Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Crider on the Use and Misuse of Rhetoric

As an ancillary to the effort to, well, persuade the Protestant and in particular the Reformed world to embrace a culture of persuasion (see also here and here; or, for that matter, here or here. Haven’t had enough? Try here and here, too), herewith a couple of useful quotations from Scott F. Crider’s The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay (ISI, 2005).

People often fault “rhetoric” for playing fast and loose with the truth, or disregarding it altogether, but what they actually mean to criticize is sophistry, and so what they are criticizing is a misuse of the discipline of rhetoric and not the thing itself. Thus Crider comments:

I grant that rhetoric is often misused, and I grant that it has its own limitations as an art. Many good things are limited, though, and there is nothing that cannot be abused….Rhetoric is no more essentially destructive than physics. There is no need to fear this art. As the reader’s writing improves, he or she should experience an increasing intellectual power. This power is a good power, even if the student were to misuse it. (3-4)

Finally, a nice summation of the end of persuasion. Crider is speaking here of persuasion in the “academic community,” but his description is of wider application.

What is the end of persuasion in an academic community? The truth of the matter at hand, not as an object possessed, but as a disposition toward the subject, a disposition that is truer than before the rhetorical moment, a disposition shared with one’s audience. That disposition is, according to Socrates, the highest good of human life, for, as he would have it, the unexamined life is not worth living. The care of words and things–that is, the care of things through the care of words–in a generous, disciplined forum: this human activity is rhetorical throughout, the true influence of friends who have, as Phaedrus puts it at the close of the Phaedrus, “everything in common” (279c), in particular the shared motion toward the real. (13-14)

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.