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As the Anarchists rage

2020 July 27 by

Here is a speech I’ve delivered a few times that speaks to the heart of the matter . . .

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Dialectic: Not Just a Game for Schoolboys!

2017 August 11 by

Enjoy . . .  Schoolboys2.0

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A gem I found at long last!

2017 June 6 by

I’ve looked for this paper three times in the past decade. I no longer have an electronic copy of it on my hard drive or any of my jump drives!  So, I created a pdf version from the sole surviving hard copy, which I unearthed, at long last, because we recently moved into an apartment and, lo and behold, there it was, in a folder, in a box, in the back of the storage locker!  Joy!  (The timing couldn’t be better, by the way. This will now be the very first essay we read in my “Readings in Rhetorical Reasoning” Summer Seminar).  Enjoy!


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“The End Game”

2017 March 16 by

As the mission trip to Hispania Terraconensis winds down, as they wait on their ship back to Rome, where the executioner awaits Paul, loose ends are addressed . . .

Of Rhetoric and Redemption in La Rioja

Chapter 15

End Game

It is Day Twenty-four. The ship sails for Rome tomorrow. Zenas, Paul, Clement, Epaphras, and I will return to Ostia, stop at Lucina’s for a quick meal and a brief accounting of our time in Hispania, then we will return Paul to his jailer in Rome “before sundown on Day Thirty, Maius 15.”  Clement returned with us to relieve his parents from worry.  Epaphras has to tend his fields.  We knew when we sailed that Epaphras would not be one of the brethren to stay behind and ordain leaders.

Before Barnabas and Aristarchus had even had a chance to shake the road dust from their garments, Paul asked for a report regarding developments in Astigi.  Barnabas replied that they had travelled a long, long distance down the Via Herculea but that they had become so busy with the harvest in Nova Carthago they decided to stay there, then return after the gathering in Tarraco, and press on to Astigi at that time. “The Via Herculea between Nova Carthago and Baetica is much more difficult than that going to Nova Carthago, from Tarraco, through Valentia, down the coast.”  “Here come the excuses.” Sometimes, Brother Paul can be such a . . ., I thought to myself.  Barnabas ignored him. “Astigi is deep in the interior of Hispania Baetica.  I was told it is a howling wilderness, and urged, because, beyond Nova Carthago it is so perilous, to man and beast, because of the mountains and the thieves, we were advised to not attempt a crossing until summer.” “I see,” said Paul.  “We were told it takes much longer to get to Astigi than one would expect, looking at the map.  So, since God’s Spirit was so manifestly at work in Nova Carthago . . ..”  “Yes, well, thanks be to God you are both here with us now.” Barnabas pointed out to Paul that it was a miracle they managed four whole days in Nova Carthago.  Paul hugged them and sent them off to get cleaned up.  He asked them to return by Evening Prayers, so he could include them in the equipping of the new converts.

Not wanting to disappoint, as he walked off, Barnabas assured Paul that, since he was staying behind, he would definitely fulfill the great apostle’s promise to Hierotheus.  Paul was overjoyed to hear from him that Hierotheus had, in fact, sent word that he would arrive in Tarraco in a few days.

Onesimus, upon learning that Hierotheus was coming, begged to stay in Tarraco just long enough to greet his old chum, whom he had not seen for years, since they were lads in Achaia.  He was granted permission, as long as he would promise to then hightail it up to Caesaraugusta, with Prosperus.  Prosperus announced, a few hours after our arrival in Tarraco, his decision to no longer work for Quintilian (whom he secretly suspected would never again set foot in Hispania Terraconensis). “I have decided,” he declared, “to accept Brother Paul’s kind offer, to enter fulltime pastoral ministry.” *  “Something tells me my master has gone to Rome, probably for good.  It will be an even greater honor to have apprenticed under Brother Paul and to spend my life in service to the Living God.” All were pleased with his decision, saw the wisdom in it, and gave glory to God.

(* According to an 8th-century Spanish tradition, Paul consecrated Prosperus first bishop of Tarragona.)

