Chapter 58: Rhetoric
Arjo Klamer Rhetoric is an ancient discipline. It lost interest over the past century but has more recently made a comeback. This chapter explores the discipline of rhetoric as it is currently understood, in connection with the ethical life. The objective is to show how conventional wisdom on both rhetorical and ethical practices can be turned on its head by connecting rhetoric and ethics. The conclusions are twofold. First, if rhetoric is understood as sophistry, as the art of finding the right words to convince people of anything, rhetoric would lend itself to any purpose, ethical and unethical. If rhetoric is defined as the art of persuading others of the right thing or the right idea, rhetoric could be understood as the midwife of ethical ideas and practice. Second, if ethics is believed to be a subject of rational thought leading to principles to which any reasonable person would adhere, ethical reasoning would be non-rhetorical. If we follow Alasdair MacIntyre, Stuart Hampshire and, for that matter, Aristotle and Adam Smith, we would quickly acknowledge the rhetorical characteristics of ethical reasoning and practice. On rhetoric In order to connect rhetoric with ethics in an economic context we do well to first address the implications of perceiving rhetorical practices in all communication, including the communication of ethical ideas and values. Aristotle wrote On Rhetoric with a sharp rejection of rhetoric by his teacher Plato in mind. He had to carve out a role for rhetoric avoiding the reasons for which Socrates and...
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