Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal

By Lester Thonssen; A. Craig Baird | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
TOWARD A PHILOSOPHY OF RHETORIC

Systems Require Internal Unity

"There is no philosophy," said T. V. Smith, "only philosophers and their philosophies." Surely there is no final philosophy of discourse. But though there may be no fixed certainties, conceptions of the meaning and function of the field of rhetoric are as numerous as investigators interested in examining it. This chapter is but one of those conceptions. It makes no pretense of offering distinctively new conclusions.

The need for philosophies arises from the complexity resulting from the application of theory to practice. One of the functions of criticism is to provide a certain internal unity of the various, and often conflicting, theories and judgments which make up the area of inquiry. A philosophy, or rationale, helps to bring together the many elements of a subject, thus articulating them with man's other interests in and obligations to the whole field of knowledge. Like all scholars, we seek an intelligent conception of our subject. We attempt to view the many parts in their essential relation to the whole. It is not a matter of our examining emotional proof by itself, or of appraising style by itself, or of viewing any one of the many other elements of the rhetorical art in isolation. As parts, they take on meaning only in their relation to the whole speaking performance in its social setting. Consequently, we feel a need for a set of principles which will bind the many concepts together. We seek what Bernard Bosanquet called a "connected vision of the totality of things."

Statements on the philosophy of our subject need to be rewritten often because the point of view toward oratory changes from period to period, and the known facts pertaining to it increase with the passing of time. Goethe once said that histories should be rewritten occasionally, not only because new facts come to light, "but because new aspects come to view, because the participant in the progress of an age is led to standpoints from which the past can be regarded and judged in a novel manner." The history of rhetoric

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