New Year’s Resolution (31 Dec 16)

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Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It . . . is not irritable or resentful;  it . . . rejoices with the truth.  Love never ends. As for . . . knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. (abridged from 1 Corinthians 13)

2016 has been a helluva year! Nobody disputes that. Our nation is sorely divided. Nobody disputes that, either. Since the presidential election I have heard many exclaim we need to sit down at the table together and actually listen to one another. I’m not going to lie, I plan to exploit this sentiment. I have been trying my whole professional life to spark a Rhetorical Revolution.

Rhetoric, as I view it, is an art of speaking the truth in love to my neighbor, with my neighbor’s improvement in mind, in a way that fosters mutual respect and love of truth. Rhetoric employs Truth, Beauty, and Goodness to move the soul of auditors toward the Good. This is a very idealized (and Christianized) understanding of rhetorical arts, but not one without adherents amongst great thinkers in the Western Tradition. In this reflection, rather than focus on rhetorical arts, i.e., persuasive speaking, I wish to shift focus, slightly, to the art of shared moral inquiry that precedes the art of argumentation. Given our need to sit down together and hear one another (and, of course my desire to exploit the occasion!!) the rationale for focusing on shared moral inquiry makes sense. Yes? Perhaps the time is ripe?

Shared moral inquiry, involves persons pooling their collective wisdom, intelligence, backgrounds, and perspectives, to inquire into the crux of the matter in a difficult case, to decide a course of action, usually on behalf of another. It is “communal or dialogical,” its aim is action, and it is not adversarial. It is moral reasoning conducted within the setting of deliberations about a dilemma that is too complex for one person to tackle in isolation. Rhetorical reason is integral to success in shared moral inquiry, as are dialectical inference and practical wisdom. Casuistry is a mode of shared moral inquiry.

If rhetorical reasoning, or “rhetorical intelligence” (to harken “emotional intelligence” or “multiple intelligences,”) were to ascend to its former status, persons will have, in their “intellectual toolbox,” a ready means of seeking mutual understanding that has been “out of vogue” since the Cartesian Revolution. For much of history rhetorical reason has been left to chance or native ability, and the speech-making aspect of rhetoric has been privileged so that invention has been associated primarily with building arguments, but neglected as a means of inquiry. However, prior to the Cartesian Revolution, especially in the realm of jurisprudence, rhetorical invention was associated with inquiry into the crux of the matter. And this art of rhetorical inquiry “has not been taught seriously and widely for at least two hundred years” (Bitzer and Black, The Prospect of Rhetoric, 1971, p. 239).

Since this elusive methodology has never been fully explicated, nor stabilized, rhetorical reason has not occupied its rightful place in theory and praxis for 300 years now. Beginning in 2017, I resolve to redouble my efforts to revive rhetorical reason as an architectonic art. If you will join me, and we succeed, we can expect the following fruits to bloom in the desert that is America’s civic discourse:

• Empathy
• Strengthened Social bonds
• Mutual respect
• Responsible action
• Unity (as opposed to division)
• Harmony (as opposed to tension)

These are all potential fruits, of course. There is no guarantee, but one thing is certain: militancy, shouting each other down and sniping isn’t working too well. Do you feel me? Will you join the Revolution?

December 31st 2016 |

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