Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Roxanne Mountford; Carolyn Miller et al. | Go to book overview

HIU WU Texas Christian University


The Enthymeme Examined from the Chinese Value System

Contemporary studies of the enthymeme have made scholars of rhetoric aware that the fundamentals of the enthymeme are much less established than they thought (Poster 4). Generally accepted definitions of the enthymeme lay more emphasis on the suppressed syllogistic reasoning than the probable nature of the premise on which the enthymeme is built (Horner 151-52; Corbett 77). Although almost every scholar of rhetoric now agrees with Lloyd Bitzer that the enthymeme is based on probabilities, signs, and examples (408), many studies continue to overlook the key role of probabilities in establishing the premise for the enthymematic development of proofs. The argument of this paper is based on my belief that the probabilistic nature of the enthymeme resides in its probable premise. Aristotle's notion of "commonly held opinions" (On Rhetoric I.11. [1354b]) indicates the relation between the probable truth in rhetoric and the probabilistic nature of the enthymeme. The enthymeme must begin with the premise that the audience correlates with the conclusion. Only when the premise agrees with the commonly held opinions of the audience can persuasion take place. The premises of the enthymeme are chosen from prescribed social values, and the conclusions that the enthymeme demonstrates are only valid within the beliefs that both the audience and the speaker esteem in the same culture.

Different value systems constitute varied forms of enthymematic reasoning in persuasion. This essay, by describing Chinese social structure and Chinese perspectives on individualism, will examine how the Chinese social-value system prescribes the premise of the enthymeme and affects the speaker's rhetorical strategies. Guided by Aristotelian assumption that reasoning is the intuition of the human being (On Rhetoric I.1.1. [1354a]), I posit that the enthymematic demonstration of proofs is rhetorical universals in argumentative discourse regardless of cultures. If we admit the existence of Chinese rhetoric, we must accommodate enthymematic reasoning in Chinese rhetoric.

Reversing the traditional Western belief that China lacks argumentation (Becker "Reasons"; Murphy "Origins"), recent literature on rhetoric has confirmed that China has a rhetoric in its own tradition, though its underlying values and applications vary from those in the Euro-American tradition (Garrett "Asian Challenge," "Chinese Conceptions," "Pathos"; Jensen "Asian

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