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The aesthetic turn and the rhetorical perspective on argumentation.


The declaration of a Nietzschean inspired aesthetic turn in rhetorical studies (Whitson & Poulakos, 1993) marks the newest attempt to forge a different theory of rhetorical effectivity. The aesthetic turn is symptomatic of a thirty year struggle to assemble a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. A constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity focuses on the role of public discourse in the process of world disclosure. A constitutive model concerns itself with how, for example, subjects, personas, situations, and problems emerge as the effects of rhetorical practices. A constitutive model is in opposition to a theory of rhetorical effectivity based on a "logic of influence." A logic of influence model prefigures the relation between a speaker and audience as a form of persuasion or goal oriented activity. The influence model reduces the question of rhetorical effectivity to the epistemological-ethical implications of a speaker's success or failure to accomplish his/her persuasive goal.

For Cherwitz and Darwin (1995), the aesthetic turn is part of a disciplinary movement that they identify as rhetoric as performance. Rhetoric as performance focuses on how rhetorical practices generate "fictions" or worlds that subjects might inhabit. They argue that rhetoric as performance is displacing the disciplinary problematic of rhetoric as epistemic. Cherwitz and Darwin challenge this shift in disciplinary problematics on ethical grounds claiming that the stakes are no less than the "raison d'etre of rhetorical studies" (1995, p. 189). They contend that any attempt to distance oneself from the epistemic status of rhetoric is inherently paradoxical since all purposive symbolic action deploys a propositional structure advancing claims about what humans know and how they know it. For Cherwitz and Darwin, rhetoric as performance risks a radical aestheticization of symbolic influence that destabilizes the coherence of a message. In so doing, rhetorical practices attenuate the ethical imperative to act because the reception of a paradoxical message creates paralysis.

In this paper I will argue that rhetoric as performance makes possible the ethical problematization of rhetorical practices, but does so based on a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. Cherwitz and Darwin fail to see this form of ethical problematization because they are unable to abandon the idea of rhetoric as a form of persuasion. The constant repetition that rhetoric is a form of persuasion fails to account for how a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity privileges identification over persuasion as the key to unpacking the rhetorical nature of public argument. Cherwitz and Darwin's inability to abandon an influence model of effectivity prevents them from understanding how the constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity makes possible the very production of an ethical-political criticism.

The first part of this paper will trace the emergence of the constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. I will begin this disciplinary history with Robert Scott's (1967) essay, "On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic," and end with Biesecker's (1989) post-structuralist reading of the rhetorical situation. The second section of the paper will return to Joseph Wenzel's (1990) three perspectives on argumentation in order to explicate how the constitutive model re-specifies a rhetorical perspective on argumentation.


Robert Scott's (1967) essay, "On Viewing Rhetoric As Epistemic" travels far with very little philosophical cover fire. The primary claim supported in this essay is that "rhetoric may be viewed not as a matter of giving effectiveness to truth but of creating truth" (p. 12). The essay supports this claim in four sections: The first section begins with Toulmin's distinction between analytic and substantive arguments. For Scott, the importance of this division of argument forms is that rhetoric exists in and through substantive arguments and substantive arguments circulate as attempts to manage the contingencies of human existence. The second section discusses how Ehninger and Brockriede's (1963) book Decision by Debate fails to appreciate the normative implications of Toulmin's program. For Scott, the key to understanding how humans reach decisions by debate is not the process, but the "human commitment and energy and skill to make that commitment meaningful" (p. 13). The third section returns to the sophistic emphasis on dissoi logoi in order to tease out the epistemological implications of debate (or what the Ciceronians might call controversia). For Scott, the classical roots of debate are to be located in sophistic skepticism concerning the ability to know. The lack of certain knowledge does not mean that human action becomes impossible, but that human beings (must) act in order to know. For support of this metonymic reversal Scott turns to Pierre Thevanaz' article in the 1962 collection What is Phenomenology: "Man [or Woman] acts and speaks, before he [or she] knows. Or better, it is by acting and in action that he [or she] is enabled to know" (p. 14). The fourth section of Scott's paper turns to the ethical implications of his claim. Scott resists suggesting that the ethical solutions to epistemic rhetoric can be drawn from abstract principles. Instead, Scott suggests three ethical guidelines result from the view that human beings must act in the face of uncertainty: toleration, will, and responsibility. The importance of Scott's move into ethics suggests that uncertainty does not prevent the ethical imperative to act but instead rhetoric is ethically demanded by the contingent nature of human existence. Scott writes, "Inaction, failure to take on the burden of participating in the development of contingent truth, ought be considered ethical failure" (p. 15).

