary scholars hold the notion that use of rhetoric has the ability to employ symbols to fundamentally alter communities. For instance, they hold the view that lasting peace is possible by employing rhetoric to social problems.
There have been tremendous changes in the use of rhetoric in our electronic age. Rhetoric in the classical period is common in improving public oratory. In the early period, Sophists were more popular due to the use stylistic techniques or the art of rhetoric to influence the audience. Classical theorists such as Gorgias, Protagoras, and Isocrates gained wealth and fame by mastering the art of rhetoric. Nonetheless, their methods drew condemnation from a section of critics. This is because their methods involved manipulation of the audience. Deconstruction is espoused as a process of reading texts. Deconstruction is necessary in ensuring the text considers the linguistic, social and historical conception of individual’s practices or beliefs. In the contemporary world, rhetoric mainly provides argumentation concerning structure.
Herrick, J. A. (2015). History and theory of rhetoric: an introduction. United Kingdom, UK: Routledge.
Kennedy, G. A. (2011). A New History of Classical Rhetoric. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Norris, C. (2002). Deconstruction: theory and practice. United Kingdom, UK: Routledge.
Perelman, C. (1979). The New Rhetoric and the Humanities: Essays on Rhetoric and its Applications. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.