Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Poetic Logic: The Metaphoric Form as a Foundation for a Theory of Tropological Argument

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Poetic Logic: The Metaphoric Form as a Foundation for a Theory of Tropological Argument

Article excerpt

Argumentation theory has been guided by two primary purposes. The first purpose of argumentation theory has traditionally been to explore the role of truth in argumentative claims. There can be little dispute that argument is concerned with questions of epistemology.

The second guiding purpose of traditional argumentation theory has been the search for valid forms in argumentation. Argumentation theorists, since at least the time of Aristotle, have been concerned with the identification of valid and invalid forms. Modern theorists, such as Stephen Toulmin (1958), have attempted to move beyond Aristotle's conceptions of syllogisms and enthymemes, but remain concerned with a discussion of valid forms.

The result of these two primary purposes of traditional argumentation has been a theory of argument which seeks to discover truth as a product of the valid form. Contemporary thinkers have begun to expand these bounds of traditional theory. Recently scholars have turned to sources which have been ignored by traditional argumentation theorists but which have provided valuable insights for other fields. Some writers, for instance, have turned to an examination of the manner in which tropes influence argumentation in a variety of academic disciplines (see, for instance, Nelson, (1987); and White (1973).) Others have examined writings which have traditionally been more closely aligned with the speech communication discipline. The writings of Kenneth Burke are typically associated with rhetorical theory and criticism, but have recently been explored for their potential for identifying the basis for a theory of argumentation.

However, these two trends have yet to be combined to produce an examination of the Burkean theory of tropes as a basis for a theory of argument. We believe that the study of logical forms can be extended to include Burke's master tropes. However, Burke's writings fail to fulfill the need in argumentation theory for a means to evaluate the validity of the form. Paul Ricoeur's study of metaphor picks up Burke's assumption that metaphors provide an example of a logical form, but then attempts to create standards for evaluation that are intrinsic to that form. By scrutinizing the writings of each author, we believe that the importance of a theory of form for a theory of argumentation which accounts for claims to knowledge grounded in tropes can better be understood. This comparison offers insight into the nature of metaphoric argument and its evaluation.


In Grammar of Motives (1945), Burke discusses the four classical master tropes of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. Burke differs from most classical considerations in his attribution of an epistemological function to the master tropes. He writes:

I refer to metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. And my primary concern with them here will be not with their purely figurative usage, but with their role in the discovery and description of 'the truth'. (503)

Burke has devoted much time and energy to studies of each of the master tropes. We intend to examine one of the metaphors as a "representative anecdote" of a Burkean tropology. In Burkean fashion, we make no claim to the "scientific" nature of the representativeness in our selection of metaphor; indeed Burke has discussed each of the master tropes in considerable depth and identifies each as serving a truth-seeking function. However, examining the metaphor can provide unique insight into the role of tropes in argumentation. The attention Burke accords metaphor is widespread and continued throughout his writings; thus it provides the opportunity to examine his view of metaphor as an example of a trope in a variety of situations. Metaphor can also serve as a vehicle to examine the potential role of tropes in argument since it has received considerable attention from other thinkers. While several theorists, including Paul Ricoeur, have devoted entire works to the role of metaphor, one would be hard pressed to identify a discrete body of literature dealing with the master tropes of metonymy, synecdoche, or, to a lesser extent, irony. …

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