In Scott's hands rhetoric becomes a particular form of human action with ethical consequences. The ethical problematization of rhetoric follows from Scott's view that rhetoric entails the ability to create situational truths which give meaning to collective human behaviors. Human agents should be held ethically responsible for what they say, how they say it and whether they say anything at all. At this point, rhetoric is a unique cultural practice, exhibiting an exemplary form through debate, locating the substance of rhetorical knowledge in the creation of a situational truth. Scott's turn to the sophistic tradition re-activates the ethical and epistemological consequences of an Isocratean-Ciceronian thread in the tapestry of rhetorical theory. Scott allows for a rhetorical epistemology that is future oriented; moreover, the ability of rhetorical practices to imagine a future is at the heart of Scott's initial gambit. Scott's emphasis on imagining a future sets in motion a standard of rhetorical effectivity that can be understood as a constitutive model in opposition to an "influence model." The point I want to emphasis here is that Scott's articulation of the Isocratean-Ciceronian rhetorical tradition to phenomenology emphasizes how rhetoric becomes a human action of world disclosure. Since we can only imagine the future consequences of particular policy options, the "epistemic" function of rhetoric is to draw a portrait of this future. My claim is that the rhetorical process of world-disclosure marks the emergence of a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. Those readers familiar with Habermas (1987) might suggest that an emphasis on a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity requires an aesthetic appreciation of rhetoric. I would agree, but to appreciate how speech communication acquired an aesthetic sensibility for its constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity it is necessary to turn to Edwin Black.

As rhetorical studies moved through the 1960s the civil unrest of the times contributed to a critical desire to make moral judgments about rhetorical practices. The problem associated with effective rhetors generating bad consequences was often dismissed as the rhetoric of demagogues who distorted the emotions of an audience at the expense of reason (Logue & Dorgan, 1973). In the aftermath of Tet and the occupation of college campuses by student radicals, rhetorical scholars were faced with the unnerving task of trying to disentangle the morality of a message from its successes and failures. Edwin Black offered a solution by reworking the concept of audience as a persona.

In 1970, Edwin Black published the "Second Persona." In this essay, he explicated the anxiety associated with making moral judgments about rhetorical practices. Yet, he advanced the claim that moral judgments must be made if we were "to bring order to our history" (p. 109). Drawing analogically on Wayne Booth's concept of author as persona, Black argues that every discourse implies an audience - a second persona. Black advanced a form of rhetorical reading that is symptomatic - that is, it investigates the stylistic tokens of a message in order to account for the type of audience implied by the discourse. Consequently, a rhetorical critic was authorized to make moral judgments about a text by investigating the type of audience that was being called forth by the message. Black identified his project as a form of ideological criticism whereby: "what is important in characterizing a persona . . . is not age or temperament or even discreet attitude. It is ideology - ideology in the sense that Marx used the term: the network of interconnected convictions that functions in a man [or women] epistemically and that shapes his [or her] identity by determining how he [or she] views the world" (p. 113). What I would like to emphasize here is less Black's gloss of Marx but the implications of turning to Booth and Marx to ground the concept of the second persona.

