Rhetoric and Rationality
Keywords:Philosophy, Social Theory, Communication, Rhetoric
The dominance of a purist, ‘scientistic' form of reason since the Enlightenment has eclipsed and produced multiple misunderstandings of the nature, role of and importance of the millennia-old art of rhetoric. For centuries the multiple perspectives conveyed by rhetoric were always the counterbalance to hubristic claims of certainty. As such rhetoric was taught as one of the three essential components of the ‘trivium' – rhetoric, dialectic and grammar; i.e. persuasive communication, reasoning and the codification of discourse. These three disciplines were the legs of the three legged stool on which western civilisation still rests despite the perversion and muddling of the first of these three. This essay explains how the evisceration of rhetoric both as practice and as critical theory and the consequent over-reliance on a virtual cult of rationality has impoverished philosophy and has dangerously dimmed understandings of the human condition.