Joining Heidegger’s Conversation on Rhetoric and Interpretation
The intersections of philosophy and rhetoric are both complex and ubiquitous. If philosophy is always articulated in language, then rhetoric, as a general study of the effects of language, becomes immediately relevant. Historically, the relationship between the two discourses stems from an ancient distinction between dialectic and rhetoric. In particular, it is Aristotle’s taxonomy of language which remains foundational in understanding much speech and communication discourse. Perhaps of the most historical importance is Aristotle’s claim that “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic” (1325). Contrary to Plato’s less forgiving critique, Aristotle made the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric a more appropriate—albeit complex—question. If rhetorical theory can serve as a compliment to philosophic endeavors, then it is necessary to consider the philosophic implications of rhetoric. Furthermore, if rhetoric is in fact a constitutive part of gaining knowledge, then an assessment of rhetoric also implies a comment on interpretation in general.
In 20th century philosophy, few thinkers remain as widely influential yet confounding as Martin Heidegger. His hermeneutic phenomenology, criticisms of Western metaphysics and approach to language remain fundamental in understanding much of 20th century critical theory. Although Heidegger never published explicitly on rhetoric, his 1924 lectures have recently been published and translated into English. Therein, Heidegger claims: “Rhetoric is nothing other than the interpretation of concrete being-there, the hermeneutic of being-there itself.” Heidegger continues, claiming that Aristotle’s notion of logic—so fundamental to Western thought—loses its significance and “concrete function” when rhetoric is ignored as “the discipline in which the self-interpretation of being-there is explicitly fulfilled” (Basic 75). Clearly, Heidegger’s analysis of rhetoric is also an implicit criticism of the historical appropriation of ancient Greek thought. In order to understand Heidegger’s view of rhetoric, the complicated intersection of rhetoric and philosophy will have to be addressed.
My project is to critically evaluate Heidegger’s interpretation of rhetoric and see how it can serve as a genesis for new approaches to contemporary rhetorical theory. In particular, I am interested in how his views have influenced rhetorical theory thus far and if these strands of influence are in line with his recently published lectures. The works of theorists such as Hans-Georg Gadamer indicate an important Heideggerian influence on the humanities and social sciences. More specifically, I am interested in theorists who comment about the role of rhetoric in relation to knowledge and interpretation, such as Barry Brummett and Robert L. Scott. This paper is comprised of three main sections. First, I give an explication of Heidegger’s hermeneutical analysis of rhetoric. Second, I discuss the possible implications of this analysis for methods of interpretation in an analysis of Gadamer’s work on rhetoric and the social sciences. Last, with these notions concrete, I will survey several works of more modern rhetorical theorists and see how they align—and might rearticulate through different rhetorical means—Heidegger’s conclusions. Specifically, I argue that Heidegger and Gadamer’s unique views on language and interpretation align in significant ways with the works of rhetorical theorists Barry Brummett and Robert Scott.
Rhetoric as Hermeneutics
In his overview of phenomenology, Richard Zaner describes the phenomenological camp as more objective, more scientific and less biased than previous philosophies because it acknowledges that “the ‘private’ [i.e. subjective] invades all…[one cannot] close it off and expect a more certain paradigm…[only a] more insular one” (50). Heidegger qua Husserl criticized the history of Cartesian modern philosophy as hopelessly engaging in intellectual exercises that sought certain knowledge of sense experience without acknowledging the pervasiveness of subjectivity—that subjectivity is in fact the structure that discloses sense experience. Accordingly, the phenomenological method is characterized by focusing on two things: the structures of consciousness as given in experience and consciousness’ self-reflexivity.
Zaner describes the phenomenological method—which in Heidegger shifts to a self-proclaimed hermeneutic instead of strict empirical observation—as “sustain[ing] shock and disengagement systematically and then methodically explor[ing] in depth what is disclosed” (50). Through this method—which is self-critical—one tries to account for the different layers (historical, cultural, temporal, spatial) that constitute our subjectivity. Its unique method stems from the notion that “every claim inherently seeks a grounding [i.e. a reason] in a mode [e.g. certain, doubtful, etc.]” (74). However, these elements can only be discussed and uncovered through conversation. Zaner states: “a claim…is an invitation [which] presupposes the possibility of subjective accessibility of the things supposed” (74-75). In sum, a hermeneutic is a critical study that seeks to account for the complex layers that constitute meaning by immersing oneself in experience (which one is always already in) and then purposefully disengaging (or forcing a sort of phenomenological shock) and seeing how these two polarities inform each other.
