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Kant (new and improved!)

Mere Rhetoric

Release Date: 07/27/2016

James Berlin “Contemporary Composition: the Major Pedagogical Theories.” show art James Berlin “Contemporary Composition: the Major Pedagogical Theories.”

Mere Rhetoric

Some time ago, I was asked by listener Sarah Rumsey to do a podcast on composition theory. That’s a doozy of a topic, so I read a lot, I poked around, even pulled together a couple drafts, but couldn’t find the balance of breadth and depth to do this subject justice. So I gave up.   Ah, clever listener, you know I didn’t really give up, because this is Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history and I am Mary Hedengren and instead of trying to capture the entire depth of rhetorical theory thought I...

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Welcome to Mere R the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movements that shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary H and if you grew up in the eighties and nineties, like I did, then you might remember a series of posters in your school and public library. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker,A-Rod and, of course, Lavar Burton would be posed with a book, smiling, encouraging you to read. They were all readers, and so should you, because being a reader was a worthy identity.     Deborah Brandt, in her decades of interviews with people of all walks of life,...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like you to think a little about the types of writing you’ve done in the past, oh, let us say, year. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably written breezy email, stern syllabi, obscure academic texts and pun-based posts on Reddit that didn’t get nearly the number of upvotes as they deserve. Now what if a random, oh, say 12% of what you wrote was preserved and no one who knew you was around to testify you wrote it...

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Welcome to MR the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history   It’s the start of another semester, which, for me, means a season of wonder. I wonder about who my students will be. I wonder whether my schedule will be crushingly busy. Mostly, though, I wonder how my students will react to the syllabi and assignments that I have lovingly crafted. Will they understand the instructions? Will they learn what I hope they will? Will they find it meaningful?   Many compositionists have wondered these same questions and have...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol this holiday season because I’m playing Mrs. Crachit in a community theatre production. And wow. There is a story behind that. But becaue I was interested in The christmas carol, so I started reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford’s history of Dickens’s masterpeice. I was surprised to hear how A Christmas Carol had solidified Christmas as we know it, a home-and-family...

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[intro] Welcome to MR the podcast for beginngs and insiders aboutt he ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren. This last week I graded my students’ rhetorical analyses. For many of them, this was the first time they had been asked to write a rhetorical analysis and this assignment always makes me nervous. I give them sample papers. We practice writing a rhetorical analysis together. We discuss in depth examples and abuses of ethos, logos, and pathos, but many of them struggle tremendously. I know I could write a 3-page rhetorical analysis in 20...

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Andocides (An-DOS-id-dees) Do you remember in the 90s when there was this huge “thug life” thing going on? Shady types getting money doing shady things. Andocides, the 5th century BCE rhetor, would have fit fell into that world. Even though he may have been acquainted with Socrates, he was more interested in roving with his friends of rabble-rousers. He was born to wealth and lived as what one editor called “a hot-headed young man-about-town with more money than sense” (321).   His carefree life came to a hard stop after a significant act of vandalism. Andocides was accused of...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Uh, I guess including recent history, because today we’re going to talk about the February 2017 issue of College Composition and Communication as our “journal of the month” summary. This issue, as editor Jonathan Alexander points out, “takes up the notion of the ‘personal’ in a variety of ways” (436), departing from what we might think of as “composition as usual.” The articles in it include thinking about students who are full-time...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and every semester, I feel like it’s New Year’s Day. “This semester,” I say, “everything’s going to be different.” I revise my classes, everything from switching two minor assignments to rehauling the entire curriculum. I try to create assignments that will catch my students’ attention, prepare them for their other classes, and, because I teach dozens of students, be interesting to grade.   But how do I know if the...

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Weeeeellllcommmme to Meeeeeereeee Rhetoooooric! It’s our annual Halloween episode, which means a little bit of the people, ideas and movements who have shaped rhetorical history, but mostly a ghost story. This year, we’re going with our first not-MR-James story. Don’t worry--there are still intials--but first--to business.   If you’re going to talk about ghost stories and influential thinkers, you won’t dig long until you come across Freud’s contribution, a little piece called “The Uncanny.” You might not peg Sigmund Freud as a connoisseur of boogeymen, but he was...

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More Episodes

Kant podcast

 

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have defined rhetorical history. Today is a re-record from when we were doing our "villians of rhetoric" series, but since we just recently did an episode where I apologized for being too hard on Kant, here's the original castigation. Enjoy!

 

 

Today we continue our podcast series on villians of rhetoric with Kant. As in Immanual Kant, and not ‘I can’t stnd him” I’ve actually been to Kant’s hometown, Kohnisberg, which is now Kaliningrad Russia. And when I say Kant’s hometown, I mean the town where he was born, studied and died. In his whole life he never even traveled more than 10 miles fromKonigsberg. He might not have been much of a traveler, but he had a spectacular philosophy career. He was apopular teacher and had success in fields of physics and natural science, but he didn’t really get into philosophy, hard core philosophy, until he was middle aged. And the emphasis is on “hard.” His critique of pure reason was 800 pages and dense dense philosophy, even for German philosophers. It wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. But Kan revised it in a 2nd edition and eventually his philosophical work became popular. You know, for German philosophy. His ideas about Enlightenment were controversial, and he had to skirt censorship and even the King’s criticism. His disciples battled his detractors and Kant became the most important German philosopher since Christian Wolff and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. His ideas are quintessentially Enlightenment: agnostic, rationalistic, and committed to individual inquiry of philosophy instead of relying on tradition, including the classical tradition. Kant suggests that there is a thing-in-itself that exists out the in world, but that we are only able to encounter it through our senses and experiences.

