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Life Arts    H4'ed 8/7/16

Stanley Fish's New Book WINNING ARGUMENTS (Review Essay)

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In addition, Aristotle does identify three appeals commonly used by civic orators: (1) logos, (2) ethos, and (3) pathos. For example, today in our contemporary American political contests, a pathos appeal could include appealing to anger. An ethos appeal could involve claiming to be a winner, not a loser, and it might also include denigrating one's opponent as a loser, not a winner. A logos appeal could involve giving reasons for and engaging in reasoning about one's proposals for action.

But our American experiment in representative democracy emerged historically in the period in our Western cultural history known as the Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason). As a result, we Americans to this day oftentimes think of our American civic rhetoric as supposedly based on logos appeals. Conversely, we tend to prefer to avoid hearing certain pathos appeals such as certain kinds of appeals to anger in our civic rhetoric.

Nevertheless, we deeply value candidates' ethos appeal, because we expect candidates to present a portrait of themselves as worthy of our trust and therefore our vote. Conversely, we do not ignore personal critiques of candidates we do not like, even though those critiques may be referred to as ad hominem attacks.

For a well-informed account of the emergence of rationalism in the Age of Reason, see the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong's massively researched book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason Harvard University Press, 1958). The Art of Reason in the subtitles refers to rationalism in the Age of Reason.

For a well-informed scholarly study of Aristotle's discussion of ethos, see the American Jesuit classicist William M. A. Grimaldi's essay "The Auditors' Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric" in the book Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by Richard Leo Enos (Sage Publications, 1990, pages 65-81). Grimaldi is also the author of a two-volume commentary on Aristotle's Rhetoric.

For a well-informed scholarly study of Aristotle's position on ad hominem arguments in philosophical argumentation, see Mark Morelli's essay "Reversing the Counter-Position: The Argumentum ad Hominem in Philosophical Dialogue" in the annual periodical titled the Lonergan Workshop, volume 6 (1986): pages 195-230. In the context of philosophical argumentation, an ad hominem critique of the counter-position advanced by a certain other person (or perhaps persons) involves what Aristotle himself explicitly refers to in the Rhetoric as the other person's ethos.

The Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan's philosophical masterpiece is Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 5th ed. (University of Toronto Press, 1992; orig. ed., 1957).

Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli in philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, the Jesuit university in Los Angeles, California, have expertly shortened it in The Lonergan Reader (University of Toronto Press, 1997, pages 29-359).

Today argumentation theory appears to be in vogue in certain academic circles. For example, my friend William Rehg, S.J., in philosophy at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, recently published a fine book titled Cogent Science in Context: The Science Wars, Argumentation Theory, and Habermas (MIT Press, 2009). In it Rehg extends Jurgen Habermas' argumentation theory to sciences, an extension that Habermas himself has not yet undertaken. Incidentally, Rehg also draws on Lonergan's philosophical masterpiece.

Also see my 5,000-word review titled "Rehg Admirably Takes the Science Wars to a New Level" in the online and print journal On the Horizon, volume 18, number 4 (2010): pages 337-345.

More to the point, for understandable reasons, Rehg also extends not only Aristotle's logos appeal but also his ethos appeal to argumentation in the sciences. For better or worse, certain individual persons may enjoy greater stature and merit and prestige, and as a result command greater credibility in any context of reasoned argumentation, including argumentation in science and philosophy and politics.

But putting Rehg aside, I claim that persons who engage in argumentation in public arenas of discourse either implicitly or explicitly invoke an ethos appeal. In my judgment, an ethos appeal is the ineluctable modality of public argumentation. For example, in scholarly PUBLICations, scholars engage in public argumentation in which they are expected to demonstrate that they are well-informed in their scholarly fields of study. Their ability to demonstrate that they are well-informed in their fields of study involves their ethos appeal. The substance of what they say in their scholarly reasoning involves their logos appeal. By convention, scholars are usually expected not to play up a pathos appeal in their scholarly publications.

Now, in the Hebrew Bible, Moses is portrayed as going up on a mountain and communing up there with the monotheist deity referred to as God. Then Moses comes down from the mountaintop with two stone tablets on which certain commands are written. Each command expresses a certain value.

According to Aristotle's schema for categorizing certain forms of civic rhetoric, epideictic rhetoric involves civic values.

As the story goes, Moses presents the two stone tablets to the ancient Hebrew people, and they agree to comply with the commands on tablets. By agreeing to follow those commands, the ancient Hebrew people thereby enter into a covenant with God.

Later on, certain other ancient Hebrew prophets emerge from time to time and claim to speak for God, as Moses had claimed to do at an earlier time. Certain ancient Hebrew prophets such as Amos thematized economic justice.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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