On Burke’s Filters & Weaver’s Responsibility

I am not really sure how many of you had to bear with the multiple lectures on how language is a system of symbols, and those symbols allow us to understand the world around us.  I have been hearing that since first grade; I am not kidding!  I still question it because if it were so, why is there so much misunderstanding around us.  Burkean Rhetoric gives a good perspective as to why that is.

Occupational psychosis or our individual experiences in life must influence the way we understand language symbols.  In addition, terministic screens, which can be defined as our interpretative filters developed from past experiences, have to also influence that we perceived as language.  Finally, trained incapacity, a type of incapacity that results from the two latter also sways our relationship with language symbols… no wonder we all can’t get along all the time.

Furthermore, I also enjoyed reading the idea Burke defines rhetoric as pairing situation to meaning with the so that the receptors may achieve understanding and agreement (hopefully) with the speaker’s.  That alone is the best example of rhetoric itself!  In a way this is saying that rhetoric is a method to “aid” one gaining understanding of the way the speaker sees and agrees with whatever is being discussed.  Clever!!!  Luckily, Burke also tell us about our ability to filter confidence in the messages we received, so maybe we realize that such “aid” may actually have obscure purposes, what scholars would call persuasion.

Along with persuasion comes responsibility however.  In fact Richard Weaver could not have put it best when stating that, “… any utterance is a major assumption of responsibility, and the assumption that one can avoid that responsibility by doing something to language itself is one of the chief considerations of the Phaedrus, just as it is of contemporary semantic theory” (60-61).  Therefore, it seems as if this idea of responsibility not only to filter but also to utter and to manipulate language has been a point of great contention since Plato until contemporary semantics.

I can’t help but to see this argument from a different angle.  Responsibility is such a subjective term, which varies depending on the filters that Burke talks about.  Thus, each individual has different cultural, religious, and political values that will influence the way he or she filters what is responsible to do or not to do.  In fact, in today’s front page the British Broadcasting Company news website presents the fact that a Belgium parliamentary committee will be deciding on a total van of the use of the full Islamic veil in public places.  Many if not most Americas’ jaws will drop to such a thought.  That sounds like going backwards instead of moving forward with the idea of going beyond tolerance and creating harmony for world peace.  Others will argue that the fully covering the face presents a safety issue in public places.  With what filters would you see such a thought?

1 comment for “On Burke’s Filters & Weaver’s Responsibility

  1. April 4, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Shirley, you mention an idea we have had time to discuss much yet; kairos, or matching the appropriate means of persuasion to a situation and an audience. For Burke, the importance of understanding an audience and their terministic screens was paramount. Not only did he believe that upon this understanding depended effective persuasion, but also conflict resolution–one of his primary concerns.

    I think this could also connect to the idea of responsibility; part of the rhetors responsibility is to understand his or her audience.

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