Black's second persona advances a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. The stylistic tokens of a speech call forth a particular audience and the critic can make a moral judgment based on the "persona" such an audience must inhabit to be an audience. While the residue of an influence model remains, the turn to Booth, a literary critic, marks an increasing awareness of the "fictions" generated by rhetorical discourse. The stylistic tokens of a message creates a world occupied by a particular audience. The rhetorical critic does not need to attend to how well the message responds to the persuasive task at hand (an influence model), but instead, can make moral judgments about how a series of stylistic tokens activate a moral universe occupied by the audience. The implication of this emphasis on the constitutive dimensions of style is to displace the form/content debate by identifying a rhetorical style as a world disclosive substance. Furthermore, Edwin Black's turn to Marx suggests that the process of rhetorical criticism is being aligned with a hermeneutic reading strategy dedicated to interpreting the meaning of the text based on how it positions an audience. The stylistic tokens of a message point to a word with a moral economy that hovers somewhere above and below the speaker's symbolic attempt to influence a real audience. Black claims, "the critic can see in the auditor implied by a discourse a model of what the rhetor would have his real auditor become" (p. 113). Since all rhetors imply a model relationship between speaker, audience and word, it is this model that becomes the object of ethical problematization and the site for moral judgment.

At the beginning of the 1970s rhetorical criticism was poised to abandon the "historical/critical approach" for an interpretive/critical approach for analyzing public discourse (Gaonkar, 1993). Whitson and Poulakos's aesthetic turn owes its genealogy to the emergence of rhetoric as an interpretive/critical discipline. Yet, for rhetoric to become an interpretive/critical discipline it would be necessary to challenge one of the most fertile concepts in recent rhetorical theory: the rhetorical situation. As important as Bitzer's conceptual innovation might be for contextualizing the immediate forces that contribute to rhetorical practices, the response to Bitzer was swift and points to the emergence of rhetoric as an interpretive discipline. In 1973, Philosophy and Rhetoric published "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation" by Richard Vatz. Vatz argued that Bitzer's project was complicit in a realist epistemology that forces rhetoric to be parasitic. In opposition to Bitzer, Vatz appropriated the interpretive research traditions of the sociology of knowledge, in particular, symbolic interaction and its cousin, symbolic exchange theory. These allied traditions authorized Vatz to claim that rhetoric "was the cause not the effect of meaning. It is antecedent, not subsequent, to a situation's impact" (p. 160). Since rhetoric is the cause of meaning, rhetoric would no longer be parasitic on a more foundational epistemology. According to Vatz, "It is only when meaning is seen as the result of a creative act and not a discovery, that rhetoric will be perceived as the supreme discipline it deserves to be" (p. 161). Vatz's desire to emphasize the creative act of rhetoric points to the transformation of invention from its classical emphasis on finding the right thing to say at the right time, to the more modern emphasis on how rhetorical practices construct persons, places and things.

The implications of Vatz's essay are astounding for a marginalized discipline. Vatz argues that a "rhetorical basis of meaning requires a disciplinary hierarchy with rhetoric at the top" (p. 158). For Vatz, rhetoric is the primary vehicle for the social construction of reality because it makes meaning possible. Rhetoric's reversal of fortune justifies the imperialistic travels inaugurated by the project on the rhetoric of inquiry (POROI) through the textual body and soul of other academic disciplines. If rhetoric creates a situation instead of the situation creating rhetoric then rhetoric is no longer simply an instrument of symbolic influence, but a practice of world-disclosure. In other words, a critic should analyze the effectivity of rhetorical practices in terms of the situation created and not the success or failure of the message to influence behavior. It should not be surprising at this point to learn that the criteria for judging the creation of a rhetorical situation is an ethical one. Vatz argues, "to view rhetoric as a creation of reality . . . rather than a reflector of reality clearly increases the rhetor's moral responsibility. We do not just have the academic exercise of determining whether the rhetoric understood the "situation" correctly. Instead, he [or she] must assume responsibility for the salience he [or she] has created" (p. 158). Thus, abandoning a realist epistemology does not prevent rhetoric from being ethical, but sets in motion the possibility for the permanent ethical problematization of rhetorical acts. The question that does arise, however, is how does a critic ground his/her ethical judgments? For an answer to this question we can once again read Robert Scott.