Paul, in front of everyone, instructed Onesimus that Prosperus’ apprenticeship as deacon was to begin immediately upon his arrival back in Caesaraugusta, that Onesimus was to tell Timothy to prepare Prosperus for the work of the ministry, taking him, at least, to Burdigala, then, when he was ready, to send him to Tarraco to serve as pastor of a church to be established there among the learned class of the Provincial Capital.  So, Prosperus concluded his affairs in Tarraco, which he expected would take at least two days, which coincided with Onesimus’ desire to reunite with Heirotheus.  All things work together for good.

Paul had his own item of business for Onesimus.  “Could you please relay to Timothy this message: Tell him I would like him to pray about finding me in Syrian Antioch, at Manæn’s place, where I have rooms.  If I should happen to be released permanently, that is where he will find me, or, if I am not there, I will leave word with Manæn.  “Ahem,” I interrupted.  Paul sniggered. “Well, brother, I guess I assumed . . . if I am not there, I will likely be at Luke’s then.”  When Paul was in my home town it was a given, he was my guest.  “Anyway, when spring comes, when the work in Gaul is finished, I will be ready to visit some of the churches among the Jews in Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, over to Pisidian Antioch, Colossae, and Ephesus, then back through Lystra and Derbe.  I should think he would wish to be by my side, by our side, for our return visit.  He could steal some time with his mother!  God willing it should take about a year.  Well, anyway, please have him pray about it.  Thanks.”  There were two significant features of Paul’s message to Timothy. First, he didn’t sound all that confident that the journey would actually take place.  He seemed to me like he was convincing himself.  Second, the fact he didn’t mention it to Barnabas was telling.  Come to think of it, there was a third: it is also telling that he assumed I would join him!  Ha!  I am always happy to serve.

We had good winds and fair weather all the way to Ostia.  Before we disembarked, Paul gave to me his manuscript.  It was entirely finished, he said, up to the benediction.  He intended to put the finishing touches on it in his jail cell.  I had made arrangements with our friend, Theophilus, his chief jailer, to make sure, if something were to happen to Paul, that I would receive those final leaves, “and nobody else.”  Paul mentioned also that he could not stop thinking about Quintilian’s view of the role of rhetoric in building bonds of community; how rhetoric “abides at the core of culture.”  “Luke, I know this is something about which you care very little, but please promise me you will always preserve, in the curriculum of our church schools, and in our program of study for preachers and teachers, the study of rhetoric and dialectic.”  Apparently, he had considered writing an exhortation to this effect, but felt he needed to stay focused on his letter, so he was trusting me. Time was short, he said. “Luke, you know how I have written so often about how the ‘joints and ligaments’ hold together the Body, in love?” “Absolutely, yes.  Those are some of the most poignant images you employ.” “Yes! And do you know why? Because, without strong bonds, the members cannot operate in harmony with one another; we would be all higgledy-piggledy.  This in no way brings glory to Our Lord.”  “No.  I understand.”  “Well,” Paul tilted his head slightly and redoubled his intensity, “the more I think about what Quintilian said, the more I realize how vital is rhetoric in the formation of bonds of love. And dialectic and rhetoric go hand in hand to harmonize the ideas that steer our motion. Not to mention the benefits related to the right handling of God’s Word, and of sermonizing! Our schools will neglect such wisdom at our peril.”  I think I understood what he was asking, but thought it best, under the circumstances to clarify details.  Schoolmasters would require detailed instructions; strong schools were vital to our mission.  “Any suggestions for specific works?” I asked.  “Good question.  Follow the pattern of the Hellenic Schools, generally. Liberal arts education is consistent, for the most part, with what we are about.  It will certainly produce the kind of leaders we are after.  Aristotle will be vital: his Analytics, Topics and Rhetoric, Poetics, and to some extent, his Ethics, but be careful with that one!  That was the first work of Aristotle I started to question, the more I understood ‘law and gospel.’  Do you remember how concerned with his own works was Quintilian? That he did good, therefore he was good, in God’s eyes?”  “Yes,” I said, “I must admit, I rolled my eyes a few times.”  “Straight out of Aristotle,” Paul bobbed his head and gestured with his pointer finger, as though pointing at a specific scroll.  “Plato has two especially good, very brief treatises: The Gorgias and The Phaedrus.  Those are good.  If that Quintilian ever writes anything on rhetoric or pedagogy, it would definitely be worth a look, too! Perhaps he will convert by th––. Say, we need to pray for that lad!”  So we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw Quintilian, and those around him, unto himself, and that he would find peace.