In his 1971 work, “Language,” Martin Heidegger states: “Man speaks. We speak when we are awake and we speak in our dreams. We are always speaking, even when we do not utter a single word” (187). Considered in light of phenomenology, this statement presents itself as puzzling: is language some transcendent force that happens without our conscious activity, or is language the immanent structure of our very consciousness? If we take language to be the structure of consciousness and subjectivity—which I believe it is for Heidegger—then what epistemic function does rhetoric have, as a general study of language, persuasion, and identity?
In his 1924 lectures on Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, Heidegger seems absolutely fixated with Aristotle’s study of language, claiming it to be “the interpretation of being-there explicitly fulfilled” (75). What would it mean for Heidegger to say this? If the hermeneutical act (i.e. the self-interpretive act involving reflection on the structures of subjectivity through an investigation of what they disclose) is fulfilled in rhetoric and rhetoric is the study of language, then it seems as if Heidegger is indeed trying to expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its conventional definition. First, a careful outline of Heidegger’s analysis is necessary.
For Heidegger, human beings exist as “speaking-with-one-another” (Basic 71). Our natural state of dwelling in the world is through conversation (in the broad Heideggerian sense of language) with others, or with what is other, i.e. distinct. It is through this interaction with others that we form and reform our concepts of the world. It is precisely this notion of “concept-formation” that Heidegger is interested in because an understanding of how we view the world is central to the study of phenomenology (71). Since it is from this original mode of speaking-with-others that our concepts are formed, Heidegger views the orator as having “genuine power over being-there” (74). It is the orator who holds sway over the way the audience relates to its present situation, comprised of the different layers of being-characteristics (e.g. time, space, etc.).
Since the fundamental nature of our concept-formation is derived from this state of discussion, the one who leads others in deliberation also poses “the basic danger of being-there,” which is “to fall into the world…to be taken.” This possibility of manipulation is articulated through the work of the Sophists, who exploited this vulnerability in language that is, for Heidegger, so fundamental to experience (Basic 74). In fact, one can begin to see why Heidegger took such an early fascination toward the Rhetoric: as a study of the methods and layers of communication with others, Aristotle’s work is the first serious look into the way we form and reflect upon our understanding of our environment through language. Heidegger describes rhetoric as “a reflection on speaking,” which, again, concerns concrete instances of deliberation and the formation of concepts (72).
An important distinction is between rhetoric and dialectic. Heidegger describes the aim of dialectic as that which seeks to “convince another unconditionally” (Basic 79). In order to engage in a dialectic, one must be willing to start with certain presuppositions and follow a chain of reason, which necessarily involves consent to a premise and conclusion—otherwise the dialectic ends. Likewise, Heidegger states how “science must have the character of ‘verily’… so that nothing further can be asked of it” (88). Rhetoric, on the other hand, seeks to “cultivate a possibility of discourse…the possibility of seeing what is given at the moment; what speaks for a matter” (78-79). Heidegger characterizes his method of seeing-what-can-speak-for-a-matter as a process of “carrying over… [by which] we glean from the immediate and originary thinking… a meaning that is there with it, and carry it over to what is newly addressed” (58). The tenor of this process can be seen in the way that Heidegger follows the words that he uses—at times more poetic than philosophic. It is through this carry over that we challenge our concepts while simultaneously forming new ones.
For instance, an orator might begin a deliberation about the concept “animal.” If successful, the orator would create the possibility within himself and the audience to see how something like a dog can speak for their given concept of animal. Next, the audience might be directed to carry over their idea of animal qua dog toward a lizard. The orator creates the possibility for this experience through rhetorical appeals, and it is through the ensuing experience of tension arising from the concepts of animal qua dog and animal qua lizard intermingling that our concepts are formed. In sum, our concepts are only formed and reformed through the use and experience of them in concrete being-there. It is this interpretation of concrete being-there, which, as Heidegger claims, is made possible through the structures of consciousness, i.e. language.
