Archive for the 'Rhetoric' Category



Stephen Toulmin’s Rules

Sometimes one comes across a book that seems to reveal rules that previously seemed indiscoverable. Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument (1958, 2003) was one of those books for me. I had previously read a (sadly) lesser-known Cambridge philosopher called John Wisdom and grown very fond of his Paradox and Discovery (1965) and Proof and Explanation (1991), and upon reading that Toulmin was a former student of his it was clear that his book, a legend in its own right, should be on my reading list. Even before going through it, however, I came across the famous Toulmin-model of argument. The simplicity and flexibility of the model was quite simply astonishing. It really is a thing of beauty, never mind the fact that the book is not strictly about this single model. Here it is:

It looks way too simple to be a powerful tool of analysis, but there is no denying that it goes a long way in any argumentative affair. (D) stands for data or datum; the horizontal line, the inference, leads us to (C), a claim that is put forth by using the argument; (Q) stands for qualifier, it might be a word like “probably” or “presumably”, but it can also be something more elaborate; (R) means rebuttal and it is characterized by the word “unless”, ie. it explains why the contingency expressed in the qualifier might come in handy; the warrant (W) supports the inference and it explains why it is possible, or warranted, to make the inference. Warrants, in turn, can be backed up (B for backing) with further arguments when, for instance, someone challenges the acceptability of a given warrant. That, in turn, can develop into a whole new discussion that needs new arguments. The model can therefore branch out in multiples and be used again to describe what goes on under (B). It’s scalable in this sense.

The model is so simple that one can gain a lot just by learning its vocabulary. These are pretty much everyday words: warrant, claim, data, qualifier, etc. Therefore, there is little need to screw around with fancy terminology on this level. Just picking up stuff in the papers or daily conversations and naming the constituent parts of argument one finds in them can help one to make a habit of picking apart simple, everyday argumentation. Most arguments come to us unlabelled, and thankfully so, and most are not constructed carefully enough to have backings for their warrants or qualifiers or much else, but in order to be argumentative they have to have at least a claim.

One can speak of argumentative rigor only after a claim has been made. After that, one can ask for instance: “What do you have to go on and what warrants your inference?” Assuming you are on friendly terms with your interlocutor and don’t get punched in the face for asking that, this questioning will lead you to think the matter through with more precision and, who knows, even construct a more solid argument to support the claim through constructive criticism. In any case, the model is one of those things that will have a lasting effect on your thinking when you get it.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Quick Summary of Analogy, Metaphor, and Allegory

There has been some really great work done on metaphor and similar figures in cognitive theory and related fields recently. I don’t have enough knowledge of this stuff to critique it, but it seems like lots of it is directed at trying to figure out the way brains manipulate concepts, or elements similar to postulated conceptual units, and that neglects a whole bunch of philosophical questions many people are still struggling with. I do not know about brains, nor do I know what concepts qua brain excretions would be like unless they are simply electrical bursts connected by and shot through synaptic nerves, but even if it is the case that the patterns created by the dance of electricity and neurotransmitters direct our nerves and correspond to the use of language — a simplistic idea, surely — the brain is so flexible an organ that it would be a great surprise if we would ever be able to map out consciousness against language using this paradigm. Then again, what do I know. It might be the case that it is merely our philosophical notions that need adjusting.

I’m not really that interested in all that stuff. Or rather, I’m more interested in what we actually do with languages, because that is the way we communicate and make our common world. Sure, there are other things as well, but what else comes even close to their broadness and precision as forms of expression? Interpretive dance? Mathematics? Both interpretive dance and mathematics are great (especially mathematics like the one that makes it possible for me to be writing this right now), but they come in second to Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, German, English, French, and the like. Furthermore, you can train your thinking through your knowledge of languages, so knowledge of the use of these languages and others like them is not simply a case of translating innate ideas into the media of language. That’s where analytical treatment of languages, grammar, becomes important. And not only the sort of grammar we all know from school (parts of speech, conjugations, declinations, etc.), but the manipulation of larger entities like analogies, metaphors, and even allegories. These things make you understood in ways which are somewhat similar to our usual notion of grammatical manipulations, but there does not appear to be much grammar written about them anymore.

