I have been reading Deep Rhetoric: Philosophy, Reason, Violence, Justice, Wisdom by James Crosswhite in preparation for teaching it next quarter in my “Composition Theory” seminar. I have taught Crosswhite’s earlier book, The Rhetoric of Reason, for many years. In that book, Crosswhite articulates a theory based on Chaim Perelman’s The New Rhetoric that the validity of an argument depends not on true premises, sound logic and justifiable conclusions, but on the quality of the audience that will accept it. One of the interesting conclusions of this book was that most logical fallacies have to do with a particular audience mistaking itself for a universal one. Interesting stuff! In the new book, I was expecting an updated version of the same theory. In fact, there is much more and it is quite different.
Back in the early ’90’s, when I was at Cal State L.A., I did a writing workshop for the philosophy department. A member of the faculty, Henry Mendell, told me that philosophers read every word that Aristotle wrote, except the Rhetoric. I was a bit stunned because the Rhetoric was dear to my heart. I defended the Rhetoric, and finally he said, “Well, maybe Californians have to read the Rhetoric, but New Yorkers don’t because they know how to argue.” Recently I met Henry again and I reminded him of his remarks. He looked chagrined and said that he had changed his mind and that Aristotle’s Rhetoric was now read carefully. This may be because although Heidegger lectured on the Rhetoric in 1924, the lectures were not published until 2002, long after my first conversation with Henry.
Crosswhite’s earlier book is an attempt to reconcile rhetoric with certain branches of philosophy, especially those dealing with logic and argumentation. The new book is an exploration of what a “deep rhetoric” might be, a project that is also an attempt to reconcile philosophy and rhetoric, but on a more fundamental scale. This project is largely informed by two sources: Plato’s concept of rhetoric, expressed in the Phaedrus, as an art of leading the soul to truth by means of words, and Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, expressed in the aforementioned lectures from 1924. Crosswhite defines a “deep rhetoric” thusly:
Rhetoric is a form of human transcendence, a way we open ourselves to the influence of what is beyond ourselves and become receptive, a way we participate in a larger world and become open to the lives of others, a way we learn and change. Rhetoric is also a way the world and others become open to us, open to our giving and our participation; it is a way we teach, a way we change our common conditions, a way we form relationships and bear the lives and experiences of other people. (Crosswhite 17)
Crosswhite’s definition is a very broad definition of rhetoric. This is not Aristotle’s art of “finding the available means of persuasion.” Crosswhite uses a lot of Heideggerian terminology to expand and comment on this definition, terminology which I will try to avoid here. However, the key term above is “transcendence,” the ability to transcend our selves and know others and the world. Our ability to do this is given by logos, which provides structure and makes the world intelligible. Language is logos, but logos goes beyond language to other ways of communicating and understanding.
In this model, logos provides structure and intelligibility, but pathos provides motive and energy. Crosswhite says, “There is no understanding without pathos” (183). Logos and pathos are inextricably linked.
For example, if I am going to say something to someone about something, I need to be interested in that something and in that person. Interest, engagement, caring, are all forms of pathos. And to attend to it, the audience has to also engage. Without pathos, nothing happens, no speech, no action.
What about ethos? In this model, ethos does not appear to have a primary role in constituting transcendence, perhaps because the Aristotelian concept is about constructing a self, rather than going beyond the self. However, ethos functions as a complement to pathos. Crosswhite says,
What is essential for a deep rhetoric is that when it comes to being a speaker, one is a speaker as such because an audience has given this attention and the speaker has received it. That is, the being of the speaker is given by an audience. The speaker’s being circulates, is, in this process of giving and receiving between the audience and speaker. (287)
In this model, ethos is a two-way street, not just a construct crafted to persuade an audience. To an extent, the audience creates the speaker.
What are the pedagogical implications of this view of ethos, logos, and pathos? Well, clearly logos and pathos are not separate tools to be pulled out of the rhetorical toolbox as needed. It is also clear that pathos is not some kind of fallacious appeal to be used in dire necessity with an ignorant audience. There is no logos without interest, caring, and engagement. There is thus no understanding without pathos. We have to consider both structure and motivation.
If ethos is a two-way dynamic relationship between a speaker who receives speakership from an audience, our concept of ethos is much richer and less contrived. The question becomes not “What kind of speaker do I need to be to persuade this audience?” but “What kind of speaker will this audience cause/allow me to be?”
However, the most important shift in this model, in my view, is from defining rhetoric as an art of persuasion to seeing rhetoric as an art of knowing the other. I have felt for some time now that Aristotelian rhetoric was insufficient to deal with our media and our politics. In an age of media echo chambers, information bubbles, political silos, and tribalism, an art of knowing the other appears to be just what we need. It may even save us from ourselves.