A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric

A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric

A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric

A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric

Synopsis

Walter H. Beale offersthe most coherent treatment of the aims and modes of discourse to be presented in more than a decade. His development of a semiotic "grammar of motives" that relates the problems of meaning in discourse both to linguistic structure and ways of constructing reality stands as a provocative new theory of rhetoric sharply focused on writing.

He includes a comprehensive treatment of rhetoric, its classes and varieties, modes, and strategies. In addition, he demonstrates the importance of the purpose, substance, and social context of discourse, at a time when scholarly attention has become preoccupied with process. He fortifies and extends the Aristotelian approach to rhetoric and discourse at a time when much theory and pedagogy have yielded to modernist assumptions and methods. And finally, he develops a theoretical framework that illuminates the relationship between rhetoric, the language arts, and the human sciences in general.

Excerpt

Is it either possible or useful to talk systematically about "kinds of discourse," as opposed to "processes of discourse"? Can anything beyond the sorts of rough-and-ready generic distinctions that one makes in ordinary parlance contribute substantially either to criticism or to general understanding? Should rhetorical theory attempt to deal with the motives and substance, as well as the forms and processes, of discourse? in this book I want to provide affirmative answers to these questions by suggesting a more coherent and provocative perspective on written discourse than is currently available, either from rhetoricians or communication theorists. My primary aim is to construct a theory of written rhetoric which will provide both a rationale and a foundation for the study of rhetorical literature, a field firmly established within the discipline of speech communication but much neglected by students of writing, literature, and the written word.

The method and scope of this book are informed by two perspectives that at least partially differentiate it from other books on rhetoric: the first lies in the concept of "pragmatic theory," by which I mean, first of all, a theory that is concerned primarily with what human beings do with discourse, rather than with the linguistic and cognitive conditions that underlie the doing. Such a theory will focus inevitably on acts of discourse--their kinds, functions, typical settings, and the strategies that are employed in their construction--instead of unconscious underlying processes. It is vitally concerned with "the composing process," insofar as that term encompasses the human motives and social conditions that bring discourse into being, as well as the processes by which acts of discourse are begun, shaped to fulfill certain goals, and concluded. However, a pragmatic theory will be concerned with these things as matters of conscious choice or typical action rather than as underlying mental disposition. It will make no claims about the nature of creativity or the dynamics of conceptualization. It is primarily concerned with the act of discourse as a human action, in its typicality and in its uniqueness.

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