The Rhetorician's Quest
Walter R. Fisher Stephen D. O'Leary University of Southern California
Earlier chapters in this book provide a good grasp of theory and its uses. Theory consists of constructs that purport to explain or account for phenomena--in our case, for the experience of human communication. Theory guides inquiry, in such activities as observation, description, and prediction. Through this work, theory leads to knowledge or understanding, and, on occasion, to new or modified theory. In addition, theory can be used to evaluate not only procedures and standards of inquiry, but also the conduct of human communication itself.
How does the rhetorical theorist theorize or philosophize? Answering this question is this chapter's primary aim. Through a series of examples, we will detail various modes of thinking by which the rhetorician pursues knowledge or understanding of human communication processes and practices. Before getting to these ways of thinking, several general matters require attention, including clarifying the distinctions between theorizing and philosophizing, and between knowledge and understanding. Also considered are some relationships between rhetorical and social scientific theorizing, and the factors involved in the genesis and shaping of theory.