In 1976, Robert Scott returns to the question of epistemic rhetoric and argues that "the position taken here, obviously, is one that is becoming increasingly common: reality is social constructed" (p. 261). While the realists would not go away, they did find themselves increasingly at the margins of the discipline as rhetorical studies re-organized itself around the social construction of reality. Rhetorical studies was spreading its wings discovering new objects to read as forms of persuasion. In 1967 Scott cleared a space for social constructionism and by 1976 Scott reminded the troops that the epistemic turn is first and foremost a call to think and act ethically. Scott writes, "to my surprise the essay I sketched turned out to re-affirm the basically ethical thrust of the earlier article. My experience lead me to assert at this point that it is fundamentally an ethical dimension of one's thoughts and actions that rhetoric reveals" (p. 259). Later in the essay he declares that "the task of the rhetorical theorist is to specify the values that will mark an ethical rhetoric and continually to try to rescue these from the realm of easy cliche" (p. 262). For Scott, the substance of this ethical knowledge was located in the creation of commitment. But commitment to what? And how might rhetorical critics ground their moral judgments about these rhetorical commitments?

While Scott's first article is free of the many philosophical figures that contemporary rhetorical scholars might deploy to defend the claim that rhetoric is epistemic, his review essay ten years later fronts a major philosophical figure of the twentieth century: Hans-Georg Gadamer. In Scott's discussion about the type of knowing achieved by rhetoric, he positions Gadamer as the pivotal figure in answering the question. According to Scott, "the opacity of living is what bids forth rhetoric. A remark in passing by Hans-Georg Gadamer seems to me to be an important insight: the concept of clarity belongs to the tradition of rhetoric" (p. 261). Scott claims three ways in which rhetoric is clarifying: 1) "understanding that one's traditions axe one's own" with the implication that traditions make an individual, 2) "understanding that these traditions are malleable" with the implication that traditions can be reinvented, maintained and harmed, and 3) "understanding that in acting decisively one participates in fixing forces that will continue after the purposes for which they have been immediately instrumental and will, to some extent, bind others who will inherit the modified traditions" (p. 261). While Scott flirts with the full ontological significance associated with a turn toward Gadamer that Hyde and Smith (1979) will make explicit three years later, Gadamer allows Scott to answer the questions concerning commitment: What and how might a critic ground his/her moral judgments? The answer Scott provides to these questions is a Gadamerian/classical rhetorical hybrid emphasizing the norms of community. Scott writes: "what cannot be done away with in a community is commitment to the norms of that community. Commitment and rhetoric stand in a reciprocal relationship: commitment generates rhetoric, and rhetoric generates commitment" (p. 263). The ethical problematization of both object and critic merge into a concern for a commitment to the norms of community located in the political, ethical, aesthetic tradition of a culture.

In Scott's 1967 essay, commitment to the idea of debate as a normative process for creating situational truth helped to locate a unique cultural practice that rhetorical scholars might investigate. By 1976, Scott seems to be recognizing how his turn to Gadamer reshapes the contours of rhetorical criticism into an full scale interpretive/critical procedure with an unlimited number of cultural practices worthy of consideration. Scott concludes his review essay this way: "rhetoric may be the art of persuasion, that is it may be seen from one angle as a practical capacity to find means to ends on specific occasions; but rhetoric must also be seen more broadly as a human potentiality to understand the human condition" (p. 266). From this position the content of rhetorical knowledge is the human condition and rhetoric is, for Scott, the likely candidate for creating a "philosophy of the humanities" (p. 266). At this point, Scott anticipates the coming of Hyde and Smith (1979) and the project on the rhetoric of inquiry (Lyne, 1985).

