Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Dialectical Rapprochement in the New Rhetoric

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Dialectical Rapprochement in the New Rhetoric

Article excerpt

Commenting on the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, an editorialist for the Boston Globe observed: "Arafat will be known as rais, an Arabic title that allows Palestinians to think of him as president of their coalescing national entity yet permits Israelis to define him as the head of a transitional administration" ("Down"). The selection of a word that allows Israelis and Palestinians to achieve objectives that appear to be in contradiction illustrates the power of language to reflect multiple realities. Although a Zionist, Chaim Perelman would have celebrated this use of symbols, for he recognized the need for ambiguity in natural language, saw great danger in policies based on an univocal language and an apodictic logic, and advocated "dialectical pluralism" as an alternative to dogmatism (Humanities 80).

At the heart of the New Rhetoric project(1) is an abiding faith in reason, liberated from the confines of formal logic, that Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca(2) believed could secure the possibility of community and justice in the absence of absolutes (514). If reason is the heart of the project, then as Mieczyslaw Maneli noted, "dialectics is the foundation and the nervous system of the New Rhetoric. The New Rhetoric is the long sought fulcrum which can add new vitality to traditional dialectics and push it to new phases of creativity and development" (216). The thesis of this essay is that the New Rhetoric, a response to 20th century totalitarianism, is a post-Holocaust dialectic of rapprochement, deserving development by scholars of rhetoric and argument.

The New Rhetoric's dialectic is a rapprochement of Western and Jewish thought, rhetoric and dialectic, unsituated and situated reasoning, intended for a post-Enlightenment world of multiple identities, irreducible pluralism, and Others. In development of this thesis, I seek to restore the New Rhetoric's dialectic of rapprochement as a program of reconciliation that features argument as the process of making judgments. In this essay, I revisit the New Rhetoric's dialectic and then identify the situated logic that emanated from this dialectic. The dialectic and situated logic developed in the New Rhetoric offer powerful, although undeveloped, aspirational and practical implications for the study of rhetoric and argumentation.


Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca observed that dialectic had, from the time of Aristotle through the Enlightenment, become conflated with formal logic and demonstration, and that rhetoric, argumentation and probable opinions held by audiences had been denied a relationship with reason or logic (5).

Accordingly, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca saw their work as a "rapprochement" of a theory of argumentation with dialectic" (5). In affecting this rapprochement, the authors sought to expand the reach of dialectic beyond formal logic's laws of identity, non-contradiction and the excluded middle to include the realm of probable opinions and common sense. A rapprochement brings about a realignment of forces that may be at odds. The New Rhetoric's dialectic achieves a rapprochement between rhetoric and dialectic by exploiting Aristotle's notion of reasoning from common opinions (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 5), countering totalitarian appropriations of the term, and reconciling Hegelian dialectics with "freedom and creation" (Humanities 78).

"Dialectical argumentation," Perelman wrote, "manifesting itself in dialogue and discourse, is rooted in opinion and common sense, which are always historically conditioned" (Humanities 79). Here, Perelman was careful to juxtapose, not efface, the dialectic of formal logic and the role played by demonstration in mathematics and geometry with the dialectic of argumentation (Humanities 117-118, 120). The dialectic of the New Rhetoric was designed for feeling and thinking humans who use a situated logic to achieve reasoned choice through argument (Humanities 79). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.