Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rhetoric of Rhetoric

Wayne, C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405112379.

Wayne C. Booth, who died in 2005, spent his life studying and arguing for the importance of rhetoric. He was also one of the writers for the popular book on research, The Craft of Research. In The Rhetoric of Rhetoric Booth argues for the importance of rhetoric and why it must be taught. He shows how the neglect of rhetoric causes negative consequences. For example, he shows how the general public and even scholars are unable to distinguish between the good and bad rhetoric. Who hasn't heard the term, "that's just rhetoric." He also shows how even scientists use rhetoric to communicate its ideas.

The Rhetoric of Rhetoric is divided into three parts. The first part is the history and background for rhetorical studies. Chapters one and two seeks to clear up misunderstandings of rhetoric and misjudgments of rhetorical studies. Booth in chapter three analyzes different types of rhetoric: "Win-Rhetoric," "Bargain-Rhetoric," and "Listening Rhetoric." Booth favors a listening rhetoric, he says this is the type of rhetoric that he seeks to "celebrate" and "practice(46)." This is the type of rhetoric that is truly listening to the other side. Chapter four celebrates a small group of thinkers "who have labored to rescue the study of rhetorical issues and methods" (55). Booth argues against "positivism" and "scientism" in this chapter. He shows there are multiple ways of knowing. He thinks that positivism and relativism are not the only two options.

The second part of the book looks at the practice of rhetoric in particular fields: education, politics, and media. In chapter five Booth argues for the importance of rhetorical education. Students need to know how to distinguish between good and bad rhetoric. They need to know how to distinguish truth from error. In chapter five and six, Booth gives many examples of how both politicians and the media mislead people. Chapter eight seeks to find common ground between religion and science. Booth provides seven principles for religion and science to agree. Some of these are: we live in a "flawed" world; "standards of judjment of the brokenness exist somewhere;" "there is some supreme order or cosmos or reality."

This is a book worth reading. Rhetoric is a liberal art and it should be studied and practiced. We have to sift through increasing amount of information each day. We need to be able to distinguish between truth and error. We need to cultivate a listening rhetoric. We need to be able to listen to the arguments of the other side. It might lead us to the truth. Everyone should be saddened by the lack of civility in public discourse. It has only increased since the publication of this book.

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