Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Arguments and the Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part III

Well, this is my penultimate (second to last) post on Perelman's system of argumentation. The remaining are "arguments based on the structure of reality" and "arguments to establish a structure of reality."

Arguments Based on the Structure of Reality

These are different from the quasi-logical arguments in the sense that these do not deal with essential patterns of thought, but rather they deal with habitual patterns of thought. Some of these patterns may just be conventions of Western society and may not always be in operation in other cultures. Perelman describes these patterns as follows: “As soon as elements of reality are associated with each other in a recognized connection, it is possible to use this connection as the basis for an argumentation which allows us to pass from what is accepted to what we wish to have accepted” (81). Essentially, you find structures of reality that are already there (already accepted) and then apply them to a specific situation. As Kenneth Burke points out, these structures may only be "natural" in the sense that a path made through a field is natural. Nevertheless, as soon as that structure or path has been made it is there as a structure that can be used to pass from A to B.

Perelman divides these structures into two groups: liasons of succession and liasons of coexistence.
Liasons of succession show a kind of linear progression on the same level (of the same kind), 

  • whereas liasons of coexistence show relationships across different levels.

      As a matter of interest, these two structures may resemble the different structures of how men and women think. According to this psychologist, men think primarily in liasons of succession whereas women think primarily in liasons of coexistence.

     1. Liasons of succession (cause, effect, fact and consequence)
Perelman writes, “Having accepted the existence of correlations, natural laws, or the principle that the same causes produce the same effects, one is able to construct hypotheses within a given context and verify them with the appropriate inquiries” (82). In other words, as soon as we believe that we have identified a reliable mechanism or relationship between cause and effect, we can use that to make arguments about what causes what and what consequences a certain action would have. One of the most common uses of this is the pragmatic argument, which has become dominant in 21st century capitalism: "If it sells then it is a good product!"

-          The pragmatic argument = Evaluate a fact by its consequences

Perelman writes, “The pragmatic argument, which seems to reduce the value of a cause to that of its consequences, gives the impression that all values are of the same order. It is thus that the truth of an idea can, in pragmatism, only be judged by its effects, the failure of an enterprise or life likewise serving as a criterion of its irrationality or inauthenticity” (83). We call Steve Jobs a genius because he succeeded, but if he had failed then we may have called him a fool. One example of this argument can be seen below: 

A: This government program has been vindicated and has proven its worth beyond question. Through it, thousands have found employment, the deficit has been reduced, and valuable goods and services have been provided for the citizens of our country. (fact judged by consequences)

-          One can resist the pragmatic argument by questioning its application. A fact cannot always be evaluated by its consequences, and the post-hoc fallacy is an example of taking this too far (post hoc ergo propter hoc means "this followed that, therefore that caused this"). Correlation does not prove causation. As Perelman says, “How do we determine the indefinite chain of consequences that result from an action, and how are we to impute to a single cause the consequences that result most often from the concurrence of several events?” (83)

B: Just because some things happened at the same time does not mean that the one caused the other! Yes, people were hired during that time, but the economy in general had been recovering rapidly for several months before. The reduced deficit is a result of the economy rebounding, not this government program. As far as goods and services go, you have caused several food companies to lay off workers or go out of business because you provided for free what they sold and therefore destroyed their market.

One could use the same method against arguments that "Hitler led to the end of antisemitism, so we should thank him" or "pornography sells, so obviously it must be a good product," or "making drugs illegal has caused a lot of violence, therefore it is a bad idea to have drug laws." 

-          Means/end arguments of waste

Perelman writes that in this argument, “Means have only a relative value because they depend on the value accorded the end, which is considered to be independent” (85). This is a common thread in the "ends justify the means" argument, which is common in rationalizations of unethical behavior. However, on a smaller scale, we all do this: "I am sorry I yelled at you, but I was trying to save you from being hit by the truck!" Some common forms of the means/end argument are the arguments of waste, redundancy, and the decisive.  

Argument of waste: “The existence of an effective means allows us to realize a desire and gives the desire a stability sufficient to transform it into an end . . . To avoid wasting effort in attaining a certain end, a person will continue a project until it is completed . . . The action, which, under the circumstances, can attain its full bearing and should thus not be considered a waste, will thereby gain in value and this militates in favor of its being done” (87). This is a very prominent argument in science and technology, where the potential of a theory or technology provides an almost irresistible argument for pursuing it. The best pop-culture example of this may be Jurassic Park: "It is technically possible to make dinosaurs. Let's do it!"

Similar arguments are leading the development in bioengineering (after the discovery of the CRISPR gene editing technology) and robotics (despite warnings from Stephen Hawking and others about the potential dangers of autonomous warrior robots). 

It is a powerful argument because we as societies are addicted to "progress" and have seen how we have changed our societies and lifestyles by utilizing effective means to the fullest. We all use this kind of argument on a smaller scale. Here are some everyday examples:

“Your brother was never good at school, but how can you who have been blessed with such talent and intelligence not go to college?”

“Your mother and I have worked for twenty years to make it possible for you to go to school, so you better study and take this seriously.”

“How can we leave and give up now when we finally have a good chance to succeed?”

Device of Stages: This is a form of argumentation that leads a person through many intermediate stages from refusing an argument to accepting it. Perelman writes, “When the gap between the theses the audience accepts and those the speaker defends is too great to be overcome all at once, it is advisable to divide the difficulty and arrive at the same result gradually” (87). This of course is common to most education courses, where a student who cannot possibly understand or agree to an abstract or complex principle is gradually "indoctrinated" or learns the steps to do so. It can of course also be abused to make people gradually accept unethical behavior that they initially refuse since it goes against their principles. I think the quote on vice by Alexander Pope is very appropriate here:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This "device of stages" is also found in the EU directives on the process of naturalization, where the goal is to make conservative societies gradually accept homosexuality by saturation and making it the norm rather than the exception. Sales people often use this "trick" to get people to buy what they don't want through gradual assent to smaller propositions leading up to the final assent to the sales proposition.

Here is an example:
A: I could never kill someone.
B: Ok, I can understand that, you seem like someone with a general good will for people, who would never willingly hurt anyone.
A: I am.
B: Are there some people you care more for than others, somebody that you really love?
A: Yes, of course. My little sister for example.
B: And I assume you would do and have done a lot for her?
A: Yes.
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her? For example, would you donate your blood if she needed it for an operation?
A: Yes, of course.
B: Would you lie if it could save her life?
A: Yes, I would.
B: What if you two were home alone, and someone broke into your house planning to murder your sister? You had a gun and could only stop him by shooting him? Would you pull the trigger?
A: And that would be the only way?
B: Yes, the only way to save her would be to pull that trigger. You already said you would be willing to sacrifice a lot to help her. So what if you have to sacrifice your aversion to killing in order to save her life?
A: Then I guess I would.
B: So what you are saying is that you could conceivably kill someone.
A: I guess….

Argument of direction is a tool one can use to resist the device of stages: Perelman writes that “foreseeing or anticipating future developments, oppose the first step, fearing that it will lead to a ‘slippery slope’ that will allow no stopping and end in total capitulation” (88). 

Here is an example:
B: Would you be willing to make sacrifices in your life if it could help her?
A: Stop, I can see where you are trying to take this. You are going to set it up so I feel selfish for not killing someone because then I am not sacrificing enough for my sister. You know what? I am not going to go there. I refuse to ever kill someone, period. There is always another way out. Your hypothetical scenarios aren’t realistic.

Argument of infinite development: This argument, often used in politics and science, professes to consider each realization in the given field only as a stage in an indefinite progression, usually towards some neverending quest for a utopia. 

