What I’ve taught for years

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Senator Ben Sasse eloquently commends the March for Lifers in a way that makes a point, about the difference between winning an argument, or grabbing headlines, versus  winning hearts and minds.  The former is a matter of agitation and, best case, dialectic; the latter is a matter of rhetoric and speaking the truth in love.

January 28th 2017 |

Comments (2)

  • Jim Tallmon says...

    Also from the 2017 March for Life:

    Posted on Saturday, January 28th 2017 at 8:34 am

  • Dr. Tallmon says...

    AND . . .

    Here is an extended excerpt from a piece I’m working up for publication (apologies for the length):

    Style is about crafting strong mental imagery and also building to crescendo. Figures of speech help build both beautiful imagery and strong rhythm. The canon of style is about introducing to one’s argumentation both poetry and aesthetics. It’s about communicating truth with beauty and grace, which adds impulse to the Truth. Rhetoric, in the final analysis, moves the soul toward the Good. So, we teach our students to “preside over their art with secure mastery” (see Dunne). We teach them, not dry, sterile communication of ideas, but to combine good reasons with passion and vivid imagery to pique the imagination, which stirs the emotions, which moves the will. Vivacity is a key concept in classical rhetoric. The lively idea is what is “striking” to the audience. The opposite of a lively idea is a dead one. So, vivid imagery is key to giving one’s argument rhetorical potency. If one’s argument is potent enough, and the audience will supply a little imagination, one can be transported through the use of metaphor. It must not escape notice, however, that the act of appealing to the audience’s imagination is, in itself, complimentary to their humanity; it cultivates in them moral imagination and aesthetic sensibilities. But this power must be wielded with grace, decorum, propriety, proportion and measure, so, even when it comes to the fanciful dimensions of rhetoric, good judgment is cultivated.

    C. Goodness: Rhetorical studies impinge on both the personal and public good.

    Mastering rhetoric can teach one to BE Good (to establish trust) and AIM at THE GOOD, to make “true” one’s persuasion. The former entails the goodness cultivated within the rhetor (virtue); the latter, the Goodness to which our rhetoric points (but also, in a deeper sense, FROM which our rhetoric points!). Trust is a precondition of persuasion. Why would one allow oneself to be persuaded by one whose word cannot be trusted? Credibility counts. Similarly, creating a “nagging feeling” in the minds of one’s audience that one’s aim is not true, that the proposed course of action may lead to ruination, tends to militate against one’s rhetorical success!

    In Book 12 of his Institutes of Oratory, Quintilian argues that an orator must be a good man because he is educated to lead and a leader cannot create civic virtue, through good laws, and by praising virtue, if he has not cultivated virtue himself, or if his judgment is warped. To speak credibly on affairs of state, the speaker must be credible, and love both the state and its citizens. (In this stance, Quintilian informs Luther’s sentiment about the role of liberal arts education in equipping students for leadership in the “temporal estate.”)

    One is reminded that Plato’s prescription for “redeeming” rhetoric, elucidated in his Phaedrus, entails a methodology grounded in the study of the soul. Aristotle took seriously Plato’s suggestion, so, in his treatise on rhetoric, he makes “ethos” (personal character) one of the three “modes of artistic proof.” Aristotle asserts, of ethos, that a trustworthy character is one of the requisites of persuading because “We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided” (1356a 3). In fact, he writes, “character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion [the rhetor] possesses” (1356a 5). Later, in Book II, Aristotle identifies phronesis, or practical wisdom or prudence, with ethos.   This is a key extension because phronesis is exercised with respect to the other. Plato’s negative view of the Sophists was motivated by his conviction that their distortions would warp the soul of Athenians.

    Cicero, in “De officiis,” similarly notes that “man is the only living being that has a sense of order, decorum and moderation in word and deed,” then offers an account for how this aesthetic is acquired:

    No other creature is touched by the beauty, grace and symmetry of visible objects; and the human mind transferring these conceptions from the material to the moral world recognises that this beauty, harmony and order are still more to be maintained in the sphere of purpose and of action; reason shuns all that is unbecoming or unmanly, all that is wanton in thought or deed (Bk. I, 4).

    Cicero even posits that the man who has a well-constituted character will not countenance corrupt rulers because of, in part, the sense of decorum and moderation acquired through right education.

    Posted on Saturday, January 28th 2017 at 10:06 am

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