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Rhetorical Reasoning

Rhetorical Reasoning

Image of Francis Bacon

"A faculty of wise interrogating is half a knowledge."
–Francis Bacon

Rhetorical invention entails both a techne of argumentation and a faculty (dunamis) of discovery (theoresai) that relies for its efficacy upon phronesis. That faculty of discovery that precedes argumentation is rhetorical reasoning. Rhetorical reasoning may be defined as the faculty of discovering, in tough cases, the crux of the matter. Rhetorical reasong, conceptualized systematically, will entail the following key elements:

  • case centeredness
  • discursive moral inquiry guided by topical logic
  • stasiastic doctrine
  • maxims
  • phronesis
  • a mode of dialectical inference

For much of history the dunamis to theoresai of rhetoric has been left to chance or native ability, and the techne aspect of rhetoric has been privileged so that invention has been associated primarily with building arguments and neglected as a means of inquiry. The art of rhetorical inquiry “has not been taught seriously and widely for at least two hundred years” (Bitzer and Black, The Prospect of Rhetoric, 1971, p. 239).

My project, to conceptualize the methodology of rhetorical reasoning, responds substantively to such neglect in four ways: First, it helps to promote a fuller understanding of both the function and scope of rhetoric. Second, it capitalizes on Jonsen’s casuistry by means of a close study of actual durational rhetorical practice. Third, it suggests why conceptualizing rhetorical reason is especially important to the success of rhetoric’s restoration to centrality in both theory and practice, because the method of rhetorical reason must be stabilized before its practical utility will be realized.

In the final analysis, this conceptualization of rhetorical reasoning has the potential to broaden the domain of rhetorical inquiry to include precisely those practical fields that need it most and will testify to its utility as an architectonic art. The ancient conception of rhetorical reasoning underscores how the contemporary quest for rhetorical reason holds implications for a communal (as opposed to individual) ethics. Rhetorical theorists will appreciate the implications of this project regarding practical applications for special topics.


Read a paper entitled "Toward a Rhetorical Ethics" that synopsizes the methodology of Rhetorical Reason

Read "Toward a Grammar of Rhetorical Reason"

Read "Retooling the Topoi"

Read "Casuistry" from the Oxford Encylopedia of Rhetoric

Read "Five Facets of Phronesis in Rhetorical Reasoning"

If you would like help learning how one teaches the material, email me. (As you will notice, the tutorial includes mandatory chat sessions and discussion postings to ensure the students are "tracking.")

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