There is of course some, but it’s too late in the evening to start indicating sources. Besides, I had a couple of glasses of wine at dinner and thus I’m not all that sharp right now. What could be useful is a brief index of the stuff I wrote the last couple of days. Like so:

(1) Analogy
(2) Metaphor
(3) Allegory
(4) Rudimentary Diagramming
(5) Metaphorical Morals
(6) Is the Three-Term Analogy an Analogy?
(7) Why Study Literature?

All these are based on analogy. That is, the unified scheme of these tropes and figures is based on the simple view that we can elaborate on an analogical way of thinking through resemblances, the way one thing is like another, when talking about their use. It’s not necessarily the case that this sort of thing always happens in practice, but it’s a good place to begin the task of schematization and analysis.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Why Study Literature?

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few days and haven’t had the opportunity to figure out things for the blog, but now, after a strenuous workout, when I’ve found that the blundering builders who are doing work on our building have cut off our water supply, I can use this time, which would otherwise be spent having a refreshing shower, to ponder on something that often troubles those of us who study literature.

There are of course many reasons to study literature and I can offer but one more here. The typical attitude of many who are in the business of attending to the more serious things in life is reflected in an utterance reported to me by a friend of mine. Someone asked him something like this: “Isn’t literature merely emoting? Why waste your time on it?” This business with emoting is supposed to make it of secondary importance. Apparently collecting yet more corpora or thinking of new ways to sell mobile phones is a more worthy enterprise. At least it’s easier to write apologies for those things.

Let’s try out an apology for literature that relies on the models of analogy, metaphor, and allegory we’ve outlined below. If we think of analogy as a basis for systematic thought, we can say that we make sense of new things by relating them to the things we already know. This is either vague or banal without any elaboration, so let’s elaborate. We come into contact with metaphor every day and most of the time we more or less grasp what metaphoric tropes wish to convey, that is unless we are autistic or dealing with a language that is still strange to us. These metaphors are rarely if ever spelled out as analogies and show their superior terms only, their tenor and vehicle. Or it might be the case that only the vehicle is shown, but you should be able to adduce some tenor level of meaning.The ambiguity of metaphor can be said to stem from the unaddressed terms (B and D) which, you guessed it, you have to address somehow in order to resolve the meaning of the metaphor in some way. As you read a metaphor, a whole wave of analogies come to mind, different possibilities make themselves known and you have to figure out which ones are relevant. You must also decide what information is relevant for choosing the best explanation to make sense of the situation.

This is not to say that once you’ve nailed the one pair of inferior terms you will have figured out what the metaphor is actually saying. Far from it. The more options you can think of, the better off you are and the more competence you have in choosing among possible meanings with the help of additional information of the particular situation, your interlocutor, textual conventions, and so on. Precision is not necessarily the key here and hence we don’t become catatonic when we fill our heads with literature — although there are certainly enough stories to warn us about that. Broadness of understanding is the best term I can come up with for now, and that’s what can be gained from literature and fiction.

Of course, if you read rubbish this broadness cannot be reached. Because we are talking about things that happen in our common languages in our common world, there is very little room for the argument that because the pleasures of fiction are subjective we should just read whatever pleases us most. Some stuff makes your understanding grow while other stuff does not. Neither is it the case that now that high and low culture are valued more or less alike, it really should not matter from which source we go a-foraging our daily sustenance. Nor is it the case that all high culture is fantastic and popular culture rubbish. Things are a bit more complicated than that and that is why there are literature departments in universities. I suggest you take advantage of them and their productions while they are still around.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Rudimentary Diagramming

Diagramming can be useful, but even when diagrams fail to clarify things it’s at least fun to draw them. Shifting around the elements of analogy seems to lend itself pretty well to diagramming and they can be used to draw some sort of wire frame to illustrate a way metaphor and allegory may be constructed from analogy.

(1) Theme and Phoros

The first picture simply presents the scheme of analogy and identifies the theme and the phoros.

(2) Superior and Inferior Terms

The second image shows the alternative way of grouping the terms of analogy.