Here is an example from the 1937 movie The Shape of Things to Come by H.G.Wells:
“Rest enough for the individual perhaps. Too much and too soon and we call it death. But for man, no rest and no ending. He must go on. Conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its whims and ways, and then all laws of mind and matter that restrain it. Then all the planets that are about it. And at last, out across the immensity of the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”

2.       Liasons of Coexistence (Connects realities on unequal levels)

Act/Person relationship. Do the actions define character or does the character define the action? Whether or not we agree that this is a good argument (sometimes we call it the ad hominem argument) it is always a factor that a person takes with him or her. Aristotle referred to the credibility a person has as his or her ethos
      Ethos: “Past acts contribute to the good or bad reputation of the agent. The good name a person enjoys becomes a form of capital embodied in his person, an asset it is legitimate to use in case of need.” Also, it is in the context formed by the person that people interpret all his acts, attributing to him an intention that conforms to the idea they have of him” (93). One use of this "capital" is the argument from authority. 

Argument from authority: This argument is of interest only in the absence of demonstrable proof. Common criteria for establishing authority today are competence, tradition, antiquity, and universality. When we hear of a new discovery we first ask whether the researcher has competence to make and recognize such a discovery, and we often reject findings that seem to be going against the tradition of science or the established scientific truths. For example, many have rejected the possibility of the EmDrive working because it goes against the law of the conservation of energy. 

Here is an example of the argument from authority, which would work in contexts that accept these authorities:
“As Mother Theresa said, 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them.' We should be so full of Christ’s love that we would not have mind or time to judge other people because of their weaknesses.”

The main question here is the connection between a person and the acts performed by the person. 
-          Techniques to prevent the act from coloring the person or the person from coloring the act are techniques of severance and techniques of restraint.

Restraint: Here one may interpose time, or mention exceptional circumstances, an unusual state of mind, social surroundings, etc. "This was back in his college days," or "this was at a time of national shock," or "that is how everyone he surrounded himself with thought about the issue in those days."

These categories are not exhaustive nor are they always applicable. Perelman writes that “the categories developed in the humanities . . . are constructions of the mind, tied to a distinction between what is essential and what is accessory, accidental, or negligible” (100). It is often said that they are more useful than true, which means that they do not claim universality. 

3.       Double Hierarchies: This is another liason of coexistence. In this argument, the relationship between two terms in one hierarchy are judged by another hierarchy. We often talk of how there is a constitution behind the Constitution or a structure of divine or moral law that directs and gives validity to common law. Many things in our language and in our societies depend on a second hierarchy to give it meaning and legitimacy. This is often used in poetry and fiction. 

For example:
“After the grey, cold, and naked buildings of the industrial district it was refreshing to see the rich colors of the Lake District with its abundance of life and beautiful scenery” (describes scenery in terms of the rich-poor social hierarchy)

“Oh, I know that everyone needs work, clothes, and food and such. But I wish we could talk about other things too, since man does not live by bread and water alone. The spirit or soul of man also needs nourishing you know” (needs discussed in terms of the body/soul hierarchy).

Here is a powerful example from The Great Debaters where James Farmer uses a double hierarchy of divine law/common law to argue that unjust law is no law at all. (6:49-10:00)

As mentioned before, all these arguments rely on habitual structures of the mind, but I believe a good argument could be made that they work so well because they make use of structures that have served us well individually in a lot of decisions that we have made.

PS: Can you figure out which argumentation method I just used?

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Perelman's Quasi-Logical Arguments: Part II

As mentioned in the last post, this is a beginner's introduction to Perelman. Hopefully, reading these posts is easier than reading his books. The arguments in the last post were all related to the principles of consistency and identity. The following arguments continue in the same strain, but it may be easier to think of them as dealing with relationships and comparisons between events or identities. Here we go:

1.       Reciprocity and the Rule of Justice

Is it justice of Germany to refuse debt relief to Greece when the country was itself given debt relief by Greece in 1953? Is this a case where "one good turn deserves another"? These are questions of whether or not we can equate or identify two situations with each other.

As Perelman writes, “In practice, the problem is to know in what case it is rational or just to treat in the same way two beings or situations which differ but which can be likened to each other. It is thus a question of partial, not complete identification, which is justified by the fact that the differences are considered negligible but the likeness essential. What is or is not essential depends upon the desired end” (65). Two methods of argumentation depend essentially upon this reasoning: the rule of justice, and reciprocity.

-          Rule of justice = “Beings in the same essential category should be treated in the same way” (66).

It is considered inconsistent or evidence of bias if we treat people who are essentially the same, differently. This is the central argument of discrimination or bigotry. A bigot is defined as "a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc." The defining question here is not the strength of dislike, but rather whether or not the dislike is "fair." The central argument over same-sex marriage is not whether or not there is any difference between a man and a woman getting married or a man and another man. I don't think anybody would claim there was no difference. The question is whether or not there is any essential difference between the two. Defenders of the unique position of heterosexual marriages do not claim that they don't treat the two differently, but rather that they do so for good reasons, fairly, because they see an essential difference between the two arrangements.

This tension is pretty well illustrated in the two meanings of the word "discriminate." It can mean either 1. to unfairly treat a person or group of people differently from other people or groups, or
2, to notice and understand that one thing is different from another thing : to recognize a difference between things. Discrimination has become a devil term in modern times (a term which carries a strong negative emotional connotation), but it essentially means that one is able to recognize difference. Who decides whether you are doing definition 1 or definition 2 of the word? Again, it depends on whether the different treatment is "unfair" or unjustified, Is the different treatment based on warranted essential differences between the two things, or is it based on unwarranted, irrational bias and dislike? If you do definition 1 then you break what Perelman calls "the rule of justice."

The rule of justice is the lever that people can use to point out hypocrisy and injustice. Here, the former slave Sojourner Truth uses it to great effect against a white priest who claims that women should not work because they should not have to work:  

“That man over there says women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And arn’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted , and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And arn’t I woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And aren’t I a woman?” (Sojourner Truth).

But the argument is not irrefutable. For example, take a look at the argument about German debt relief in 1953: because of the elapsed time between there is no lack of arguments people can use to show that the two situations are essentially different and so the rule of justice does not apply. This brings us to the first potential criticism one can use to counter an argument based on the rule of justice and precedent:

- The problem of the assimilation of two essentially different situations.

For example, no matter how corrupt the Greek governments were when they accumulated the huge unsustainable debt loads, these debts were incurred by democratically elected governments from both sides of the political aisle over many years. How can one possibly compare that to the debt incurred by Hitler's totalitarian regime and the damages caused by WWII? I, for one, do not agree that the German people as a whole can be held as accountable for that monetary debt as the Greek people can be for their debt. As for the larger responsibility for WWII and all that it encompassed, the Germans are carrying that debt as a debt of shame, even though the Great Depression, the Versailles Treaty, and the international sentiments that furthered the rise of Fascism make it as much an international accident as the willful act of a nation.

The standard refutation of the rule of justice is "you are mixing apples and oranges." Here is an example of an argument I heard on the radio in the US about protecting life for some and not for others: “You are saying that I am unjust because I am pro-life and yet I am not opposed to the death penalty. You are trying to compare apples and oranges! That little baby has done no harm to anyone. She hasn’t even had a chance to see if she is going to become a decent human being. That is different from wanting to see a pedophile killer who has raped and murdered little children die for his crimes. He has had his chance in life and he chose to waste it and commit offenses which are worthy of death. I protect the life of the innocent, not the guilty.” (Criticizes one category and suggests its replacement with another more essential category)

-          Second criticism: The treatment accorded two situations that are equated with each other.