So, along with getting his manuscript published, I promised also to instruct our educators to teach rhetoric and dialectic as tools for building strong teachers and preachers, which would, in turn, build strong bonds that would help ensure the continued growth and sustenance of Christ’s Body.  I repeated it to him, more than once, to be sure I had his instructions correct.  He was right, being a man of science, these were matters too esoteric and metaphysical for my temperament.  But I did not allow ignorance of rhetoric and dialectic, nor of the business of publishing, to stop me from approaching these charges with a solemn sense of duty. They were the last wishes of a dying man. . . . A very important dying man.

Theophilus promised me I would have the final leaves.  When they were delivered, to Lucina’s, during the funeral, all was complete, up to and including the benediction.  After the final “Amen,” however, I found a few fragments of final greetings, as though he had been writing finishing up when they came for him.  After everyone left, I stayed up late to complete the fragments. I was heartbroken to realize that, apparently, Paul still had hoped he would be released.  Maybe he believed he’d outlive Nero?   He wrote:You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.” With tears in my eyes, I closed out the letter simply (and anonymously, per Paul’s instructions,) “Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Greetings from Italy. Grace be with you all.”  I thought, “the less I add, the better.” I confess to you, dear reader, that I added the final greetings and pray that you will not hold it against me. It seemed, under the circumstances, proper and salutary to conclude with a succinct, typical greeting.  If I miscalculated, please forgive me.

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Dr. Albert R. Jonsen

2017 February 18 by

I just found this very nice tribute to my mentor in clinical ethics and casuistry.  It was a real privilege to learn from him for 3 years and to have him serve on my doctoral committee.  The Good Lord bless and keep you, Dr. Jonsen.

[click here]

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Axioms of Rhetorical Reasoning (9 Feb 17)

2017 February 9 by

Kind of jazzed about how God is granting grace to articulate to my high school students (via Wittenberg Academy) the “how and why” of excelling in “shared moral inquiry.”  Comments, please . . .

Understanding this excerpt from a paper I wrote long ago, derived from my doctoral dissertation, along with the discussion forum below, will complete your understanding of casuistry, and we will be ready to tackle the Jehovah’s Witness and Blood Transfusion Case, then write an ethics consultation about it.  (That paper is due end of February.)

Read these paragraphs (from “Toward a Rhetorical Ethics,“) then follow the directions below . . .

George Kennedy makes precisely this distinction [between the techne of rhetoric and rhetorical reasoning] when he writes that the work of rhetoric, in Aristotle’s view,

[I]s ‘to discover [theoresai] the available means of persuasion’ (1.1.1355b25-6). It is thus a theoretical activity and discovers knowledge. This knowledge, which includes words, arguments, and topics, is then used by the orator as the material cause of a speech. There is thus a theoretical art of rhetoric standing behind or above the productive art of speech-making (emphasis mine). 

Rhetorical reason is the theoretical activity that constitutes a faculty of discovery (dunamis to theoresai) which guides inquiry into the heart of the case.  . . .  this essay focuses on [four] implications of rhetorical reason so conceived . . .: (1) That shared inquiry is more desirable than individual inquiry in the moral realm because (2) shared inquiry provides for the rigor appropriate to the moral realm. (3) That understanding the role of special topics in rhetorical reasoning contributes to topical doctrine in a long anticipated fashion, and that (4) Rhetorical reason so conceived clarifies the domain of rhetoric. Rhetoricians will readily note that questions of communal applications of rhetorical invention, of rigor conceived in other than hypothetico-deductive terms and of applications for special topics entail practical concerns at the heart of the restoration of rhetorical invention.