(3) Tenor and Vehicle

The third image shows a metaphor with its tenor and vehicle labeled. That’s a pretty boring picture, but it allows us to include the implied analogy that accompanies metaphor. You can also see that the superior terms have an element from both the theme and phoros.

(4) Allegory

The final picture shows allegory as it was defined through analogy and metaphor. It’s just the two main elements of metaphor aligned differently. There’s only two pairs here, but of course there could be many more.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Is the Three-Term Analogy an Analogy?

A three-term analogy is an analogy that has three terms instead of the usual A, B, C, and D. That means that we have to cope with A, B, and C and still be able to create something that resembles an analogy. Thus, one of the terms has to be shared somehow. These are not too uncommon and could be made, for instance, to create a stronger link between the two terms that share the third than a normal analogy with four different terms would provide. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca give us the scheme B is to A as C is to B and this example from Heraclitus: In the sight of the divinity man is as puerile as a child is in the sight of man. Then they say that the common term “man” invites the reader

to locate the theme in an extension of the phoros, and to arrange them hierarchically. Nevertheless, the distinction between spheres, which is essential for the existence of an analogy, is maintained. For, though the common term is formally the same in both theme and phoros, it is dissociated by being differently used, and this makes it ambiguous. (375)

The hierarchy Heraclitus wants us to construct of course goes from divinity to man to child, and this relationship is clear to everyone, but the ambiguity can be worrisome. It’s as if we should somehow make a distinction between two senses of the term “man” in order to see the form more clearly. That is, we have to dissociate two notions of the term.

I’ve actually already done some dissociating of the term “analogy” here by hinting that we might want to have two different notions of analogy if we are to count the three-term analogy as one; bringing two terms that were earlier seen as different back together we would call associating — knowing which terms are associated and which dissociated at the outset naturally requires some knowledge of your audience. You get the idea when you look at Heraclitus’ analogy and put yourself in the shoes of man and, first, look to one side to the abode of the gods and, then, to the other at the baffled child. Your relationships to these creatures will be so different that we might as well split you in two and make you the insecure man blinded by divinity on the one hand and the parent of the weeping child on the other. That is, B : A :: C : B becomes B1 : A :: C : B2 where A = divinity, C = child B = man (associated), B1 = man seeing divinity, and B2 = man seen by child. Of course you don’t need to do this schematizing in order to get Heraclitus’ point, but I think it does show where the ambiguity comes from.

The reason why three-term analogies seem unlike analogies is that they seem to draw a parallel that is in some sense very unanalogous. Then again, when it becomes clear that the shared term has, strictly speaking, two different meanings and can therefore be seen as two separate terms, the analogousness becomes obvious. But in that case it’s not really a three-term analogy and we should not call it that. I don’t know why this is, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

One final thing that should be mentioned is that three-term analogies can be used very effectively in negating things. If the form itself is already suspect, it makes sense to use the form in saying B is not to A as C is to B. If there’s anyone whose conscience says that this is manipulative and mean-spirited I can only say that it is what you make of it. One nice example from today’s HS (in Finnish) comes courtesy of the Finnish Union of University Professors (FUUP) and concerns a new Finnish university project called the Innovation University. It’s supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread with combined business schools and technology and design faculties, but the wonderfully named FUUP has found a slight snag in the plans. The project might be against the Finnish constitution. If I understand this correctly, the constitution can’t cope with the fact that the people running the university will be suits from outside the institution. That is, they want this thing to run on the basis that outside suits are to the governing of the university as democratically elected people from within the university community are to the university. The constitution, on the other hand, says that outside suits are not equivalent to democratically elected university people when it comes to governing the institution. I’m convinced by the latter view which was designed to guarantee the autonomy of universities, and I think it might have something to do with the form of the argument.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Metaphorical Morals

Studying rhetoric can be fun because of its moral ambiguity. It feels as if you are given tools with which you can do something because they can do some actual damage if necessary. You have to be responsible enough to check your own moral character and try to figure out how to do the right thing with what you’ve been given. Kids might even like this sort of thing because the mastery of these tools endow them with power. The second great thing about studying rhetoric is that it feels sort of sciency with its approach to words as tools. Furthermore, the leading people who write about argumentation and rhetoric are, unsurprisingly, very good at what they teach and thus rarely screw up their own stuff. That is, it is very hard to disagree with them on any major points because it is their job to study the kinds of things that lead to agreement and disagreement.