This is essentially an attempt to show that there is an essential difference, and that our behavior already implicitly recognizes that difference. Here is an example refuting the "all men are equal" thesis:
“We say all men are equal, but if we really believe that then why is there a 1st class option on airplanes? Why are there luxury goods and low-prince goods? Why do only some of us go shopping at Walmart while others go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe? Clearly we are not treated as equal, so why do we go on pretending that we are equal and that class and race doesn’t matter?”

Here another example from the movie Lincoln where Thaddeus Stevens uses this same objection to argue that all are not created equal:

-          Argument of reciprocity (equates two beings or situations).

The argument of reciprocity is very similar to the rule of justice, but the focus is a little different. Whereas the rule of justice states simply that "all who are the same should be treated the same," the argument of reciprocity is more of a two-way relationship, requiring that all which applies to, for example your interlocutor, should also apply to you. For example, it is hypocritical in a discussion to expect your interlocutor to be open-minded and willing to change their mind if you are not. Likewise, one could use the example of Germany and Greece and say that "one good turn deserves another: Greece forgave Germany's debts and now it is Germany's turn to forgive Greece's debts." This argument is implicit in most equal relationships, and it is therefore a resource that an arguer can turn to when arguing that this kind of dealing with one another is just. Some examples:

“I helped you when you were in trouble, so help me now when I am the one who has the same problem that you had before.”

“Germans cannot complain about the fire-bombing of Dresden when they themselves did the same in Coventry and London and indeed did worse with the Holocaust and the Russian campaign.”

Of course, this argument also is not irrefutable. The basic requirement for this argument to work is that there is a certain symmetry between the current situation and a former one. Thus, the first method of refuting this argument is

-          Show inapplicability by showing that the symmetry is only apparent

Yes, these two situations or beings look the same, but there are significant differences between the two which warrant different behavior:

“Yes, we were both in debt, but I owed 1000 dollars, whereas you owe 100,000 dollars. These two situations are qualitatively and quantitatively different.”

2.       Arguments of Transitivity, Inclusion, and Division

This class of arguments build on a kind of "geometric thinking" that is common for certain proofs in formal logic. Transitivity is essentially the postulate of the equilateral triangle, and inclusion and division has to do with the comparison of different geometrical bodies and their relationship to one another.

-          Transitivity (if a relationship exists between A and B and B and C, then the same relationship exists between A and C).
The idea of transitivity is that a consistent relationship in two links can help predict what the relationship will be in the third link. Of course, real life is seldom as simple or straightforward as that. A common argument using this form is, “Any friend of John’s is a friend of mine.” The idea is that of Euclid's geometry: "Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." Here is a clip from Lincoln where he uses transitivity to argue for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and equality before the law.

We see some looser versions of this thinking in common arguments:

“My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Anyone willing to fight against Hitler is our ally.”

“If justice is more important than advantage, and love is more important than justice, then surely love must be more important than advantage.”

"If we are equal before the law then we are equal indeed."

Of course, as with the argument of "any friend of John," one need only show that these relationships are not 100% the same to undermine this argument. "Yes, John may be such a good person that I can trust anyone that he would trust, but friendship is more than trust." Or, "Stalin may be Hitler's enemy, but he is not our friend, though he may for a time be our ally." 

-          Inclusion of part in the whole

The essential aspect of the argument of inclusion is that something which is a part of a larger category belongs to or is subservient to that category, principle, or body. This is the core of arguments of patriotism, family, basically any kind of communal identity or cause that is given a higher status than the individual or smaller category. The core of patriotic arguments may be describes thus: “A nation is greater and more than just the sum of the people who live in it, therefore sometimes the people who live in the nation must be sacrificed for the good of the nation." Look for example at this quote from Thomas Jefferson:

"What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."

Or this quote from John Adams as he argues for passing the Declaration of Independence:

"If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready…. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

“But whatever may be our fate, be assured…that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood, but it will stand and it will richly compensate for both.

Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires, and illuminations. . . .

Before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence forever."

Here we see John Adams subordinating himself and his life to the greater goal of a free country, the Declaration, and a glorious future that will make the trials of the present seem but a trifle in comparison.

The rebuttal for such reasoning is one that may easily seem less noble, since it cannot claim the same degree of unselfishness and self-sacrifice that we are naturally drawn to as moral creatures. Yet, it can be effective.

-          Questioning inclusion can happen by showing the presence of the present and actual over the larger concept.

An argument in this strain could say, “What is a nation? It is an abstract concept, a gigantic myth, it is unreal. What is real is that we have each other and care for each other. Let the big men and masses have their war. I just want to live.” Bobby Darrin invokes such an argument in his "Simple Song of Freedom" to defuse the patriotic war rhetoric of the 1960s.

Mr. John Dickinson famously invoked this kind of rhetoric to defuse John Adams' rhetoric and sabotage the passing of the Declaration of Independence. Though we do not have his exact words, this is what the summary record mentions (you can probably imagine how he said it):

"The War will be carried on with more Severity. The Burning of Towns, the Setting Loose of Indians on our Frontiers, has Not yet been done. Boston might have been burnt to the ground."

-          Argument by division (includes dilemma and arguments a pari and a contrario).

This argument is got by dividing a topic, body, or situation in different ways, and thereby gaining a certain effect of perspective. When it comes to concepts and categories, can choose where to divide something, so the division is also a choice rather than something set in stone. Dividing into two pieces invites antagonism, whereas dividing into many pieces invites diffusion. Observe the difference between "If you are not with us then you are against us," and "You may support us directly, or morally, or remain neutral, or disagree with us, or actively oppose us." One directs towards clear action, while the second diffuses action since the possible relationships are harder to grasp.

A common use of antagonistic thinking is the argument of dilemma. Dilemma is where two unpleasant options are presented and we have to choose the best (or lesser evil) of them. For example,

“There is no ignoring ISIS. We can either fight them now when they are still disorganized and scattered, or we can encounter them later as a consolidated power with terror cells established in every Western nation.” (aims to force a decision)

Observe the argument of division in this polemical political ad that builds such a strong us vs. them picture of the world that you think it's the terrorists themselves that are building a mosque in New York!

Closely related are arguments  a pari and a contrario. Comparing one species to the other and saying they should be treated the same (a pari) or differently (a contrario). For example, Cicero writes, "However one defines Man, the same definition is true for all of us." (argument a pari). In another place he writes, "You wish to keep all citizens safe, even when those citizens are a danger to the Republic?" (argument a contrario). 

3.       Weights and Measure, and Probabilities. These are arguments about the important and the probable, which are notoriously subjective categories. We often use these methods when we make arguments of comparison that are assumed to have an arguable basis. Of course, the choice of comparison assigns the weights.

When we compare two things, we automatically place them in a hierarchy relative to each other. One is placed higher whereas the other is devalued. The effect of comparisons is often more to impress than to inform. Here is an example:

“Everything was better before. You could expect people to be decent and care about each other. Now, we hardly even see each other as we walk down the streets with our heads in our iPhones.

A weight one can use is called "Argument of sacrifice." In the absence of an objective standard, things are judged only by the value people attach to them. For example, 

“We don’t know what the purpose of the Stonehenge was, but we can tell from the effort it took to bring these stones all the way here that this was important for whoever built this.”


“We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much to give up now.”

-          Probability (final category)

When we talk of arguments of probability, we are not necessarily referring to the use of statistics. Rather, we use certain patterns of expectation that come from human experience and help us assign preference and probability. For example, we prefer many rather than few options, certainty over uncertainty, the known over the unknown. You may hear advice to take a certain kind of education because "then you leave more options open to you." All those options may be wrong, but we generally think that the sheer number of options available increases the chance of making a good choice. The same goes for valuing the certain over the uncertain. Before the Challenger launch, this argument was made on this basis:

“So there may be some risk of losing a flight if we launch, but there is certainty of losing money if we delay the launch.”

