Despite fundamentally disagreeing over the nature of philosophy and sophistry in their ongoing debate, Alain Badiou and Barbara Cassin both agree that rhetoric is a dead end for contemporary thought. For Badiou, the proud Platonist, rhetoric’s concern with audiences and their opinions leaves it entirely divorced from truths. For Cassin, the avowed sophist, rhetoric was never anything more than a philosophical ruse designed to contain the creative power of genuine sophistic discourse. In other words, where Badiou finds rhetoric too sophistical, Cassin finds it too philosophical.
Taking these incompatible criticisms as my point of departure, I argue in this talk that rhetoric remains an indispensable area of concern for contemporary philosophy. To do so, I reinterpret Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s New Rhetoric project using methodological insights from the hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricœur. After clarifying the stakes of Perelman and Ricœur’s own debate, I use Ricœur to expand Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s technical notion of the “audience” – which refers to the specific way in which a discourse constructs its hearer or reader. Rather than continue to oppose philosophy and rhetoric as competing disciplines, this expanded notion of audience allows me to identify what I call the “rhetoricity” of discourse – the rhetorical dimension of human action often obscured by philosophy’s deep-rooted mistrust of its ancient rival.
What emerges from this investigation, pace Badiou and Cassin, is a picture of rhetoric as (1) a dimension of all discourse and action and (2) an integral capacity of human beings most visible in the reception and production of arguments. The most important consequence of this conception of rhetoric is that it allows philosophers to overcome the conventional opposition between philosophy and rhetoric. By adopting our view, rhetoric is no longer something “more” added on to philosophy, but an everyday capacity that philosophers also rely upon when constructing audiences.