Heidegger agrees with Aristotle’s comparison of rhetoric to medicine (1356b). Medicine does not in itself heal a person, but creates the possibility to heal someone. Likewise, rhetoric “cultivates a possibility for the one who wants to convince… [it is] an ability-to-see that which speaks for a matter” (Basic 79). I believe it is similar to Zaner’s notion of “sustaining shock” that it is through creating a possibility of surveying our world that we disengage and make possible the sight of something contrary to our beliefs. And it is only through this tension that we are able to create and reformat concepts (50). Like the phenomenologist and theologian Paul Tillich’s claim that we experience the authentic question of Being through a “‘metaphysical shock’—the shock of possible nonbeing” (per the awareness of possibility), it is through the temporal grasp of possibility—as conjured through the orator in conversation with others—that we have the possibility to critique concepts (163).
Furthermore, rhetoric “has no subject area demarcated in any way… [but rather] gives an orientation with regards to something” (Heidegger, Basic 80). These orientations, which Heidegger identifies as doxa, are the concrete, customary dispositions that we project onto the world. In a Heideggerian sense, it is a way of having-the-world-at-hand, i.e. treating things as customary, static things. However, these views do not remain static. As Heidegger claims in his lectures: “Being-with-one-another moves in…always modifiable views regarding things…[which are] not insights, but ‘views’ or doxa” (81). These customary ways of being, or doxa, are the pre-established concepts that we project onto situations and onto the understanding of ourselves. Through rhetoric, thus conceived as an invitation to deliberate, we allow these beliefs to be contested, such as letting a lizard impinge upon our notion of “animal.”
The experience of this movement—creating concepts that concretize into doxa and then letting these beliefs be challenged—can only be attained through concern. Thus, Heidegger interprets the role of the orator—with the elements of ethos, logos, and pathos—as paramount: it is the orator who “makes [the audience] sympathetic toward a matter” (Basic 83). Important to phenomenology is the notion that we comport ourselves to things in moods, and it is primarily through this existential concern that we let things matter for us. Thus, in a subjectivity that is constituted by language, the notion of things mattering conflates with the very idea of a matter (i.e. the verb conflates with the noun) because it is only through the involving experience that we learn about things in relation to our own subjectivity and obtain genuine knowledge.
The phenomenological hermeneutic can be seen clearly in Heidegger’s description: “dialectic and rhetoric act as counterparts…neither [are] about ‘concrete knowledge;’ instead, they are possibilities of ‘furthering,’ ‘procuring’ the discourse that is properly required at each moment” (Basic 87). It is through the double movement of rhetoric—concretizing beliefs and letting them be reshaped in concern-ful speech with others—that we are able to self-reflect on our concepts and prejudices (i.e. doxa), which is only possible through using them critically in experience. Heidegger continues: “Discourse itself moves within an oppositionality…[through] the determinations of beings, as they are brought to language in an everyday manner” (90). It was “the mistake of the Sophists” to view rhetoric as a “formal and decisive” discourse. Instead, rhetoric is merely the “mode of being-with-one-another in speaking-with-one-another…[that] sets forth the possibilities” of creating new understandings of the world (91).
In sum, Heidegger views rhetoric as the hermeneutical self-reflective act. Or, better said, he views it as the act that “cultivates the possibility,” i.e. the concern-ful disposition, by which to critically view and reflect on our concepts (Basic 78). Again, since our concepts of the world are created through an engaging experience with the world, and our consciousness is structured through language, rhetoric becomes the original self-reflective act. The art of making people concerned, which is associated with elements of time and style, becomes the central study for Heidegger in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. However, it remains to be seen how his understanding can meaningfully inform contemporary views on language and rhetoric.
Gadamer: Rhetoric and the Role of the Humanities
Hans-Georg Gadamer was a student of Martin Heidegger who published his magnum opus, Truth and Method, in 1960. Therein, Gadamer explores the relationship between understanding, aesthetics, and, importantly, the humanities and social sciences. In his extensive historical analysis, Gadamer describes the crucial shift in 19th century Germany when the methodology of the social sciences became based off of the methodology of the natural sciences. The natural sciences’ method of inductive reasoning sought to “do away with the experiences of particulars.” However, Gadamer’s central argument for the social sciences is that they in fact operate through “an unconscious process… [or] tact” (3). He goes on to state that this tact “is not simply a feeling and unconscious, but is at the same time a mode of knowing and a mode of being” (15). He describes this mode, or tact, as a sense for the aesthetic and a sense for the historical. I believe that this mode of understanding that is essential for the social sciences aligns with Heidegger’s unique analysis of rhetoric. Indeed, rhetoric thus conceived is the more original movement that enacts the hermeneutical reflection on what is present (i.e. an aesthetic sense-comprehension) and on what concepts we have working for us presently (i.e. historically-determined doxa).