While Hyde and Smith (1979) will make the hermeneutic turn explicit and Gaonkar (1993) will riff off this moment to launch his reading of the rhetoric of science to interrogate POROI, I hope I have demonstrated that the logics of POROI were already set in motion by Scott and Vatz. Gaonkar's move clears a space for me to take the vector of the hermeneutic turn in another direction. At this point, I have been trying to show how the critical/interpretive turn is not an ethically problematic move, but creates the possibility for ethics to become the primary substance problematized and judged by rhetorical critics. The second point I am trying to stress is that a shift in how rhetorical studies thinks about rhetorical effectivity is taking place-a shift which is difficult to appreciate because of the constant repetition that rhetoric is an instrument of persuasion. The interpretive/critical turn suggests that critics focus on how a message makes possible a moral-political universe. While rhetorical critics might still investigate "strategic communicative action" the ethical problematization of this form of human action is isolated from the instrumental/pragmatic logics associated with the message. Black's emphasis on style displaces the form/content distinction allowing critics to make ethical judgments independent of the programs of action supported in the text. But once critics began isolating rhetorical effects independent from the success or failure of persuasion (what a rhetor says) but instead on how rhetoric speaks a world, a new model of effectivity becomes necessary. My claim is that this new model is constitutive and Maurice Charland makes the constitutive model explicit in 1987 in his essay, "Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Quebecois."

Charland's alternative to the logic of influence is a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. In order to explicate this model, Charland reanimates Burke's (1969) attempt to displace persuasion in favor of identification as the primary function of rhetorical practices. In so doing, Charland is able to bring forward McGee's (1975) earlier work on the rhetorical dimension of the "people" as an alternative way to conceptualize the logics of representation. For a constitutive model, "speech" does not "sublimate," hide or distort forms of social control, it is a form of control made possible by how language "positions" a subject. Thus the representational logics of speech are conceptualized less as a curtain to be pulled back in order to reveal a more primordial reality, but as a form of reality that "brings forth" a subject in both political and aesthetic senses. In a political sense, speech speaks for a particular subject, while aesthetically, it speaks into existence a figure of a subject (Spivak, 1988). Charland turns to structural semiotics and narrative theory to help explain how the subject exists as a rhetorical effect, thus, re-conceptualizing the speaker/audience relationship beyond the logic of influence.

The point of a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity is that the model authorizes a critic to make ethical-political judgments based on the effects of rhetorical structures (narratives, for example) not programs of action. A constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity authorizes a critic to investigate a text as a site of rhetorical action such that the text itself is an effect, or point of articulation, at the same time as the text reiterates and/or generates new effects. For example, the creation of a second or third persona (Wander, 1984) gestures to how a text makes possible and is morally responsible for the audiences it affirms and negates. I want to conclude this section by returning to the rhetorical situation and the globalization of rhetoric as a point of articulation in the production of meaning.

In 1989, Barbara Biesecker intervened in the debate on the rhetorical situation with an essay published in Philosophy and Rhetoric: "Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the thematic of Difference." She argued that the Bitzer/Vatz debate had come to an impasse marked by the cause-effect relationship between rhetoric and the situation: an impasse she blames on the "logic of influence." Biesecker explicated the limitations of a logic of influence in her appropriation of Derrida's concept of difference. She claims that the logic of influence "defines the text as an object that mediates between subjects (speaker and audience) whose identity is constituted in a terrain different from and external to the particular situation" (1989, p. 110). For Biesecker, the problem with a logic of influence is that it conceptualizes the speaker and audience as stable subjects existing apart from language. The problem with conceptualizing the subject outside of language pushes rhetorical theorists in the direction of defending an essentialist theory of the subject. An essentialist view of the subject figures the subject as possessing a substance outside of history, a substance that is always already present no matter the contingent rhythms of political, cultural and economic history. Drawing on the work of Derrida, Biesecker argues that subjectivity is an effect analogous to the play of difference that structures language. The Derridean intervention deconstructs the centered subject and replaces it with a subject in process. This subject position is only present to itself to the extent that it differs and defers its understanding of itself from an other.