I’ve quoted Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca a few times already and I’ll probably do so many times more. Their New Rhetoric is a masterpiece despite its somewhat chaotic ordering of topics and I’d like to quote a longer passage from it in order to say something about metaphor and also to try to show what it is that rhetoric, as these two saw it, actually studies.

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca hold on to their notion of metaphor derived from analogy, but they recognize that metaphors which are presented at the outset as metaphors by coupling the superior terms and leaving the inferior terms unexpressed usually fare much better than those that are spelled out. The two inferior terms, they say, cannot really be considered implied — the fusion of the superior terms creates an expression complete in itself. Rather, the metaphor hints at a whole range of possible terms which can be combined in all sorts of ways.

Thus, the metaphor “an ocean of false learning” suggests different viewpoints and attitudes according as terms B and D are considered to be represented by “a swimmer” and “a scientist” or as “a stream” and “the truth” or as “terra firma” and “the truth.” All these analogies, simultaneously present to the mind, influence and enrich one another and suggest a number of different developments between which only the context allows one to choose. And even then the choice is rarely unambiguous and definite. Metaphor can also take the form of a bringing together of terms B and C of a three-term analogy, as in the expression, “life is a dream.” In this case, it is term A of the theme (“eternal life,” for example) which will be inferred thanks to the metaphor, “life” being the term common to the two spheres. (401)

All this is pretty clear (if it isn’t and you’re still reading, you might want to do some backreading). The objective in analyzing a metaphor into its constituents is not to come to one single analogy that will explain everything in a neat little diagram. If you thought this would be like high school math where you are given a formula and assured that applying it to the numbers presented in the problem will make the problem magically disappear, tough titties! The actual work is messy and requires reasoning from case to case, each case riddled with contingencies. Much of it might even be called guesswork. The audience must always be taken into consideration as well. If they are dunces, you’ll have to adjust your metaphors to “dunce,” if well-read you can do much more. But the fact that you now have names and labels for these things, these rhetorical devices or whatever we call them, means that you can plan your strategy much better. You can read better and write better, with greater care and thought, because information about your tools has been chunked in a way that creates clarity in writing and clarity in thinking. You can also decide to break all the rules and yield to all sorts of rhetorical temptations if you so wish, but in order to break the rules you have to first know the rules.

A Series of Rhetorical Devices: Allegory

One of the downsides of giving definitions is that clever people like to latch on to them instead of the actual substance of whatever one wants to talk about. The definition is there to act as a way of focusing on the subject itself and thus of only instrumental value, but it is a sort of first impression and that’s why it’s important to get it right. One could start by defining the kind of definition one is about to give in order to get somewhere. In the case of allegory, as with metaphor, one could say that the definition is a label that gathers many different ways of using language which nevertheless have something in common under its banner. That “in common” is what the definition tries to capture. It’s a way of organizing a number of cases that would remain a chaotic bunch were not some principle of classification and organization imposed on them.

In terms of ink spilled, allegory probably comes second after metaphor. The one book you should have in your library on the subject is Angus Fletcher’s Allegory: the Theory of a Symbolic Mode. The book is the source of much theory concerning allegory, but it’s also the favorite target of theorists writing on the subject. It’s a bitch to read, because it is not uncommon for Fletcher to give us half a page of text with another half of footnotes. In fact, that would be the norm. In any case, it’s packed with information and while it is not the most readable of books it serves well as a great reference work.

Books about allegory tend to begin by giving the traditional definition: “Allegory is sustained metaphor.” This will then be followed by an etymological explanation from the Greek and, finally, a “but”; and the rest of the book is spun around the objection or perceived need for clarification. This is a good way of getting around the definition swamp, but let’s try another just for a change and try to define allegory through analogy like we did with metaphor.