Gadamer describes this tact as “a receptivity to the ‘otherness,’” which could easily be conceived as being open to reforming one’s concepts (Truth 16). And while Heidegger describes rhetoric as “cultivating a possibility… to see what can speak for a matter,” Gadamer argues that in order to participate within the social sciences one must have an open disposition to “the present-at-hand” (Basic 78-79; Gadamer 250). Both views describe an original state of openness, which for Heidegger is created through rhetoric as a self-reflection on language, i.e. subjectivity’s role in acquiring knowledge. Although Gadamer does not discuss rhetoric as having this role, I believe his views are hospitable to Heidegger’s views.
Additionally, Heidegger’s claim that the original state of concept-formation takes place within an engaging experience of self-reflection appears to align with Gadamer’s notion that “understanding is the original form of the realization of Dasein, which is being-in-the-world” (Truth 250). In other words, before any methodology can occur—which requires abstraction or alienation from the immediate—there must first be an engaging experience that involves the possibility of sensing what is present (aesthetically) in terms of what is projected (historically). Indeed, Gadamer states that before any theoretical notions arise in experience, “understanding is Dasein’s mode of being, insofar as it is potentiality-for-being and ‘possibility’” (250). As we have seen, rhetoric for Heidegger is “cultivat[ing] a possibility” and a “surveying” look, which is the original moment of concept-formation and reformation (Basic 78-79). For both Heidegger and Gadamer, there is a necessary experience before methodology and knowledge can be obtained. Although Gadamer does not explicitly state that rhetoric serves this function, I believe that Heidegger’s definition of rhetoric does indeed perform this role within Gadamer’s understanding of the social sciences.
Another one of Gadamer’s central claims is that humans always begin with presuppositions, and it is only through an engagement with a matter-at-hand that one can genuinely critique these notions. Indeed, Gadamer states: “all such understanding is ultimately self-understanding,” which emphasizes the self-reflexivity of concept-formation (Truth 251). In a 1983 interview, Gadamer explains how “understanding…is carried out within language” and that understanding is not complete until there is “an application of the concept to oneself” (Conversation 37-38). If we take Heidegger’s view of language as the structure of subjectivity—or the medium by which we gain knowledge of ourselves and others—then the self-reflective act is the primary movement in acquiring new information, and it is this act that is, for Heidegger, enacted by rhetoric. Furthermore, the prejudgments that we always start from constitute doxa and can only be modified through their use, which is again conjured up from rhetoric.
The question remains: is rhetorical practice, as seen in this light, some sort of method, or is it what constitutes the possibility of creating and modifying methodology in pursuit of knowledge? Here again Gadamer provides insight: “the concept of method [is] not an appropriate way of achieving legitimation in the humanities and social sciences. What is involved is not just a matter of using certain procedures to deal with a certain region of objects” (Truth 40). Instead, Gadamer views the social sciences as an engagement with one’s own history and culture, which I would approximate to Heidegger’s notion that we engage with our current doxa with others in order to reform them. We should not begin with whole-hearted assent to presupposed premises about the way the world works—like in Heidegger’s description of dialectic—but instead we must start with an engagement with one’s ever-modifying view, or doxa. And this engagement cannot ever be exhausted because it is not confined to calculable methodology, but instead is the experience of reshaping and reassessing our understanding of ourselves in history. Gadamer states: “the humanities and social sciences have attained their respected eminence because in them we repeatedly come to realize something we did not know before…they deal with [what cannot] be closed, wrapped up, finished” (51/53).
Indeed, to engage in the social sciences is to participate in an inexhaustible conversation—much like between a rhetor and his audience—and see what a given “horizon of meaning” can disclose when one has the tact of being open to what is other (Gadamer, Hermeneutics 42). And, for Heidegger, this disposition, which creates new understandings, is enacted by the rhetoric. Again, I believe Gadamer’s assessment reinforces Heidegger’s because Gadamer also seems to view language as the inexhaustible medium by which, through self-reflection or tact, we are able to understand anything at all. He states: “Language is not a supplement of understanding. Understanding and interpretation are always intertwined with each other. Explication…makes concrete the meaning that comes to be understood in the encounter with what has been handed down to us” (Gadamer, Truth 51). Or, in other words, through the analysis enacted by rhetoric—as a self-reflection on language—we engage with what is in order to see how it interacts with our ever-changing views which, I believe, can be rightfully understood as historically-given doxa.