This tendency is also why we value metrics so much, and why we often make the measurable important rather than making the important measurable. It feels good to have something we can be more certain of in our hands.

Perelman adds a warning to these arguments of probability:

“All these techniques presupposed the reduction of a problem to only one of its aspects, noncalculable but capable of evaluation in terms of frequency. But this reduction can lead to the disregard of other possible essential aspects” (80).

Monday, 20 April 2015

Philosophical Rhetoric: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman's Quasi-Logical Arguments, Part I

When I first read The New Rhetoric by Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, and later The Realm of Rhetoric by just Perelman, I was struck by how elegantly these books describe the kind of arguments that are being used all around us. The second realization, was that this system, for different reasons, is often not used in areas where they could provide the most help. Part of the problem is that these books are sometimes seen as difficult or inaccessible.

Therefore, I have tried to make a "beginner's guide" to the system Perelman describes in The Realm of Rhetoric, beginning with his classification of what he calls "quasi-logical arguments."

Quasi-Logical Arguments
As far as I can tell, he calls them quasi-logical because they resemble formal logic, but are not as restrictive. More than anything, what we are dealing with here seem to be essential patterns of thought when we try to deal with a concept in some way (53). Perelman had a background in formal logic as an analytical philosopher, but he found that system to be too restrictive (for example, there was no way in that system to argue about what the meaning of justice should be). These, loosely defined, are "logical" patterns of thought that still do not pass the over-rigid test of formal logic. The point is that Perelman saw these as valid methods of reasoning, and felt it would be a mistake to overlook their effect just because of an over-rigid definition of logic.

1. Contradiction and Incompatibility
In formal logic, as in math, you can prove a system to be nonsense if you can find a contradiction in the system. This is not the case in general argumentation. In argumentation, as in life, one can allow for nuances which show that it is just an apparent contradiction rather than a real one (54).

In real life, what we really experience are not contradictions but incompatibilities which force us to choose in a conflict which rule will be followed. It is the fear of ridicule or disrepute which makes us try to avoid incompatibilities in our statements, and which makes us try to resolve them once they appear (55). The standard example, may be the charge made in the 2004 election that "John Kerry is a flip-flopper." This historical campaign ad shows how incompatibilities can be exploited to invoke ridicule against an opponent.

A version of arguments of incompatibility on stereoids is called "autophagia." An autophagia is when a rule is incompatible with the conditions or consequences of its assertion or application. If you prove that this is the case you retort the former argument.

Here are some prominent examples of how retorts have been formulated by pointing out autophagia:

Positivists famously have stated that, “To be meaningful, a proposition must be either analytical or empirical.” This claim was made by A. J. Ayer and many other prominent positivists. To this a critic can simply respond (and many have): “Was that statement you just made analytical or empirical?” Ayer's statement is a statement of definition or preference, but there is nothing analytically or empirically verifiable about the term "meaningful proposition" that gives it the meaning Ayer is endowing it with. In other words, Ayer is himself breaking the rule that he wants everybody else to follow! The very assertion of a rule of preference violates his rule against assertions of preference.

Similarly, the postmodernist may claim, "I have just discovered that all knowledge is subjective and everyone just sees what they want to see." But the critic can answer, "If all knowledge is subjective, how can you make a claim to know what everyone else sees? And how could you discover anything? Aren’t you also just seeing what you want to see? Perhaps only your knowledge is subjective." The claim that "all knowledge is relative" requires a perspective that is able to view knowledge somehow from the outside, from an objective vantage point. The philosopher Ray Bhaskar has argued for example that in order to even consider such a point as Thomas Kuhn's "incommensurability," you automatically imply the existence of an objective reality outside of the incommensurable theories of science.

Here are a few simple examples you may have heard:
A: Communication is impossible
B: Then why are you talking?

A: I’m not talking to you!
B: You just did.

Philosophers love to use this method to "catch" others in faulty thinking. This sketch illustrates the principle of autophagia in philosophic rhetoric:

So how does one solve an apparent incompatibility? Perelman mentions a few common strategies, though I am sure there are more.

- Escape from contradiction comes by interposing time

We recognize that the world is in flux, and so are our beliefs, values, and perspectives. Therefore, by interposing time we can show two incompatible statements to actually be compatible with a changing world and people who develop and grow. We constantly hear that the views of politicians "have evolved." That is an attempt at explaining apparent incompatibility by interposing time. Here are a few more examples:

A: You said that we didn’t have to worry about Russia, but now you say we do have to worry?
B: Well, back in 1994 we didn’t! Things have changed.

A: You said that Germany is the most evil country in the world, and now you praise them?
B: Yes, but that was during the Second World War. It is a totally different country now.

- Insist on the situated nature of the decision

We are human enough to realize that people make different situations when they are differently situated. The situation looks different on the ground than it does from space, we excuse a colleague who is frustrated on the day after his mother died, we condone some criminal actions perpetrated under situations of intense stress or fear. This is why insisting on the situated nature of a decision can be effective. Some examples:

A: Do you agree with what this platoon leader did?
B: I leave to the soldier on the ground to decide what action the situation requires.

A: You claim that you believe in law and order, but in 1998 you pardoned a murderer.
B: It was a young boy who saw his friend get beat half to death in front of him. In that situation I did not feel the mandatory sentence fit the crime.

- Hide the incompatibility

Of course, this is the least robust method, since all it takes for it to fail is someone to find the incompatibility and point it out. Still, if the incompatibility can remain hidden then one may never have to deal with it. All political parties are a walking incompatibility since they try to be a home for people with very different beliefs, personalities, and statements. We ourselves are walking incompatibilites since we have all done things that another part of ourselves would never do. Millions are spent every year to hid information that would expose incompatibilites about candidates, parties, companies, etc. But once this effort is exposed, the result is devastating. Nothing is more glaring than a lie to cover a lie.

2. Definition and Analysis
To give a name to something is actually an argument. That is clear in the example of “He is a RINO (Republican in name only),” but less clear in statements like “a human is a rational animal” or “this was an accident” or even “I am a student.” Still, these are arguments, not simply statements of fact. This is the case because a definition chooses some aspects and leaves out others. Yes, the person may be a student, but what he studies may be how to break into people’s cars. It is because terms are not defined once and for all that we have to make an argument for them.

For example, “Equality does not mean that there is no difference between people, nor does it mean that we should not treat people differently based on our relationship with them. How could we? Equality rather has to do with a fundamental respect for people, and that before we know anything else about them we see them as being just as deserving of that fundamental respect as we are.” This is one definition of equality. There are other definitions, some that seek economic metrics for it, others that are more philosophical. Still, the nature of the word "equality" means that anytime people are talking about it they are implicitly making an argument for what the word means or should mean.
As Perelman writes, “Every time an idea can be defined in more than one way, ‘to define’ comes to mean to make a choice” (62).

For example, Jeb Bush said that illegal immigrants/undocumented immigrants (whichever term you prefer) bringing their kids illegally to USA constituted "an act of love." That is one definition of the act. The video below is making an argument of definition to oppose that definition and replace it with its own.

