The Four Schools of Rhetoric

Today we debated the relative strengths and weaknesses of the four main schools of thought regarding rhetoric: the Aristotelian view, the Current-Traditional view, the Platonic/Expressionist view, and the New Rhetorician view. The first three schools of thought contend that knowledge and truth are static, meaning that they are immutable and it is the job of the person to seek them out and become enlightened. The New Rhetorician view, however, holds that knowledge is, in fact, a byproduct of language and communication. Knowledge is dynamic and malleable, which would imply that it is a relation that is constantly in flux. In order for truth via communication to have meaning, knowledge must be structured and organized.

The phrase “percepts without concepts are empty; concepts without percepts are blind” shows that perceptions without concepts as a basis hold no true meaning or value, while those concepts themselves are ignorant of the true view of the world which is facilitated by perception (including communication and language). This is the actual structure of the world; that is, truth is not some airy and far-away ideal waiting to be discovered under certain conditions. Truth is something that can only exist when we put structure to our interactions, and through deliberation and communication we come to become self-aware of the truth. While the meaning of these truths may vary slightly from person-to-person, the Expressionist view that truth cannot be communicated is erroneous. If one were to, through discussion and language, come to realize a certain truth, we would be able to convey it to another person with the right terminology, although the meaning and understanding might be somewhat different.

As Plato’s Gorgias states, true arts generate favorable outcomes. Divining truth in and of itself can be considered an art, because the outcome is favorable. By working out the truth, we learn to organize the world around ourselves and protect our fragile psyches from false beliefs, which allows us to focus and direct our lives towards a general purpose of wisdom and excellence.


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