Gadamer and Heidegger both seem to view these presupposed views as not bad in themselves, but merely as the opinions (or doxa) we have in order to engage with what is new. Thus, when Gadamer states that “we always already have a certain character [or prejudgment]…but it is only through them that we have a horizon [of meaning] at all, and are able to encounter something that broadens our horizon,” I believe that he is shedding new light on Heidegger’s notion of rhetoric within the humanities and social sciences (Conversation 43). The social sciences, as an engagement with our own history, can only be genuinely studied through the hermeneutic, i.e. through an engagement with “what can speak for a matter” one can reassess the opinions (doxa) that one uses to disclose information (Heidegger, Basic 79). The pivotal point for both Heidegger and Gadamer is that this can only be done through language, and that one cannot become open to what is other unless one becomes concerned about a question in conversation. Like a rhetor who must create a possibility, or comport himself in such a way to make the audience care, the academic must understand that questions only arise within a given horizon—a horizon based off of one’s culture and history—and that only by acknowledging these views toward things can one genuinely experience a social “fusion of horizons,” such as the fusion of a concept of animal qua dog with the concept of animal qua lizard (Gadamer, Conversation 44).
In Gadamer’s 1967 work, Philosophical Hermeneutics, he seems to move even closer to Heidegger’s view that rhetoric is the self-reflective act that makes concept-formation (through language) possible. He states: “language is not only an object in our hands, it is the reservoir of tradition and the medium in and through which we exist and perceive our world…[and] rhetoric stepped forward against the bewitching of consciousness achieved through the power of speech, by differentiating between the truth and that which appears to be the truth” (29). Rhetorical practice created the possibility to see the distinction between truth and appearance. Indeed, rhetoric was the first self-reflective study on language as a medium that articulates truth. And, unlike the charges by some Marxist theorists that phenomenologists are reinforcing dogma, it is only through this “untiring power of experience that…man is ceaseless forming a new preunderstanding” (38).
Like Heidegger’s view, Gadamer believes that preunderstandings—or doxa—make any understanding possible, and we can only reshape these concepts through a participatory experience with our current situation, which can only happen through being made concern-ful about one’s current historical place. Accordingly, the hermeneutic does not seek to thematize dogma, but instead to acknowledge the inherent presuppositions within every view and continually reassess them. Insofar as we are able to become concerned about questions—and see new ways of conceptualizing the world—the humanities are successful. This can only happen, however, through conversation, which involves an application of our concepts with others as opposed to a strict application of a pre-given methodology.
Rhetoric as Epistemic
In his 1967 work, “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic,” Robert L. Scott stated “in human affairs… rhetoric… is a way of knowing; it is epistemic” (17). Rejecting the Platonic sense of one absolute truth, Scott advocated for a more liberal approach toward meaning and knowledge acquisition. No longer should gaining knowledge be viewed as a one-to-one transference of an ideal “Truth” from an enlightened person to a naïve learner. Instead, truth ought to be viewed as “something to be created moment by moment in the circumstances in which [one] finds [oneself] and with which [one] must cope” (17). As Timothy Borchers explains, Scott claimed that it is “through speaking and acting that we come to know” (138). I believe that Scott’s view of rhetoric as a reflective act on meaning in conversation with others is congruent with Heidegger’s 1924 analysis of rhetoric. Indeed, his view that rhetoric is essential to creating knowledge does not at all contradict Heidegger’s view that the rhetorical practice is the condition by which we reassess our concepts and understanding.
