Sunday, January 30, 2005

Why Rhetoric & Rhythm?

I originally wanted to name this site Rhetoric Inc. but someone else had beat me to it when I was first setting up this blog. As you can see here the person who snagged the simple rhetoric.blogspot domain just put up one post and then abandoned it. I’m sure that was the fate of many of the good names for blogs.
So I settled on & Rhythm because of my love of music and because I thought it was neat pairing two words that both begin with Rh since there are only about a dozen such words to begin with.
But why rhetoric? And what is rhetoric anyway?
I was a speech communications major in college before switching to journalism and one of my favorite classes was Rhetoric. It was there that I learned about the art of speaking and writing that would dominate the rest of my professional career. I already knew how to do both fairly well by that point, but I did not have a full appreciation for its long history and importance in the making of Western civilization.

In recent years the term rhetoric has gotten a raw deal. It is most frequently used as a derogatory term that means the opposite of reality. It is almost cliché for someone to dismiss a politician today as someone who spouts rhetoric, not reality.
But rhetoric, according to Aristotle is how we come to understand reality.
A simple definition of rhetoric is “the art of using words skillfully in speaking or writing.”
Aristotle referred to rhetoric as the counterpart to dialectic, which is the art of logical discussion. Aristotle believed that dialectic was the best way to find the truth – by having a back and forth discussion in a logical manner where one person throws out an idea and another person adds to it or trys to counter it or knock it down.
In some ways, blogging is a kind of rhetoric and the discussions that occur in the comments section are the dialectic. I don’t know if we ever arrive at the truth this way, but I think we come closer than if we had stayed cooped up in our own thoughts without every exposing them for someone else to challenge or learn from.

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