Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Argumentation Studies in the Wake of the New Rhetoric

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Argumentation Studies in the Wake of the New Rhetoric

Article excerpt

Those who resisted the Nazi tyranny, Jonathan Glover observes in his Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, tended to come from homes in which children were encouraged to reason through argument (382). Children raised by parents who used physical means of gaining compliance or an authoritarian style of childrearing were much less likely to rescue Jews. Glover cites research conducted by the Oliners, who carefully document why some chose the moral path during World War II. Glover and the Oliners conclude that habits of reasoning, expressed through argument and questioning, elicit concern for the other and recognition of values beyond one's own. Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca detected this connection between argumentation and moral action.

Seeking a philosophical balm for the wounds of post-war Europe, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca re-discovered rhetoric and argumentation, seeing that they could foster the "contact of minds" necessary for the reconstruction of civil society. This is an odd phrase, but it reflects their aspiration that reasoning rather than violence should be the primary means of dealing with disagreement. Between 1947 and 1984, Perelman, alone and in collaboration with Olbrechts-Tyteca, translated this aspiration into the New Rhetoric Project (NRP), which was expressed in a number of books, articles, and conference papers. The most complete expression of the project was published in 1958 as Traite de l'argumentation: la nouvelle rhetorique (known in French speaking countries as Traite), which was translated into English in 1970 as The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (known in English speaking countries as The New Rhetoric). Perelman set the agenda for the collaboration, as his solitary writings on a host of subjects before his collaboration with Olbrechts-Tyteca identified the key issues and problems addressed in the NRP. Olbrechts-Tyteca played a major role in the development of the examples and middle range theory (Warnick, 1998; Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1963).

In this article, I consider the influence of the NRP on studies of twentieth-century argument in our field, and its relevance in the new millennium. My rehearsal of the argument in the NRP is not meant to duplicate the fine surveys of Perelman's work in Foss, Foss, and Trapp; Conley; and other anthologies and overviews of rhetoric. Rather, my purpose is epideictic in the Perelmanian sense in that I hope to strengthen a commitment to the study of argument as a humane art with philosophical and pragmatic expressions. I seek to recall the larger purpose Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca envisioned for argumentation and to trace the influence of the NRP on argument studies in the United States. In so doing, I will call attention to some key books and scholarship that draw from the NRP to develop insights on argument. In the conclusion, I suggest the NRP is the most important system of argument produced in the twentieth century and can serve as an ecumenical site for the development of argumentation theory.

My purpose may seem benign, but it directly confronts two movements in the field. The first is the continued fragmentation of the field into a set of case studies with little shared sense of purpose, which David Zarefsky has rightly lamented as a failure of disciplinary coherence. Another movement, pragma-dialectics, originating in the Netherlands, begins with a misreading of the NRP to launch a system of argument with quite different goals than those set forth by Perelman. The pragma-dialecticians seek uniform standards for all argument and see conflict resolution as the objective of argumentation. I believe the NRP's system navigates between fragmentation and enforced uniformity, and remains the most ethical and powerful framework available to scholars of argument. The NRP is a blueprint for civil society, with a strength and coherence lacking in other systems. To better understand the tension among these movements, it is necessary to resituate the NRP and its influence on argumentation studies in the United States. …

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