4 discussion 200 words – rhetoric and theory
CHAÏM PERELMAN’S “NEW RHETORIC” The Belgium theorist Chaïm Perelman was also interested in developing a way to critique arguments as they appeared in actual discussion. Perelman believed that the way to more accurately discuss argumentation was to focus on its audience. For Perelman (1982), argumentation necessarily involved an audience, which made it different from formal logic, “in which no attention is paid to the meaning of the symbols” (p. 13). Argumentation, though, requires a relationship between the speaker and the audience. Ray (1978) explained, “Since it is the audience that the speaker seeks to influence by argument, all argumentation is developed in relation to an audience” (p. 362). In Perelman’s (1982) words, “all argumentation aims at gaining the adherence of minds, and, by this very fact, assumes the existence of an intellectual contact” (p. 14). The audience, he explained, may not be the person or people physically present to hear the speaker. It is even more difficult to locate the exact audience for written rhetoric, since writing spreads to many audience members unknown to the writer. Perelman (1982) defined the audience as “the ensemble of those whom the speaker wishes to influence by his argumentation” (p. 19). Perelman (1982) noted that the “audience” is always a “more or less systematized construction” (p. 19). That is, the audience is an idea the speaker considers as he or she prepares arguments and techniques of argumentation. Too often, wrote Perelman (1982), rhetoric had become an “academic exercise” in which it addressed “conventional audiences” (p. 20). He was concerned that rhetoric was not taught in a way to address a meaningful audience, but one that was instead invented for the rhetorical exercise at hand. Such a view limited rhetoric and made it an artificial art, according to Perelman. In argumentation, he explained, “care must be taken to form a concept of the anticipated audience as close as possible to reality. An inadequate picture of the audience, resulting either from ignorance or an unforeseen set of circumstances, can have very unfortunate results” (Perelman, 1982, p. 20). Without a clear understanding of the audience, a speaker who thinks he or she has constructed effective arguments, may find the opposite when confronted by a real audience. Perelman (1982) suggested, “Accordingly, knowledge of those one wishes to win over is a condition preliminary to all effectual argumentation” (p. 20). In fact, Perelman advised arguers that “the important thing is not knowing what the speaker regards as true or important, but knowing the views of those he is addressing” (pp. 23–24). While Plato lamented the rhetor’s flattery of the audience, Perelman observed that no orator can “afford to neglect this effort of adaptation to the audience” (p. 24). Perelman identified a distinction between persuading and convincing to help rhetors consider the audience they are addressing. Persuasion, he wrote, is a form of argumentation that claims validity only for a particular audience, while convincing is a type of argumentation that holds true for an audience of “every rational being” (Perelman, 1982, p. 28). The former type of argumentation is aimed at a particular audience, the latter at the universal audience. The particular audience is composed of those in attendance at a rhetor’s speech; the universal audience is composed of “all normal, adult persons” (p. 30). Perelman (1982) explained that “Argumentation aimed exclusively at a particular audience has the drawback that the speaker, by the very fact of adapting to the views of his listeners, might rely on arguments that are foreign or even directly opposed to what is acceptable to persons other than those he is presently addressing” (p. 31). That is, when you argue an appeal for more money for your student organization in front of the student government, you might use different appeals than if you presented to your organization’s alumni with similar arguments. Perelman was concerned that you would use faulty arguments if you only considered the immediate audience. The importance of the universal audience, on the other hand, is to provide a “norm for objective argumentation” (Perelman, 1982, p. 31). “Argumentation addressed to a universal audience must convince the reader that the reasons adduced are of a compelling character, that they are self-evident, and possess an absolute and timeless validity, independent of local or historical contingencies” (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 32). The strongest arguments, he thought, were those that had a timeless appeal to a universal audience.
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