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Response to Lyne, Hariman, and Greene.

My impulse is to say that these three can and have spoken quite well for themselves. They leave me with nothing to say, that is, nothing that I have not said already. On the lines of thought that occurred to them, they have expressed themselves cogently. I am happy that the conversation is continuing. We are far from 1967.

In particular I have nothing to say to Greene. Well, perhaps only that I have learned a great deal about myself from having read his essay. Both in terms of what went into and what has come out of my effort published in 1967, I would like to think that Greene is correct. I find in myself no impulse to correct him. I am grateful for his care in reading some essays that I have written since and finding some relevance.

John Lyne, it seems to me, has suggested quite rightly that we need to re-focus on the reality of argument - the phrase is mine and may not be one of which Lyne would approve. I believe that over the years I have made comments quite salient to Lyne's insistence, and below, please excuse the self-advertising, I shall list several essays. Nonetheless, Lyne's essential point, as I see it, is well taken.

I often describe myself as a naive realist and add that I think most people are. That is to say, I am convinced that there is a hard world out there that I cannot wish away and that often resists my wishful efforts. I also have a strong sense of myself as an agent, my agency being principally in the making of my world - my world although I seek assiduously to understand others and to share worlds with them.

Lyne leads me to affirm that although we may reject any grounding as ultimate, we do need to ground ourselves or we shall have no sense of the world and thus our arguing will be vapid. Frankly I do find uncomfortably often what seems to me to be a mindless passivity in accepting the authority of science. This passive, archaic attitude pops up in a multitude of benign guises on campus as well as in the media, but we have railed quite enough at "scientism." It is time we moved on.

Those among us who are engaged in exploring "the rhetoric of science" are not apt to show us the face of "reality per se," in a phrase an old sparring partner of mine seems to like, but they may well be helpful in showing us much more clearly how rhetoric is an active force among people, the worlds we make, and the hard realities of our living quarters.

I remain convinced that though there is hard reality that has preceded any moments I may grasp and will succeed any grasping I am capable of, that we humans will never know that reality per se. Our realities, I stress the plural, will be mediated. We should pay careful attention to Lyne's claims, and those of others with like interests, for they may help balance our efforts to solve to whatever degrees possible, the puzzles that communication present for us. Balance will be vital since we are so well conditioned by our cultural inheritances to find singularity, the one right way.

Clearly what I stress, rhetoric as an important force in creating human reality, can lead us into solipsism, anarchy, and chaos. That fear is legitimate. If anyone needs that fear made tangible, I recommend Dostoevsky. No one has clone so better than he in Crime and Punishment. The propensity of humans who make worlds for themselves to become monstrous is well demonstrated historically, but since Robert Hariman and others are urging us toward an aesthetic turn, I find fiction germane at this moment and, frankly, personally fascinating. The ability of humans to deceive themselves in the quest to deceive others seems at time to be incapable of plumbing. As unsympathetic as I have been to Plato, he did have a point on which to hang the diatribes he puts into the mouth of his fictional Socrates. Still in the realm of the aesthetic, for a harrowing contemporary example read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits.

We are caught as finite beings. Therefore we must as humble and honest beings craft for ourselves an ethics. From Aristotle on we have been too prone to graft a ready-made ethics onto the what we take as a purely functional rhetoric. What I taught myself in struggling from 1967 on is that a sense of ethics may grow out of striving to understand rhetoric; that may be more than any other justification the good human sense of "doing" rhetoric.

Although I believe that Robert Hariman and others are right in calling our attention to the possibilities of an aesthetic turn, perhaps I have already signaled that I am somewhat hesitant. Years ago I taught a sequence of courses in a non-departmental offering in humanities. One of the texts was The Viking Portable Nietzsche. I found grappling with Nietzsche, and the students, to be quite therapeutic. Although we may take Nietzsche as a starting place, I suggest that the cultural history that binds rhetoric and aesthetics together is ancient. My sweeping take on that history is that as fond as the ancients seem to have been in making neat categories for thought (and for sorting out whom to ask to lunch and whom to shun) that these two categories have long been messy. The mess does not bother me at all except that inadvertently we may step over the edge of the abyss that Dostoevsky pictures so vividly. "Sublime" may be a term that will only too readily turn our heads in such ways that when we peer closely in the mirror we may see the face of fascism stating back. Here I am thinking of Allende's fiction; it is a mirror.

So I have threaded my way through these essays. I trust that others will do so also with benefit, although perhaps not with what I believe has benefited me.


Scott, Robert L. (1968a). A Fresh Attitude toward Rationalism. Speech Teacher. 17:134-39.

-----. (1968b). A Rhetoric of Facts: Arthur Larson's Stance as a Persuader. Speech Monographs. 35:109-21.

-----. (1987). Argument as a Critical Act: Re-Forming Understanding. Argumentation and Advocacy. 1:57-71.

-----. (1993). Argument Is, Therefore Arguments Are. In Argument and the Postmodern Challenge. Ed. Raymie McKerrow. Annandale, VA: SCA. 91-96.

Robert L. Scott is a Professor in the Speech-Communication Department at the University of Minnesota.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: The Epistemic View, Thirty Years Later; in this issue, pp 3, 10 and 19, respectively
Author:Scott, Robert L.
Publication:Argumentation and Advocacy
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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