- Analysis

Perelman writes that, “All analysis is directional, for it aims to make certain expressions interchangeable by leading the audience toward conceptions that conform to what the speaker has in mind and by setting aside what different interpretations another person might want to give to the statements being analyzed” (63). By making definitions we make some arguments, but the interpretation of the implications of those definitions are also arguments. Bertrand Russel wanted to claim that statements had an implied fact content, but Perelman argues that Russel is very selective in choosing exactly what implied fact content he claims the statement has in real life. Indeed, the very question of fact content does not come up in the statement itself before Russel discusses it. Just because someone says "the King of France" does not mean that France necessarily has or had a king. A statement doesn't have to have any factual correlation to the real world, as Russel claims it does. I might just as well have said "the King of Goose Egg." So when someone says they are only "doing analysis" remember that they are actually "making an argument for what this should mean." Here are two examples "analyzing" the same situation based on two definitions of the same population:

A: We are a nation of laws and do not reward lawbreakers. Illegal aliens have broken laws and are therefore criminals. If we reward people who break the law then we by implication make the law something that does not matter. It is an invitation to lawlessness. (analysis of term illegal alien)

B: We are a nation of people and we treat people as people, not like animals. Undocumented immigrants are people just like us, since we are a nation of immigrants. The only difference between them and us is a piece of paper. If we remove that disparity, we can restore them to the dignity that humans deserve. (analysis of term undocumented immigrant).

Arguments of incompatibility and definition work because of basic and almost universal patterns of human thought. Most people yearn for consistency (which is why incompatibilities are so frustrating and confusing) and for a clear concept of identity (which is why definitions are so powerful). These desires may be but symptoms of our overarching desire for order. Consistency and stable identities make our world more manageable, and we trust what we can easily comprehend. As John Dewey writes in Art as Experience:

"Order cannot but be admirable in a world constantly threatened with disorder—in a world where living creatures can go on living only by taking advantage of whatever order exists about them, incorporating it into themselves. In a world like ours, every living creature that attains sensibility welcomes order with a response of harmonious feeling whenever it finds a congruous order about it" (13).

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Can Neuroscience Make You A Great Leader?

"Take much of what you have heard about how the best executives make decisions. Now, forget it." This is how The Wall Street Journal hails the new findings from neuroscience in their article "Inside the Executive Brain" by Andrew Blackman. Neuroscientists have revolutionized what we know about good decision making (according to the neuroscientists themselves anyway). So let's take a look at what these people have found and want to teach, and how they want to teach it. Are they really discovering new things or are they just reinventing the wheel? What have they discovered and what may they have missed?

Lesson 1: Deadlines can make people less creative. Pardon me, but this isn't really brain science is it? Oh, right, it is. Is anyone really surprised when they hear that people aren't the best at thinking outside the box when they are stressed and just have to get something done? At least for my wife and me, that is when we hit survival mode where we just have to get it done in the simplest way possible. Mistakes are made in such situations. According to Blackman, "Richard Boyatzis - along with another colleague Anthony Jack and others - has found that a tight deadline increases people's urgency and stress levels" (R1). Really? Wow, I never would have guessed that. Seriously, you needed to use "sophisticated machines to map what's going on inside the brain" in order to figure that out? I don't even want to know how much that study cost.

Anyway, the part of the brain that is activated is the "task positive network" which works on problem solving but does not come up with original ideas. Who knew? "The research shows us that the more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem." Yes, that's when I shut all the windows, close myself to everyone, and just attempt to barrel through the problem. It leads to people not even seeing the box they are thinking inside. The solution, they say, is to teach employees to meditate more, which some were able to do before the whole tyranny of deadlines was imposed in the first place...oh well.

Lesson 2: Fear and anxiety lead to bad decisions. Wow, didn't see that one coming. Evidently, people who live in fear of losing their job or company tend to expect the worst and act accordingly, thereby often self-sabotaging or avoiding opportunities which may have saved them. Well, here's my comment:

Seriously though, is this really news to anyone but Wall Street Journal? Anyway, Srini Pillay, founder of the coaching firm Neurobusiness Group says the answer is not to avoid fear and anxiety, since they are apparently inevitable in modern workplaces. "The solution lies not in trying to avoid it, but in learning to accept it. It is important to be aware that your response is likely to be an exhaggeration." In other words: EMBRACE YOUR FEARS! 

Though he mentions that "consciously countering it by reframing an issue in more positive terms, can also be effective." (Instead of calling it a market meltdown, think about calling it a market waterfall! Ooh, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside now ;)

Lesson 3: Good leaders look past facts and lean more on emotions and intuition than logic. Ok, here I am actually learning something, although I am not too surprised. After all, there is a reason why number crunching by itself does not lead to good decisions and why we need people rather than machines in leadership positions. Researchers gave a bunch of management scenarios to experienced executives and scanned their brain as they were analyzing. What they found surprised them. According to Blackman: "They expected to see a lot of activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain known for its involvement in things like planning and logical reasoning. There was activity there, but different areas of the brain were dominant - those involved in social and emotional thinking." This disparity increased in those who were known to be the best decision makers.

Of course, part of the reason is that leaders have to consider the emotions of those they are leading. David Rock, director of the research organization NeuroLeadership Institute says that "A lot of strategies that go wrong are because managers haven't thought through what happens when it hits people" (R2) and many leaders have problems shifting between the analytical number-crunching and social modes of thinking. In other words, they have gone to business school to learn all about finance and numbers, and as leaders they struggle to relearn what they once knew about people.

A tip from Matthew Lieberman, professor of psychology at the University of California, is "simple reminders" like sticky notes to remember not to get too caught up in numbers and analysis. Getting quite advanced here, isn't it? Meditation, embracing fear, and putting up sticky notes to remember to think about people. I can definitely understand why these consultants and researchers are paid millions of dollars for their absolutely invaluable advice and insights.

Lesson 4: Good leaders are positive. Evidently, although some people somehow think you have to be a jerk to get things done, "the data says that's just not true" according to Dr. Boyatzis. So now he can stop abusing his research assistants while thinking he is doing them a favor, I guess. I can't believe how surprised Blackman sounds when he is writing this! He writes, "The best leaders, it seems, are good at motivating people with things like encouragement, praise and rewards - thereby creating a strong emotional bond and sense of purpose among employees." Wow, business gurus have finally realized that you need to be nice to people to get them to work for you. Isn't this just basic common sense? There is a reason why memes like these are so common:

What is the point? you may ask? Have I written this article just to make fun of researchers in general and perhaps neuroscientists in particular? Actually, I find this research to be valuable. Yes, it often confirms things that we already know, but it adds the weight of science and numbers to common sense. There is an increased credibility when research like this has been done, credibility which has more power to inform policy than "common sense" does. It is one thing if you have read it in a book by the likes of Dale Carnegie, and something else if it has been "proven" by science. If you have a boss who has bought into some kind of new management craze and requires tighter deadlines, puts people more on their toes, prefers number crunchers to people who are socially intelligent, and says that being negative and tough is "just his style," you now have numbers and research of your own to convince him or his superior that his approach is mistaken.

However, I do have an axe to grind against some of the neo-positivistic thinking which goes into a lot of this research which says that everything that is important can be measured and quantified. This, I think, becomes most clear of all in the feeble and vague solutions they propose for these problems: Meditate, what kind of meditation? Not all meditation is productive. Embrace your fears and become aware of them? How exactly do you do that? Put sticky notes up to remember people? Right, because all we need to change our behavior and way of thinking is another reminder in a world full of checklists and notification devices.

Most absurd of all, Doctor Waldman at Arizona State University wants to train good leaders by making them watch TV! Yes, you read it right. He claims that "We are right on the cusp of being able to assist leaders to rewire their own brains." You see, they have found that good leaders have what they call "inspirational leadership" which they define as "the ability to articulate a vision that inspires people and makes them buy into your strategy. Not only can these people see the big picture, but they can put that picture into words and impart it to others." In other words, a good leader needs to be a good speaker and communicator.