My conceptualization of rhetorical reasoning is supported by interpreting the reasoning processes implied in the talk of a medical ethics committee who met to resolve an actual moral dilemma.  The means for interpreting that talk are suggested by Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin’s The Abuse of Casuistry.   Jonsen and Toulmin advocate the rehabilitation and revival of casuistical inquiry as a means of resolving moral dilemmas in medical practice.   In their historical treatment of the roots of casuistry, Jonsen and Toulmin discuss the rich contribution of classical rhetoric to casuistry; that casuistry is essentially rhetorical reason applied to moral dilemmas, and that rhetorical reasoning may be understood in terms of the combined function of topics, stasis, maxims and phronesis.

In their discovery role, topoi serve a twofold narrowing function: (1) They guide inquiry by prompting questions. (2) They set parameters by (along with phronesis) ascribing degrees of relevance to the issues encountered during the course of inquiry. The special topic “cordons off” one aspect of the moral dilemma into a manageable part, and then, by the function of those subtopics which arise naturally from the issues indigenous to the case, it prompts questions that help delineate which issues are most relevant with regard to the need to render a reasonable judgment. Special topics are issues that guide inquiry; they prompt questions in order to “hunt out relevant issues” as it were.   Special topics function in rhetorical reason by perpetually raising the question: Out of this parade of particulars, which are relevant and which are not? As the relevant issues are brought in closer proximity, the various relations that obtain between competing issues become clearer; exigencies arise which prompt ques­tions. Issues in question are stasis points.

As the various points of stasis are treated, the crux of the matter comes into view. Stasis plays a relatively passive role in rhetorical reason in the sense that it is the target at which inquiry aims. That is so because the topics quide the inquiry and phronesis informs the actual judgment regarding whose interpretation of the question at stake is most reliable. Maxims are important in rhetorical reason because arguments about conflicting interpretations of what is at stake often end when a maxim is hit upon.

Maxims provide focus in moral inquiry by (1) signalling the close of a line of questioning, or (2) alerting those involved that the line from specificity to abstractness is about to be crossed. In any given moral inquiry there exists a line from specificity to abstractness, and if it is crossed too often, the group’s principle charge (rendering a reasonable judgment in the case at hand*) may be jeopardized.

Maxims operate as an alarm; keeping the inquiry on task. That is, because practical inquiry differs from philosophic inquiry, commonly held assumptions sometimes rest at the starting place of a given argument. Maxims lie very close to the point at which discovery ends and argumentation begins; they signal that point, in fact. Maxims are decisive; to challenge a maxim in the context of practical inquiry would show a lack of prudence. 

Maxims are decisive in moral inquiry by virtue of the power exerted by dialectic on mental operations of this sort.

George Kennedy writes that, for Aristotle, the functions of rhetoric and dialectic, “are parallel movements, virtually identical in con­tent; both deal with matters which are common subjects of knowledge among men; neither falls within any distinct science.”  The domain of rhetoric, as Cicero established, is the realm of the particular case; dialectic operates in the domain of the general proposition. The point at which a given inquiry discovers a general proposition stated in maximal form may be understood as a dialectical moment. Contradictions (or conflicting interpretations) are clearly illuminated, and the inquiry progresses only when one of the contradictories is embraced and the other rejected.

A spouse might, for example, decide to discontinue life support for her husband whom, she concluded would prefer not to live in his present state because, being terminally ill, ventilator dependent and heavily drugged is, in fact, more like “existing” than “living.” The wife’s decision in our example is grounded squarely on a dialectical distinction. Again, dialectic and rhetoric are parallel faculties that operate in different domains. The reasoning process illustrated by means of the example is utterly dialectical, however, the concern is not with securing the truth of a general proposition, but with establishing which maxim is most reasonably applied to the instant case. Although the example functions dialectically, the domain is rhetorical: by virtue of its concern with good action on behalf of a particular patient it is more accurately viewed as a rhetorical operation.   The above also illustrates that the maxim, “One ought not be forced to continue in a situation that is more like existing than living,” is decisive because, to contradict it is clearly not in the patient’s best interest. That care givers ought always act in their patient’s best interest is an unchallenged principle in biomedicine.  (The difficulty comes in determining, in the given dilemma, what is in the patient’s best interest!) The above helps illustrate two things:

(1) How dialectical and rhetorical inquiry are related, and

(2) Why maxims are decisive in practical inquiry.