My point is that the implications of Biesecker's engagement with Derrida reinforces a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity that she calls a "logic of articulation." Following Laclau and Mouffe (1985), a logic of articulation allows Biesecker to posit a theory of the rhetorical situation as an "effect-structure" that makes subjectivity possibility through a linguistic sleight of hand that "fixes" a unity out of difference. Biesecker follows Charland's attempt to banish the last residues of an "influence model" of rhetorical effectivity by arguing that the rhetorical situation exists as an effect structure that finesses the thematic of difference. The space cleared by Vatz to privilege the process of meaning construction has been taken up by Biesecker to point to how rhetoric occupies a particular role inside the structure of language. Rhetoric is not synonymous with language or symbolic influence but becomes the ultimate bricoluer building a text out of a vast host of shifting signifiers. According to Biesecker, "rhetoric is the name for the finessing of difference that inaugurates a text and the figurality of the text that puts us on its track" (p. 121). The Derridean thematic of difference and Laclau and Mouffe's notion of articulation authorizes Biesecker to offer a particular role to rhetoric as a method of articulation stabilizing a subject/text in order to make critical judgments on the status of this stabilization. The critic locates his/her ethical-political judgment in how a constitutive outside (or other) becomes the source of possibility for the stabilization of a subject. For poststructuralism, a subject is always in process. Since a subject's stability can only be achieved through a linguistic slight of hand that fixes the subject to a particular substance, all texts can be held responsible for blocking alternative possibilities for the articulation of the subject. The political goal of post-structuralism is to keep the subject in motion by showing how any attempt to lock the subject into a particular substance is made possible by a constitutive outside that is simultaneously rendered uninhabitable but also completes, or supplements, the subject. The post-structuralist critic can release the subject from the bindings of a particular rhetorical articulation by untying the logic of supplementarity that makes the constitution of the subject possible.

The point of stasis being displaced in the debate between Nietzscheans and realists is the competing models of rhetorical effectivity. The aesthetic turn does not abandon Scott's original essay, but re-activates Scott's attempt to produce an alternative, constitutive model, of rhetorical effectivity. What Cherwitz and Darwin are unable to do is understand how ethics might be approached from an aesthetic direction because they are unable to abandon the assumption that rhetoric is about persuasion and its effectivity based on a logic of influence. This section of the paper has demonstrated that, contrary to Cherwitz and Darwin, the raison d'etre of rhetorical studies is not being threatened by rhetoric as performance (the aesthetic turn). To the contrary, the ethical problematization of rhetorical practices has become the primary warrant for doing rhetorical criticism because a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity constantly fronts the ethical-political consequences of rhetorical structures, figures and propositions.

At this point, I could take my place on the side of a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity and begin to delineate the critical advantages that this model offers in relation to an influence model. However, such a move would only re-open the idea that we should be having a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of these models. However, such a debate fails to account for how each model can contribute to an understanding of the rhetorical process. In fact, my point is that these models of effectivity are best approached as parallel vectors and not competing models. Once we abandon the idea that the aesthetic turn violates the ethical presuppositions of rhetorical studies, a situation that I hope the previous section makes clear, we can leave this old debate behind and begin to do the much harder work of unpacking the different and competing logics embedded in the alternative approaches to a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity. In other words, we no longer need to debate about which model of rhetorical effectivity (influence or constitutive) is best, we need to begin to unpack how the intellectual traditions generating the constitutive model-phenomenology, critical hermeneutics, social constructionism, structural semiotics and post-structuralism-disperse similar and competing ethical visions for rhetorical studies. Unfortunately, I must bring this essay to a close in a much more humble way by setting out how a constitutive understanding of rhetorical effectivity transforms what we take to be a rhetorical perspective on argumentation.