This was the goal of the entire tradition of teaching rhetoric, with successful outcomes shown in people like Pericles, Cicero, John Adams, and Winston Churchill. They learned through exercises, principles, and practice to analyze a matter, find a good solution, and then to articulate good arguments and reasons for this course of action. Some of the core skills and practices involved articulating the larger principles at stake, showing their connections to the case at hand, and making the perspective vivid and compelling. In fact, the humanities and a humanistic approach is especially suited to this training (as I argue here).

According to Waldman, I guess they have been going about it in the wrong way. The real way to teach leadership is through neurofeedback. Here is how it works: You make people watch a movie while you are monitoring their brain activity. "If the people aren't displaying the desired brain patterns, for example, the screen they're watching may go fuzzy. When they do display the right brain patterns, it becomes sharp again. Gradually, people's brains learn to follow the patterns that are positively reinforced." Come on! They think the brain will reprogram itself simply by "giving it a cookie" when it is doing the right thing? Even dogs' brains aren't that mechanistic! I know, I have trained several. With this "brainwashing" activity they really think that they will train people's brains to "make those visionary-leadership connections naturally - and, with any luck, make it easier for them to inspire people more easily."

Wow, who knew that to become a visionary inspirational leader all you needed to do was to watch a TV which goes fuzzy when you think the wrong way. If only Cicero, Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. had known this! To think of all the hours, years, they spent listening to and giving speeches, studying the concepts, listening to people and trying to understand them, and then to find out that all they needed was a little bit of reprogramming through neurofeedback. Well, good luck Dr. Waldman. Of course, he says that neurofeedback still needs more research before researchers can be sure it will work in developing leadership ability. Guess who is going to fund that research, and guess how likely it is that he will be a recipient of government grants, stipends, and research fellowships in order to carry on with that research.

Have you heard the saying "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"? In some ways it makes sense that if you have a machine like the fMRI-scanner which records activity and connections, the solution seems to be to rewire those connections which happen to be the problem. Yet the mind is more than just a ball of wires. I think it would be appropriate to end with a word from Kenneth Burke. He predicted that positivists will be blind to the non-mechanistic elements of human nature and reality. “The quasi-scientific reductionist theories, with their caricatures of perfection, will not only never see it in the first place, but will be so constructed that they never even miss the loss” (301). While looking for the secrets of leadership through the methods of neuroscience it seems like it is also possible for researchers to become blind to other aspects of what it means to be and become a good leader. As Kenneth Burke would say, "It's more complicated than that." Leadership is not developed in a day, and despite the short-cuts these people are promising, it takes patience, passion, and natural ability. Becoming a good leader is a lifelong pursuit. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Putin's Strategy of Inaction and The Rhetoric of Doubt

Putin has shocked and puzzled the world by his actions since the Winter Olympics in 2014. People were shocked by his brazen invasion of the Crimean peninsula, but they have been even more puzzled by his fantastic claims and his support of stories about the invasion of Crimea and the subsequent violent uprising in Eastern Ukraine. We are supposed to believe that all who oppose Russian dominance in Ukraine are fascists; that this fact endangered the lives of Russians living in Crimea, even though not a single incidence of violence has ever been recorded prior to the invasion; that Crimea was in fact not invaded at all, but that some Russian speaking Ukrainians suddenly acquired armored vehicles, military uniforms, tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles, and a clear chain of command in order to spontaneously resist the "Ukrainian nationalist threat." It is said that the first victim of war is the truth, but this takes dishonesty to a new level. The stories aren't even consistent, but rather they change with whatever the situation requires. Phony and rigged referendums are just the top of the iceberg.

Of course, a large part of the explanation is that Putin needs a story to tell his own countrymen in order to justify his actions. His followers have performed a lot of revisionist history lately, writing Russian history books for education which claim that Stalin's mass executions and labor camps were just "a natural consequence of the difficulties of holding together such a vast and diverse country" and portrays the fall of the Soviet Union as one of the worst tragedies and mistakes of the 20th century.

As a former director of the KGB he also understands the use of disinformation and propaganda for external purposes, but what actually is he hoping to achieve?

Putin learned well the lessons from the Iraq War and Syria's use of chemical weapons: An act of war is judged by its justification, and the justification is based on what one could call "actionable intelligence" which convey a clear narrative which warrants a reaction which is appropriate or at least is esteemed to be so by common wisdom. The Iraq War has been condemned mainly because there were no weapons of mass destruction and so the act of war was not justified. The narrative by which an act of war was seen as potentially justified has proven to be false. Fuel is added to the fire when one learns of the faulty intelligence and the flimsy evidence which were used as the basis for the decision to go to war.

Thereafter, the public became increasingly skeptical of justifications for war and scrutinized more carefully the reasons and the evidence given by governments who wanted to do so. "Do we really know for sure that this is what happened? Are there other factors which give these facts a different explanation? Is this really the best course of action and a fitting response?" This was clearly displayed in the public backlash against David Cameron when he lost the vote for use of force to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. Barack Obama felt the same heat from Congress and public opinion. Where was the evidence that chemical weapons were used? How do we know for sure that they were used by Assad's forces? Who issued the order to use it? You claim they have been used by Assad's forces before? Why should we act now when we did not act then?

The opposition did not succeed in disproving that Assad used chemical weapons, but when your goal is not action but inaction you do not have to prove your point. All you have to do is to sow doubt about the narrative and the facts the other person is using to justify their push for action. In any argument aimed at effecting action, the rhetor has to take the audience along the four stases (discussed and elaborated in this post) of fact, definition, quality, and procedure. The audience need to feel they can be pretty confident that they know what happened or what the situation is, what it should be called or what kind of category it fits into, what quality it has (how good or bad it is), and that the proposed action or procedure is the appropriate one according to the facts, definitions, and qualities of the situation in question. Here the defence arguing for inaction has the upper hand, since they do not have to refute all the evidence: all they have to do is muddy the waters a little bit to create room for uncertainty and doubt. The one arguing for action has to defend all the four stases, whereas the one arguing for inaction can choose to attack any one of them. If he can win even one of them he has won the battle and inaction ensues, as any veteran saboteur of planning meetings knows. (just as a side note, this is also why the justice system inherently favors the defense. Not guilty is the default position as long as guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt).

This is what Putin is doing with his rhetoric of doubt. What happened in Crimea? What do we call it? Was it an invasion? Well, no shots were fired, and the action did have the assent of some local government officials. So then it was an annexation? Ok, but that just means that one country took over another. It is not as clear how we should react to an annexation. We know what an invasion is, with all its negative connotations of aggression and war, but what does really an annexation mean and what is the appropriate response to such an action? Support of local government officials and the referendum further makes the case a difficult one to classify. A similar pattern is repeated in Eastern Ukraine, where the so-called "rebels" now have acquired Stinger missiles to shoot down airplanes. Did they get that from used army supply shops as Putin claims? Meanwhile, Russia escalates and then de-escalates their military presence on the border in order to give the pretense of "wanting to keep the peace" while at the same time watching out for its interests. The hope is that the rest of the world will tire and be confused and inactive long enough for Russia to gradually increase and strengthen its hold of the region.

This is the political equivalent of chess with a silent war fought on the stages of international diplomacy as well as through arms supplies, subversion, espionage, and open display of military force. Gradually, the world may learn to tolerate and accept a reality which just a year ago would have provided widespread outrage and the threat of nuclear war. And Putin gets to enjoy his prize with impunity.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Orator and the Mechanic: Images of Rhetorical Practice in De Oratore

What do you need to know to change the world?