Maxims are properly granted presumptive truth in practical inquiry; philosophic inquiry, on the other hand, begins with the critique of premises. In other words, the degree of disputation one encounters in philo­sophical discourse is inappropriate to practical discourse. In this sense one could say that philosophic inquiry begins where practical inquiry leaves off. Or, as John Henry Freese puts it: “Maxims are to enthymemes as premises are to syllogisms.”   Maxims, topoi and stases all help guide the inquiry toward its mark, but these alone are insufficient to guarantee success. The procedures of rhetorical reasoning discussed above guide moral inquiry; phronesis provides the movement.

If there is any hope of rendering moral judgments in a timely fashion, and without lapsing into arbitrariness, one must take a methodical approach to managing the particulars and stay close to the case until the crux of the matter comes into view and the correct judgment is relatively clear. Rhetorical reasoning provides the method; practical wisdom drives rhetorical reason in a variety of ways: Whenever parties involved in the inquiry bring to bear on the instant case past experiences, analogous cases, legal precedents, or even intuition. In order to be considered reasonable, a given judgment must acquire its moral force by the operation of practical wisdom. As practical wisdom brings together the combined moral force of all the probabilities that converge at the heart of a dilemma, moral certitude builds.

* Note added 2/9/17:  where the aim is action, not contemplation of principles!


Now you have all the “working parts” needed to understand Tallmon on rhetorical reasoning.  If you now proceed to the “Two Axioms” discussion forum, I will spell out for you what are the Two Axioms of Practical Reasoning one can infer from all the above!
  • (This is from the “Two Axioms” forum . . .)

When one combines all the various considerations discussed in the article [excerpt] you just read, it is clear that, in the actual practice of shared moral inquiry, in which a group attempts to do the right thing, on behalf of another, where the right thing is debatable, one ought to observe these two axioms:

(1) One ought not expect or assert more precision than the nature of the question admits.

and another like it,

(2) One ought not expect or assert more certainty than the nature of the case admits.

If you think about it, people run into difficulties when they approach a general question with too much specificity, and vice versa.  Think about it: If you are asked a specific question and give a general answer, people look at you funny!  By the same token, if you are asked a question that is very tentative, and you answer as though God himself has spoken to you on the matter, you are headed for the looney bin!!  Am I right?

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What I’ve taught for years

2017 January 28 by

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.

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Anyone Interested in Discussing Francis Bacon?

2017 January 21 by

Reading here reminded me of how intrigued I was with Sir Fracis Bacon’s works when we studied them in grad school.  While reading there, I came across this overview:

Book II of the Advancement of Learning and Books II to IX of the De Augments Scientarium contain an unprecedentedly thorough and detailed systematization of the whole range of human knowledge. Bacon begins with a distinction of three faculties—memory, imagination, and reason—to which are respectively assigned history, “poesy,” and philosophy.

Would anyone be interested in taking 4 Sunday afternoons, during Lent, to read and discuss Sir Francis Bacon’s doctrine regarding “Idols of the Mind” and some of his thoughts on rhetoric, reasoning, judgment, and learning?  Focusing, as the above suggests, on Book II, §81ff of Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum Book I, §50ff, and a couple essays I’ve written?

See the works of Bacon here []

and my page on Rhetorical Reasoning [here]

Let me know if you’re interested.

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Exponential Growth of Classical Christian Ed

2017 January 9 by

I was visiting with one of my students the other day, whom I taught in grades 7 & 8 at a Lutheran classical school.  He is now a Junior in public high school.  I made a crack about our uniform code and he said he wears whatever he wants now, because “this school is a joke.”  But, he said, “I would gladly wear that uniform. That was real school.” Simple. Pithy. Classical Christian Education is real.  Here’s the article:


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