The core of the issue appears to be what the role of rhetoric becomes when one enters into uncertain situations, i.e. when certainty is not guaranteed. Similar to Heidegger, Scott rejects any Platonic notions of absolute truth. Rather, both Scott (through Toulmin) and Heidegger focus on the contingency implied in temporal experience. As Scott states, “the certainty demanded [from the analytic ideal] must arise from what has been true…once and for all.” However, there is always a difference because there is always a “shift in time” (“On Rhetoric” 12). Thus, the essence of truth is in the very experience of creating knowledge with others—like Heidegger’s involving experience of “what can speak for a matter” that is not created through applying a methodology or through following a dialectical conversation (Basic 79). On the contrary, the experience of truth happens only when rhetoric enacts a disengagement—or tact—from which one reflects on one’s own views (or doxa) in a collaborative engagement with what is. Likewise, Scott believes that we only come to an understanding of our situation through conversation with others. Scott seems to agree with Heidegger that following a strict dialectic—i.e. a strict chain of reasoning that depends on consent to premises—is not an epistemic conversation, although it might assist in conversation. A dialectic alone, which I would also approximate to Gadamer’s notion of methodology, would not make people open to seeing the always-contingent and ever-unique situation that is always at hand. Instead, it would reify some pre-given view and quell the sense of genuine, participatory conversation.
Like Heidegger, Scott believes that truth is something that is “created moment by moment in the circumstances in which one finds [oneself] and with which [one] must cope” (“On Rhetoric” 17). Heidegger agrees that we always find ourselves in situations, which for Gadamer (who Scott mentions briefly) would be situations that we always view historically, or according to our given doxa. Indeed, Scott states: “truth must be seen as dual: the demands of the precepts one adheres to and the demands of the circumstances in which one must act” (17). I believe this accurately describes the type of phenomenological hermeneutic described in Heidegger and Gadamer: one must acknowledge one’s own historically given understanding (or doxa), but only through an engagement with what is presently at hand. Thus, only through a type of hermeneutic can we critique our historical understanding from the experience of a particular situation in conversation with others. Scott’s contemporary, Thomas B. Farrell, also talks about “social knowledge…[which] can neither be discovered nor verified through the detachment which observation demands…[but instead] depends upon an ‘acquaintance with’ or a personal relationship to other actors in the social world.” Importantly, even Farrell’s conception “presuppose[s] a kind of regularity,” which might be argued is similar to doxa (5).
Furthermore, Scott’s mention of coping seems to align with Heidegger’s idea of concern: we have care over a situation, and we thus become open to the question it asks, much like we become affected by a situation and look for others to make sense of it in order to cope. Both Heidegger and Scott seem to view this drive toward understanding a particular situation with others as the paramount action for creating knowledge and forming concepts. I also believe this conception, seemingly shared by Heidegger, Gadamer, and Scott, plays a central role in the humanities and social sciences. As Gadamer says, we are not confronted with static objects in our culture, history, etc. which can be exhausted, but instead the pursuit of knowledge in the humanities and social sciences happens through an inexhaustible participation with what can concern us. Furthermore, it is only historically-determined questions that can concern us. Therefore, we must have tact: an ability to see what can speak for a matter (always with others in conversation) and also have a reflective sense of our historically-given views (doxa) which are the vehicles by which we can understand, or gain knowledge about, anything at all. Or, as Scott describes, “our freedom to decide questions, and indeed, what we take to be problems presenting questions to us for decision, are to some degree fixed by historical forces that predate any lives of the actual persons that may be involved at decisive moments.” However, these historical questions only become sources of knowledge when people participate in them, i.e. “nothing [including culture and tradition] is clear in and of itself but in some context for some persons” (“Ten Years,” 261).
Perhaps nothing attests more to the richness of Scott’s thought than his enduring influence. Barry Brummett’s article, “Some Implications of ‘Process’ or ‘Intersubjectivity’: Postmodern Rhetoric,” takes Scott’s notion of situational knowledge and advances it toward—what I argue—is even more explicitly hermeneutical, and in a very Heideggerian way. Similar to Heidegger’s description of dialectic, Brummett focuses on the presuppositions of the scientific world-view, especially its drive toward “reduction, and through reduction, control” (23). In contrast, Brummett describes the inherent “ambiguity” of experience (28). This ambiguity itself “generates conflict and disagreement about meaning and a constant striving to resolve these divisions” (31). It is this very conflict which leads to conversation with others, through which people test their concepts. And through conversation with others we come to recognize and participate in this fundamental ambiguity, which I believe is the result of temporality. Indeed, the conflict arises from our historically-given concepts (or doxa) that we project—always imperfectly—onto what is at hand. Furthermore, like the phenomenological notion of intentionality, Brummett claims that “experience is sensation plus meaning,” i.e. that human consciousness imbues sensation with personal and situational meaning. I believe that this also aligns with Heidegger’s notion of concern—it is only through becoming existentially concerned about something (which for Gadamer is a historically-determined question) that consciousness is able to be in conversation about anything at all. As I stated earlier, matter becomes that which existentially matters.