I am not the only one who has asked that question; it has been the central quandary for many philosophers, politicians, reformers, and preachers for most of the recorded history of thought. As Richard Weaver writes, we are all "born into history, with an endowment of passion and a sense of the ought. There is ever some discrepancy . . . between the situation man is in and the situation he would like to realize. His life is therefore characterized by movement towards goals." We want to make the world better, and make life richer, fuller, and more worth living. How do we do that?

Well, one central element is that we cannot do it alone; we need help from others. In order to help, they have to be persuaded through words that the endeavor is worth it. That is why Weaver goes on to claim, "It is largely the power of rhetoric which influences and governs that movement" towards goals. So what do you need to know to get others to enlist in such a cause? Is it enough to know which buttons to press, how do make people feel certain emotions or get certain desires? Will marketing and style do? What about the larger ideas about human nature and what builds and moves societies, what some people may call philosophy, what about them?

Marcus Tullius Cicero plays out this dispute elegantly in his dialogue between Crassus and Antonius in De Oratore. At the outset of De Oratore, Cicero references an important disagreement with his brother Quintus on the nature of eloquence: Cicero espouses that "eloquence is dependent upon the trained skill of highly educated men" whereas Quintus says "it must be separated from the refinements of learning and made to depend on a sort of natural talent and . . . practice" (290). These competing views (high education vs. practice) are then fully played out in the ensuing dialogue between Crassus and Antonius, yet they are not as far apart as they seem. The central argument is based on different perspectives of a similar idea: Crassus is normative and describes a "lofty ideal" of the Orator (320), whereas Antonius is descriptive and performs the Socratic work of defining and delimiting the strict boundaries of oratory (311). As such, it is logical that their definitions of the issue will be conflicting, with Crassus pursuing the greatest eloquence and Antonius cutting the craft of the orator to its barest minimum. What we see playing out in the dialogue is an artful display of an argument on the stasis of definition, where Cicero is able to instruct us about the nature of eloquence and oratory, and their roles in society from both idealistic and descriptive perspectives.

One of the main disagreements is about what and how much the orator needs to study in order to become an orator. Antonius limits the sphere of an orator to the law courts and public debates (311), and claims that although the orator may "taste" much which belongs to other fields of knowledge, he does not need to acquire it as his own (312). Philosophy in general is especially useless, since such ideas and precepts espoused by the likes of Plato are too far removed from reality to be of any utility (320). The one possible exception here is Aristotle, whose theory may be useful to more advanced students of rhetoric (326) but not to novices. What an orator needs is to be attuned to "the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and hopes of his fellow-citizens and of any men whom on any issue he would fain win over by his word" (313) since the oratory needs to be adapted to the ears of the audience (326).

Crassus, on the other hand, argues that an orator should seek after knowledge widely, since eloquence without it is empty (292) and cannot achieve excellence (294). Especially philosophy which deals with human life and manners must be mastered by the orator (299). Nor is oratory restricted to law courts and public debates. Oratory brings people together, creates and sustains civilization, law, and order, and brings pleasure and safety: "the wise control of the complete orator is that which chiefly upholds . . . the safety of countless individuals and of the entire State" (293-294). It is also the general art to which every specialist must come in order to convince people and gain consensus and support for any cooperative venture (298). As he concludes towards the end: "an orator cannot have sufficient cogency and weight if he lacks the vigor that public speaking demands, and cannot be adequately polished and profound if he lacks width of culture" (339). As for rhetoric, the education of the orator, they both agree that it is not an art in the strict "Greek" sense, but that it still has utility and value (309). The Isocratean tradition is clearly the most useful to rhetorical novices, but Aristotle and some other philosophers may have occasional helpful points to offer (338).

In my opinion both perspectives have value: Antonius' "mechanistic" perspective is helpful in order to settle the boundaries of rhetoric as an academic field, and Crassus' views show the potential reach of oratory which "embraces the origin and operation and developments of all things" (338). Oratory, as Crassus defines it, is the only way leadership can be practiced in a democratic society, and it is often the only way people can change the course of the world.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What I Want My Daughter to Know

Reading "The Solitude of Self" by Elizbeth Cady Stanton had a great impact on me, partially because it spoke of a principle which is central to my philosophy of life. Cady Stanton was a female rhetorician who really kick-started First Wave Feminism (which was directed towards getting the vote for women). She has been criticized for using racial language when she gave reasons for why women should have the vote before black men did, but even Frederick Douglass respected her highly and wrote, "After her--silence."

This speech was given when she was already firmly established and respected as an advocate for women, and it is a piece I would class together with the greatest masterpieces of philosophical rhetoric next to "On the Peace" by Isocrates and "The Dream of Scipio" by Cicero. Her premise is simply stated: "We all have to be responsible for our own lives." Women cannot depend on a man for her happiness or protection alone, just as no other person should be wholly dependent on anyone else for the rest of their lives. I have heard and I believe the saying that "If a person cannot be alone with nature and be satisfied, that person is not happy with themselves." It is the same in matters of love. Though I am a huge believer in the importance of relationships and families, these relationships alone cannot define your worth or who you are. As Cady Stanton writes, "The isolation of every human soul, and the necessity of self-dependence, must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings."

What then of all the talk during her age of the "weaker sex?" The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce storms of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, and to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual sovereignty. Rich and poor; it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself."

She makes it quite clear indeed that women may pass through more travail than men do in life. "Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown . . . ."

Everyone needs a center, a focus of their being which they can call their own and which is not defined solely in relation to other people. It is this center they must rely on in the bitter and lonely moments of their life, and it is this center which may provide a security and a joy which no other source can take away. This must be the same for men and for women. The lack of nternal value leads to a constant struggle for external value, and all external value in the end will be nothing more than shadows and dust by itself.

Do not live in constant fear of what other people can give or take away. Do not wait for someone to slay your dragons or fight your demons. You are who you are, and that by itself is enough.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What's Not To Like About A Tyrant?

You'd think that this would be a closed case in a country founded as a reaction to tyranny, with a people whose very Constitution is based on a suspicion of government and trust in individuals and the choices of the people, where "freedom" and "liberty" are discussed and honored more often than just about any other concept. Yet, when you see not one, but two presidents applauded for promising to abuse and overstep executive authority in a State of the Union address, when you see government agencies and bureaucracies used to stifle dissent, and when you see massive surveillance of the press, opposition groups, and in fact the entire population, all of which happens without any public outrage, you start to wonder.

In the old rhetoric schools of Athens and Rome, one of the rhetorical exercises given to advanced students was to rhetorically "slay a tyrant" by using something called the "topos of a tyrant:" In a measured invective, the students would lay out the six vices of a tyrant to remind their audience what it meant to be free from tyranny as well as to move them to action against a budding tyrant or tyrannical tendencies in their society. The freedom they had to exhibit this exercise was a good indication of the actual freedom they actually enjoyed in their societies. Two rhetoricians, Secundus and Maternus, were put to death by Caligula and Domitian when they performed the topos of the tyrant as rhetorical exercises at a festival. I guess they did too good of a job, and the tyrants got a really good look at themselves. The topos of a tyrant is an exercise I think we could profitably adopt in our society, as a safeguard of liberty and a ready weapon against tyranny. In this post, I'll try to explain the exercise and give a model you can use and spread as you choose. So, here goes: Let's slay a tyrant!