 

Also, he didn’t like rhetoric.

 

And, brother won’t he let you know it. Rhetoric, he says “merits no respect whatever” because of several complaints: first, that rhetoric is just style. Kant says in the crituqe of judgment athat rhetoric is only “the art of transacting a serious business of the understanding as if it were a free play of the imagination (V 321), In this he makes the same complaint against rhetoric that some of our other villains—Ramus and Montaigne—have made: rhetoric is nothing more than style. By removing invention from the canons of rhetoric and focusing only on style, Kant can focus more on his idea of truth being something just out there rather than something constructed socially. As scholar Robert J Dostal says, “With Kant rhetoric is reduced to a matter of style—dispensable in serious philosophical matters. The requirement [of rhetoric] that one know men’s souls is eliminated in view that it is sufficient merely to speak the truth” (235).

 

Kant’s other complaint, like Agrippa, Jewel, Patrizi and Hobbes is that rhetoric is immortal. When Kant reads the classical rhetoricians he feels an “unpleasant sense of disapporival” because he finds rhetoric “an insidious art that knows how, in matters of moment, to move men like machines to a judgement that must lose all its weight with them in calm reflection” (V 327). In other words, if people would just sit down and think, really think like a philosopher, they’d come to the right conclusion, but these nasty rhetors mislead them with their tricky words. In this sense he defines rhetoric like this “Rhetoric, so far as this is taken to mean the act of persuasive, ie the act of misleading by means of a beautiful illusion ”

Kant wasn’t the only Enlightenment philopher to criticize rhetoric. Descrates points out that you don’t need to study rhetoric to be a good speaker because “those who reason most cogently, and work over their thoughts to make them clear and intelligible are always the most persauve even if they … have never studied rhetoric.” Like Kant, Descartes believes that if you just speak the truth you don’t need rhetoric. Kant wan’t alone in thinking that rhetoric was dangerously misleading, either. John Lock wrote that “all the art of rhetoric […] are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions and thereby mislead the judgment and so indeed are perfect cheat” So Kant had good company in disliking rhetoric. But can Kant be reconciled to a sympathetic view of rhetoric?

 

Scott Stroud thinks so. Stroud, who works here at the University of Texas (hook ‘em horns) is the author of a book coming out in October called Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric that aims to rehabilitate Kant to rhetoric. He claims that Kant didn’t really have the same definition of rhetoric which we have—he too, was influenced by villains of rhetoric like Plato and Ramus, and when he says he hates rhetoric, he means he hates something different. Since the book hasn’t come out yet and my Delorian is out of gas, I can’t tell you all of the arguments that Stroud will make in Kant and the promise of rhetoric, but I can tell you what I’ve gleaned from his earlier articles. One of them goes in the back door of rhetoric but looking at education. In 2011, Stroud’s article “Kant on education and the rhetorical force of the example” approaches a possible Kantian rhetoric through Kant’s ideas on education.

 

Kant says he hates rhetoric, but he loves education and was looking for a way to teach without coersing. So remember how Kant called rhetoric a “beautiful illusion”? Stroud argues that what Kant is objecting to is what Kant else where calls the “aim of win[ning] minds over to the advantage of the speaker before they can judge and to rob them of their freedom” (5:327). In this senese, Stroud says that Kant isn’t anti-rhetoric, but anti-bad rhetoric. The word rhetoric had been so pejorativized by Kant’s time that it came to be synonymous with manipulation and in opposition to individual consideration. So earlier, when we said that Kant was all about the freedom to think without the contraints of tradition? This is that same concern. As Stroud puts it, “What Kant is objecting to is the fact that such rhetorical deception moves people without their choosing the maxims of action, or without an accurate knowledge of what principle they are acting.”

 

Using illustriative examples, though, can enable the student (or the audience member) to think for themselves. Again, from Stroud, “Kant did not fear the skillful orator. He feared the skillful and non-moralized orator. Examples employed by a cultivated rhetor (a teacher, a preacher, etc.) are engaging because they partake in the lively form of narrative and they readily make themselves available for moral judgment.” Through the educational example, Stroud rehabilitates Kantian opposition to rhetoric. “The way examples operate in Kant's educative rhetoric is by evoking the experience of transitioning from the prudential stage to the moral stage of development in the subject's interaction with the example at hand.” Whether young students or adult audience members, these subjects can be taught without being coersed.

 

So maybe Kant isn’t truly a villain of rhetoric, but a victim of other villains who made rhetoric such a dirty word that he couldn’t imagine a rhetoric that could be moral and individually affirming. A rhetoric that could be called a Kantian rhetoric.