In this section I want to discuss the consequences of a constitutive model of effectivity for the rhetorical perspective on argumentation. To do so, I want to offer a reading of Joseph Wenzel's (1990) germinal essay, "Three Perspective on Argument: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Logic." While Wenzel codes the rhetorical process as persuasion, the essay's normative focus on democratic decision making and the need to promote the common good, places the rhetorical perspective on argumentation in the orbit of an aesthetic-ethical process. Yet, Wenzel's essay wobbles between an influence model of effectivity structuring the goal of persuasion and his normative desire to privilege the process of decision making. I want to push Wenzel's essay in a more constitutive direction by reading some of the issues raised in the previous section along side Wenzel's initial description of a rhetorical perspective on argumentation. Four issues take center stage: the globalization of argumentation studies, the re-specification of democracy as a rhetorical performance, an emphasis on how arguments invent, circulate and regulate disagreements and fourth, an aesthetic-ethical approach to the politics of judgment.

The first issue concerns the globalization of argumentation studies. We do not need to move Gaonkar's (1993) recent analysis of the rhetoric of science to argumentation studies to appreciate how argumentation studies has been experiencing its own unique globalization. The key to the globalization of argumentation studies is the trope of perspectivism that Wenzel's borrows from Wayne Brockriede (1975) and David Zarefsky (1980). In describing perspectivism as his master trope, Wenzel quotes Brockriede: "Argument is not a thing to be looked for but a concept people use, a perspective they take. Human activity does not usefully constitute an argument until some person perceives what is happening as an argument" (p. 11). My point is that perspectivism globalizes argumentation into a critical concept for investigating nearly any social practice. Regardless of whether "naive social actors" perceive a particular practice as an argument, imaginative critics have had very little trouble expanding the object domain of argumentative practices. Moreover, a constitutive model of effectivity reads the critic's action as part of the process of creating a particular object of study. Since arguments do not exist out there in the world for the critic to discover, the critical process determines how a particular object will be comprehended as an argument. The figuration of argumentation as a perspective, defines the very object of study, argument, as a rhetorical effect of the critical perspective. Thus, the constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity provides argumentation studies a limitless supply of objects since the object domain of argumentation studies becomes the effect of a critical translation of any social practice into an argument.

The second issue raised concerns the normative purpose of the rhetorical perspective. For Wenzel, the rhetorical perspective focuses on how arguments create an environment for wise decisions. A wise decision for Wenzel would seem to be one consistent with an ethical-political norm of democracy. To be sure, Wenzel leaves his understanding of democracy under theorized, but I think the abstract nature of the concept in his essay points to how Wenzel deploys it as a "transcendental good." I think the norm of democracy sustains the pedagogical emphasis in argumentation studies on practical skills. It is the central assumption of argumentation pedagogy that these practical skills in producing and critiquing arguments are essential for the production of a more democratic citizenry. However, for a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity, argumentation studies needs, in Ernesto Laclau's (1997) words, a "quasi-transcendentalism." The emphasis on democracy as a quasitranscendental norm allows actually existing argumentative practices to contribute to the historical development of democracy. A constitutive model pushes critics to investigate how argumentation as pedagogy, practice, criticism and theory contributes to the limits and possibilities of the very concept and practice of democracy. A constitutive model begins to understand democracy as the effect of a rhetorical performance made possible by the practice of argumentation. In this way, democracy is never simply an external norm for evaluating the rhetorical effects of argumentative practices, but always already implicated and, potentially transformed, by the rhetoricity of argument.