Whereas Gadamer describes the unique tact involved in the humanities and social sciences, Brummett’s intersubjective theory also claims that, when meaning is in fact created in conversation with others, the goal is no longer to simply exhaust the topic analytically. He claims: “the problem is not to resolve these contradictions by reference to one objective standard. No such standard exists” (33). Instead, like Gadamer’s notion of history and Heidegger’s view of doxa in concept-formation, Brummett describes these “standard[s] of truth [which] must exist for verification of sensory experience… [as, simply,] widely shared or ritualized meanings” (35). Again, it is through the inherent ambiguity in language and experience that we are able to become concerned with questions, and through these concerns we reformat our concepts in conversation with others. This takes on a principally ethical function for Brummett, who states “because [language] creates reality it is the responsibility of the user of language to choose between the reality that his/her language will advocate” (39). Like Heidegger’s rhetor—who “cultivates a possibility… of seeing… what speaks for a matter,” Brummett’s conception of ethics depends upon speakers having an awareness of a choice, i.e. a temporal sense of different possibilities (Basic 78-79). Instead of a dialectic which would emphasize “complete and necessary acceptance,” rhetoric “urges choice” (Brummett 40).
However, I consider the most compelling similarity to be in Brummett’s advocacy for Michael Polanyi’s philosophy in rhetorical theory. Brummett emphasizes two distinct modes of experience: “focal and subsidiary or tacit knowledge.” I believe these two modes can be considered as analogous, if not literal counterparts, to the rhetorical conception put forward in this paper. The focal knowledge is “gained by attending to some particular object in and of itself.” For Heidegger, focal knowledge could be compared to the involved experience of what is at hand, and for Gadamer it would be the aesthetic apprehension of what is. Likewise, subsidiary knowledge, which is “holistic, intuitive knowledge of the focal object in its background or context,” might analogously imply the second polarity in phenomenological hermeneutics (43). For Heidegger, the subsidiary would be our abstract concept-formation, or doxa, and for Gadamer it would be the historical formation of our understanding. Both of these are polarities of subjective experience which cannot be accounted for simultaneously, but instead are hermeneutically critiqued through conversation (of the immediate) with others (through a concern dictated by historical/doxastic concepts). Indeed, as Brummett states, “both are complementary, to each other in arriving at the fullest knowledge possible” (47). In sum, it appears the implied methodology that stems from a view of rhetoric as epistemic is a sort of participatory hermeneutic, as discussed in Heidegger and Gadamer.
Although diverse in approach, I believe Scott and Brummett advance a method of interpretation that implies a Heideggerian hermeneutic. Thankfully, Scott and Brummett gave this approach a stronger ethical bent. In Scott’s “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic: Ten Years Later,” he says “if persons take seriously the possibilities that may be opened by rhetorical interchange…then developing the sensitivity necessary to seek rhetoric as a way of knowing is to enable one to take more fully the responsibilities generated by living with others” (260). This paper sought to advance the notion that Heidegger’s philosophy, as seen in his 1924 lectures, advocates for a similar disposition, i.e. one of being in conversation, and through recognition of our contingent relationship with others toward truth, a new type of concern-ful hermeneutic can be embraced.
After 1924, Martin Heidegger never spoke of rhetoric again in such detail. While his student, Hans Gadamer, appears to have remained influenced by the general tenor of Heidegger’s thought, he does not give rhetoric the degree of importance that his teacher once did. However, I believe that Heidegger’s analysis of rhetoric supports Gadamer’s view that understanding is not derived from a given methodology, but instead requires participation within one’s own historical and cultural milieu, which is of crucial importance for the humanities because the field concerns fundamentally historical questions. Furthermore, the tact that he describes could accurately be conceived as a sort of epistemic rhetoric. Through conversation with others, as opposed to a methodological dialectic, people can become meaningfully concerned through coping with a given situation. Thus, genuine (and contingent) knowledge of a given situation can come to light through the self-reflection that rhetoric enacts.
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