As you know, analogy is defined by the pattern A is to B as C is to D. You also know that metaphor is constructed by taking A and C from this structure and referring to A by using C. To continue this pattern of reasoning, we have to give names to these two components of metaphor, because it is between these two the “sustaining” of the “sustained metaphor” takes place. They are traditionally called tenor and vehicle. Thanks to our knowledge of the terms of analogy we could also call A the superior term of the theme and C the superior term of the phoros, but it’s easier to use the tenor/vehicle shorthand when we are talking about metaphor. In metaphor, the tenor is the thing that is prescribed the qualities of the vehicle. Thus, in the phrase Pop-music is rubbish the tenor is pop-music and the vehicle rubbish while the analogical substructure remains more or less dormant. As a rhetorical figure, in contrast to a trope, allegory requires at least two metaphorical tropes to be an allegory. That is, A and C would be a metaphor, but A1/C1 and A2/C2 would be an allegory. For example: pop-music is rubbish, mall-radio is a sea; therefore we could say I had to wade through a sea of aural rubbish at the mall. (The word “aural” is there to make the metaphors explicit.)

Longer allegories could be seen as using metaphors in order to tell a story that tells another story. The figure, the use of metaphors with a shared analogical basis, has the capacity to induce a consistent pattern of inference in the audience. By a “consistent pattern of inference” I mean that relationship between tenor and vehicle is continued in a way that allows for a fitting interpretation from vehicles to tenors in a continuous manner; interpretation consists of creating a parallel story on the basis of the implied tenors. Thus, much is expected from the listeners when allegory is used — something like the construction of analogies from the metaphors used goes on when one reads an allegory, or we could at the very least schematize an interpretation using the analogical structure that defines metaphor.

Good allegories are interesting stories on the vehicle level alone, but they come to full bloom only when they are reconstructed analogically by the reader. The delight we take in finding links that create a pattern helps us to infer another story, however vaguely, in the background. Even when the story’s function as allegory can be deemed so outdated that it is more or less irrelevant, it’s a wonderful feeling to try to grasp the ghosts suggested by the vehicles. Creation myths are good examples of this. If someone tells you they believe the Bible is the literal word of God, they have failed to appreciate the richness of that book in more or less the same way someone who thinks a story about how the leopard got his spots is a story of just one certain leopard who happened to get spots in the manner he did. Greek creation myths found in Hesiod are also fantastic stories on their own, although their tenor level can be hard to grasp; for instance, we don’t share the view of Greeks of Hesiod’s time that the world is sort of disk-shaped and therefore might have trouble inferring what it meant for Uranus to lay on top of Gaia when the world was young.

Allegories can refer to other allegories as well. For instance, The Matrix is clearly a Jesus-story, but it also has as sources for its vehicles certain philosophical puzzles derived from Plato’s allegory of the cave such as related modern brain-in-a-vat allegories. And from here we might get to a very strange quality of allegory and allegorical stories. A while back philosophy departments even in some respected universities thought it would be a great idea to offer courses based on the Matrix movies. This was because there were so many great metaphorical references to philosophical problems that have existed for thousands of years in the movies. It was seen as a way of getting kids to think about these problems and exited about philosophy. The strange thing is that you do not have to know the origins of the brain-in-a-vat problem in order to appreciate the problem as it is portrayed in the films. You don’t even have to know the allegory of the cave, nothing about Descartes and the skepticism he fought to overcome, nothing of Hume’s philosophy or Kantian metaphysics.

At first, it seems like a trivial concern. We understand these problems because, based on our daily experience, the senses can deceive us and who can know reality if they only ever had one single reality to cope with in the first place? Ancient man spear fishing knew that the water distorts the image of the fish and that therefore he had to throw the spear where the fish is not, and the fish knew the world was made of water. So what if you don’t really have to know the tenors thoroughly in order to appreciate the vehicles? Imagine there’s a lineage of a certain allegorical story that you can only trace so far and it’s obvious that the line should not just abruptly end there. Obviously we have forgotten the original and this, for some reason, does not concern us that much as a culture. This is because the vehicles sans tenors can be considered independent entities, fiction. We still look for the tenors and find and/or construct them, and busy ourselves with the vehicles that are in and of themselves delightful and useful. It is like having truth without reference to lies, and lies without any idea of truth. Why this should be is a bit of a mystery and it is very difficult to describe because it is almost nothing like anything else. Maybe we once knew how this problem came about and forgot, who knows?