The third issue I want to raise is how argumentation scholars should understand the process of disagreement. For Wenzel, arguing is a natural process used by interlocutors to manage disagreement. Wenzel Writes: "the rhetorical perspective directs our attention to the occurrence of arguing among people as a natural communication process. Arguing as a natural process includes the many different ways people try to manage their disagreements, and these can be studied from many different angles in communication research" (p. 15). The trouble with this description is that Wenzel is abandoning Brockriede's more radical claim that arguments do not exist in nature as a product or a process, but as a critical perspective. I think that what Wenzel is attempting to do is attenuate the globalization thesis implied by Brockriede's perspectivism by linking the rhetorical perspective on argumentation to a particular process: managing disagreement.

The study of disagreement is an exciting possibility for the rhetorical perspective on argumentation, however, Wenzel's description of this process is too dependent on an influence model of rhetorical effectivity. Recall, Charland's description of the rhetorical situation. The situation described by Wenzel of two or more interlocutors trying to persuade the decision making of one another through the use of argumentation fails to recognize how the situation is always already constituted by a host of discursive and extra discursive factors. In other words, a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity focuses on how different actors and/or institutions value argumentation as a means for inventing, circulating and resolving disagreements. Consequently, the very idea of a disagreement must be understood as a rhetorical effect and not as a naturally occurring phenomenon. One important vector in pursing a rhetorical perspective on argumentation from the standpoint of a constitutive theory of effectivity is to focus on how disagreement becomes an object that requires invention, circulation and regulation (Hicks & Langsdorf, 1997).

The fourth consequence of a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity concerns how we think of the process of judgment. For Wenzel, "the moral" of his essay is that "human judgment depends on argumentation and argumentation depends equally upon the resources of rhetoric, dialectic and logic" (pp. 25-26). To be sure, Wenzel's essay serves as an argumentative resource for mine. The rhetorical perspective on argumentation, from the standpoint of a constitutive model of effectivity, understands judgment as an aesthetic-ethical process made possible by how arguments speak for and speak about persons, places and events. Judgment emerges as the stake for a rhetorical perspective on argumentation and the constitutive model allows argumentation critics to study "the politics of judgment" (Greene & Hicks, in press). The politics of judgment investigates how argumentation makes possible particular judgments, displaces other forms of judgments, decides who gets to judge, what criteria are used for judgment, and perhaps most importantly, what events, behaviors, texts, and/or populations appear as objects that require a form of public judgment.


This paper has argued that the emergence of an aesthetic understanding of rhetoric does not threaten the ethical thrust of rhetorical studies. My disciplinary history of the aesthetic turn suggests that as rhetorical studies abandoned "the realist problematic" ethics moved to the center of critical attention. Unfortunately, the on-going debate between realists and Nietzscheans only obscures how the aesthetic turn achieved this centering of ethics. My argument has been that the debate between the realists and Nietzscheans fails to recognize that the aesthetic turn relies on a different model of rhetorical effectivity. This constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity displaces the goal-oriented presuppositions embedded in the realist's understanding of rhetoric as a form of persuasion. As an alternative, advocates of the aesthetic turn focus on the process of identification made possible by the political and aesthetic nature of the rhetorical dynamics of language.

The consequences of the emergence of a constitutive model of rhetorical effectivity demands a re-specification of flow argumentation studies conceptualizes a rhetorical perspective on argumentation. By re-reading Joseph Wenzel's initial conceptualization of a rhetorical perspective on argumentation I have suggested that the aesthetic turn's use of a constitutive model of effectivity contributes to four consequences: the globalization of the object domain of argumentation studies, the recognition that the norm of democracy is a rhetorical performance, that arguments invent, circulate and regulate disagreements, and finally, that the stakes of a rhetorical perspective on argumentation are the "politics of judgment." In the absence of epistemological foundations, these four consequences of a constitutive model of effectivity offer themselves as points of stasis for future theoretical meditations on the problems and possibilities of a rhetorical perspective on argumentation.


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Ronald Walter Greene is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: The Epistemic View, Thirty Years Later
Author:Greene, Ronald Walter
Publication:Argumentation and Advocacy
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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