First, a little bit of theoretical groundwork to define what I mean by tyranny. Paul Woodruff has the best description I have seen so far in his book First Democracy: "The idea of tyranny is among the greatest gifts we have from ancient Greece, because it nails down a vital way to think about freedom. The ancient Greeks realized that there is a kind of government that destroys people by dividing them, while it diminishes their leader by clouding his mind. The leader may be a person or a group, and tyranny may rise in what is nominally a democracy. Like a disease, tyranny is recognized by its symptoms. These symptoms are the features of political leadership that the ancient Greeks most feared. And the Greeks were right to fear them. If you observe any of these symptoms in your leaders, be wary. A plague could be on the way, and it could fatally weaken your freedoms:
1. A tyrant is afraid of losing his position, and his decisions are affected by this fear.
2. A tyrant tries to rise above the rule of law, though he may give lip service to the law.
3. A tyrant does not accept criticism.
4. A tyrant cannot be called to account for his actions.
5. A tyrant does not listen to advice from those who do not curry favor with him, even though they may be his friends.
6. A tyrant tries to prevent those who disagree with him from participating in politics" (66-7).

Any of these look familiar? Ask yourselves, when did the US last have a president who did not start campaigning for reelection from day 1 in office? When last did it have a president who followed the Constitution and refrained from fighting illegal wars? When last did a president voluntarily disclose and admit to a significant failure without being forced to do so? When was ever a president successfully impeached or held accountable for his actions? I'm not talking about losing an election or stepping down like Nixon, I mean impeached and prosecuted for crimes. Only two presidents (in over 200 years) have ever been impeached, and none have ever been convicted. And not because of lack of either crimes or evidence, I can assure you. Besides, the US president has what is called "sovereign immunity," and according to the US Attorney General's Office "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions" (i.e. "ya can't touch him"). Concerning point 5 and 6, do I even need to list examples? Didn't think so.

So why is this so bad? Why does it matter for example if the NSA is spying on Americans (and the rest of the world for that matter)? I have had university students actually say "as long as you don't do anything wrong, what do you have to fear?" If that's your attitude, why bother with any restraint at all. Why even care about having checks and balances. Have we forgotten that almost everyone who has been given absolute power has actually used it? The results have not been pretty. The rhetoric schools outlined six vices of the tyrant to help people keep this in mind. They are cruelty, savagery, suspicion, arrogance, immorality, and avarice. The student would then explain and amplify those vices by giving descriptions, examples, and stories. I will provide a brief outline, but you can easily fill in examples of your own.

Suspicion: A tyrant can have no real friends, for he knows that his power is illegitimate and is only supported by force. As a result, he is constantly suspicious, even of those who want what is best for him. He believes the slightest rumor of a threat against him and sees every talented individual as a challenge to his power. As Euripides writes,
"When the people govern a country
They rejoice in the young citizens who are rising to power
Whereas a man who is king thinks them his enemy
And kills the best of them and any he finds
To be intelligent, because he fears for his power" (Woodruff 63).

Every tyrant has needed informants, secret police, and surveillance. In our days the thought police have taken the role of the bodyguard as the vanguard of tyranny. The ancients recognized that a tyrant first asks for a bodyguard because he knows he will need protection from his people and the power of force in order to carry out his crimes. In our days, the tyrant first seeks intelligence about dissenters and the ability to spread an atmosphere of fear and distrust among his subjects. It is always defended with a need for "security," but too late do the people realize that the security he was talking about was his, and the threat was them. This is a necessity, for a tyranny of one over many can only endure by the oppressive fear created by a police state, splintering everyone into their own shell of terror, never knowing who is watching or listening.

This is a scene from  the movie The Lives of Others portraying the real surveillance practices of the DDR.

Cruelty and savagery: A tyrant relies on terror to silence opposition, and the fear of the citizenry must be kept vivid by regular demonstrations of power and cruelty. Thus, it is not a question of whether or not a specific victim deserves this treatment because of any action on their part. Rather, display of cruelty in itself is a goal, and so-called crimes against the state are often mere pretenses in order to organize these displays. This is one subject which I believe the recent UN report on the North Korean prison camps makes vivid enough. To give a more historic example, Tacitus describes the murders committed by Emperor Tiberius after he had seized complete power: "Frenzied with bloodshed, the emperor now ordered the execution of all those arrested for complicity. It was a massacre. Without discrimination of sex or age . . . there they lay, strewn about - or in heaps. Relatives and friends were forbidden to stand by or lament them, or even gaze for long. Guards surrounded them, spying on their sorrow, and escorted the rotting bodies until, dragged into the Tiber, they floated away or grounded - with none to cremate or touch them. Terror had paralyzed human sympathy. The rising surge of brutality drove compassion away" (209). This is the goal of cruelty, to paralyze human sympathy and drive away compassion by terror and brutality. This is the hollow existence of a people living under tyranny.

Arrogance: Along with being a vice, arrogance in some ways is a necessity for a tyrant. How else can he defend asserting his will contrary to the wishes of his subjects? He needs to believe that he is above them. He needs to make himself in some ways a "superhuman," almost a god as the Roman emperors did. His reign serves as a sign of devotion to his massive ego. Raised on a throne of power above everyone else, he looks down upon the puny humans below him as little more than animals with haughty disgust. They are there for his enjoyment and use, and serve no higher purpose than that. The Greeks believed this frame of mind above all the other vices show tyranny for what it is: a disease of the mind. For under this self-delusion the tyrant has to hide his knowledge of his weaknesses, frailty, and guilt. Tacitus writes, "How truly the wisest of men used to assert that the souls of despots, if revealed, would show wounds and mutilations - weals left on the spirit, like lash-marks on a body, by cruelty, lust, and malevolence" (202). The tyrant seeks confirmation of his superiority over mankind, and finds it in abuses of power. He seeks confirmation of his superiority to divine law, and finds it by breaking every sacred bond and violating everything deemed inviolable.

Immorality and Avarice: These are the vices which a tyrant can exercise without restraint, and the very ability to do so constitute the lure and reward of tyranny. To have whatever one's eye lusts for, be it property, power, or people, this is the lure for the tyrant. The desire for absolute power would have little meaning for unscrupulous people if that power did not enable one to break all bonds which social position, morality, and laws would otherwise restrain. The Roman emperors would frequently display that power by taking the wives of men they had invited to the palace. Nero made it a hobby to display the most depraved behavior imaginable. Tiberius had his soldiers throw the richest man of Spain off a cliff so he could confiscate his money. There is no private property in a tyranny, nor is anything sacred. There is nothing where anyone can say, "this is mine" or "this is private." What is there then to live or hope for?
As the Athenian Euripides writes:
"Why should one acquire wealth and livelihood
For his children, if the struggle is only to enrich the tyrant further?
Why keep his young daughters virtuously at home,
To be the sweet delight of tyrants?
I'd rather die than have my daughters wed by violence" (Woodruff 63).

Yes, freedom from tyranny is worth fighting for. Cicero, who saw the death of the Roman Republic in his time sums it up like this in his The Republic: "As soon as a king takes the first step towards a more unjust regime, he at once becomes a tyrant. And that is the foulest and most repellent creature imaginable, and the most abhorrent to god and man alike. Although he has the outward appearance of a man, he outdoes the wildest beasts in the utter savagery of his behavior" (50). Remembering the first tyrant slayer of Rome, he writes that "he became the first in this state to show that, when it comes to preserving the people's freedom, no one is just a private citizen" (49).

It is the duty of every citizen to guard against tyranny and from becoming tyrants ourselves. A whole generation is growing up now which has never experienced the world before the Patriot Act. Massive surveillance which has never before been experienced in free societies is a fact of life. Throw off this yoke and destroy tyranny and all that resembles it. Nip it in the bud before it can grow any further. We do not want to progress down this road. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin