Shirley Miranda Brenes
6 April 2010
A1. Discuss how views of this relationship have changed over time, or compare the issue across the Greek/Roman, Indian, and Chinese traditions we’ve discussed.
Rhetoric and Ethics across Greece/Rome, India, and China
Ethics has been an important issue addressed for centuries from participants of many fields such as the natural sciences, philosophy, and politics among others. Rhetoric has not been the exception. In ancient Greece and Rome as well as India and China, scholars have long addressed the relationship between moral principles and rhetoric.
In Greece, the ethical use of rhetoric was addressed by great thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates. In fact, Plato’s Gorgias is perhaps the best illustration of the wrestling that existed between the art of teaching others how to speak eloquently and persuasively and whether or not teachers of rhetoric should also teach their pupils how to morally use such skills. Gorgias argues this point by posing the example of a skillful boxer, whose instructor teaches boxing to be used for self defense, against evil doers or against enemies. However, if this boxer goes on a ramp rage and decides to attack his friends and family, his teacher should not be held responsible, since according to Gorgias, the only one to blame is the one “who make[s] bad use of the art” (Plato 51). It is arguable, nonetheless, that knowing an art does not equate to knowing how to use it for the good alone. In addition, Gorgias places high value on rhetoric itself versus in both rhetoric and its ethical use when he presents Socrates with this:
What is there greater than the word which persuades the judges in the courts, or the senators in the council, or the citizens in the assembly, or at any other political meeting?—if you have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician your slave, and the trainer your slave, and the money-maker of whom you talk will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for you who are able to speak and to persuade the multitude. (Plato, 46)
It is then evident that some of the Greek philosophers placed more value in the process of persuasion, well being, and material possessions than in the ethical teaching and practice of rhetoric. Others in Greece must have seen this as a problem and therefore refuted it. One of those thinkers was Socrates.
In Gorgias, Socrates gets his opponent to agree on two things. First that there is a true and a false belief, and second that they should assume two kinds of persuasion, one based on knowledge and one without knowledge. This is of great significance because Socrates uses these thoughts as a spring board to present his idea of how persuasion is then the artificer of “just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them” (49). For Socrates, the idea of rhetoricians doing both pretending to know the truth about things and persuading others to think that they know more than they really do is almost disgusting. This conclusion is conceivably the heart of Greek’s views on ethics. In fact, for Socrates it is much better to be the victim of evil and suffering than to be the inflictor of evil. Unfortunately, some may argue, these beliefs on justice and morals became less solid once Greece met Rome.
One of the consequences of the imperialistic advances of Rome was the influence of views and customs on the Romans from the civilizations they conquered. It can be said then that Greek rhetorical and ethical views thus impacted the Romans. Nevertheless, the arguments on ethics and the use of rhetoric in Rome became only part of the background as authors such as Quintilian and Cicero circumvent Plato’s thoughts of truth and justice to focus more on rhetorical style, exploring the ideas of art, eloquence, and the characteristics that teachers should posses to effectively teach students, among others. In fact, the extent of morality and ethics in Rome may have lain in the social responsibility that these authors called for in the hopes to improve the lives of the citizens in the cities they lived. As an illustration, Cicero in particular chooses to focus on this sort of greater good by stating that, “my deliberate opinion is, that the controlling influence and wisdom of the consummate orator is the main security, not merely for this own personal reputation, but for the safety of countless individuals, and the welfare of the country at large” (14). We see there an important appeal to morality.
As rhetoric and ethics shaped in Greece and Rome, India too experienced the development of a relationship between these two elements. Because of the intricacies of the Indian culture (high value placed on searching for truth, knowledge, consensus and harmony, etc.), it is much easier to see the cohesiveness of ethics and rhetoric there. Lloyd’s Nyaya Sutra presents us with the base of Indian rhetoric, which also delineates its relationship to ethics. Hence there are three main types on debates in Indian rhetoric: The first one is an honest debate (vaya), in which both sides search for truth. Then there is the hindering, tricky debate (jalpa), which goal is to win the argument, and finally, the destructive debate (vitanda), which goal is to defeat the opponent no matter what (Lloyd 368). It is important to note the order of these kinds of debate. In fact, the idea of seeking for truth and knowledge and approaching an argument with the aim to properly understand the matter being discussed exposes a set of ethnics and morals rather different from that of Western rhetoric. Lloyd exemplifies this point when he states that, “The purpose and goal for the rhetor using the Nyaya method is to create and share a ‘knowing episode’” (372), putting Indian rhetorical ethics farther away from the persuasive and manipulative characteristics of rhetoric described by Gorgias and the logic driven syllogisms that Aristotle outlined. Indian rhetoric and the significant worth positioned on its ethical use is similar to that of China.
Although we know much less about Chinese rhetoric than that of Greece, and even though the bit that we do know may be questionable for real meaning and precision (due to flawed translations that lack biculturalism), we do have a few authors such as Xing Lu, Liu Hsieh, and Yameng Liu that may be read to try to understand the relationship between the use of rhetoric and the development of ethics in China. For instance, Lu’s Rhetoric in Ancient China exposes the idea that “awareness of the power and impact of language increased, while the rhetorical appeals expanded into the realm of morality and rationality” (6). One can then see that important attention was given to the idea that language was a powerful tool, which influenced not only the realm of logic but also that of morality. Furthermore, Lu explains that the changes that China saw in its political arena also influenced rhetoric and ethics. China went from sheltering freedom of expression to the use of centralized and utilitarian appeals, which purpose was to manipulate and not so much to search for moral flawlessness (7). Considering these changes, it is expected to see in China the same division between rhetoric and ethics as it appeared in Greece.
In effect, as several schools of thoughts developed in China, issues of rhetoric such as language, persuasion and argumentation, as well as issues of morality, social justice, and ethical behavior were addressed. According to Lu, The School of Ming concerned itself with issues of social justice while The School of Confucianism focused on social order, the moral impact of speech, the moral character of the speaker, and the nurturing of just conduct. Additionally, other schools such as The Daoists and The Legalists schools focused more on rhetorical inquiry, persuasion, and the aesthetic of communication. We see then that the study of rhetoric developed a strong sense of ethics, and both of these forces managed to impact Chinese culture in its own way.
Undoubtedly, the relationships between the study of rhetoric and the development of a sense of ethics have varied from classical times from Greece and Rome to India and China. Most of these variations are the product of cultural influences rather than pure variations on each of them. These nations have experienced rhetoric in different yet similar ways. Therefore, in analyzing the relationship between rhetoric and ethics, it is easy to find interesting differences while many similarities do exist, especially in the sense of what is right and that labeled as wrong.
B1. Is it possible to really understand the rhetorical tradition of another culture? Explain why or why not? Draw on course texts as needed for examples and arguments.
Understanding Rhetorical Traditions of Other Cultures
In examining the differences and similarities of the rhetorical traditions of the West, India, and China, it is only expected that some people may wonder if it is really possible to understand foreign rhetorical practices. Although many would argue that it is impossible to truly understand far away cultures and their rhetorical practices, I believe the contrary. In fact, enlighten by some of the authors read, it is easy to propose why this understanding of other cultures’ rhetoric traditions may come to take place.
One of the main reasons is that in western societies in particular, we are taught the importance of fostering an open mind. The American post-secondary educational system, although weakly, promotes a suspension in judgment and the need to question “the expert.” We are taught to become not just tourists of learning but travelers and explores. Because of this reasons alone, it is only appropriate to adopt the idea that it is possible to understand elements of other cultures, rhetorical traditions being one of them. This understanding must begin with erasing the idea that rhetoric equates to Plato and Greece. For this understanding to occur, it is indeed necessary that people agree that rhetoric existed everywhere else, although perhaps with a different name or maybe without one at all. One of the cleverest examples of this was presented in class by posing the story of Adam and Eve and the rhetorical strategies that Satan used in the Garden of Eden (Uzma). There was no Plato or Socrates there, but there sure was rhetoric. When trying to understand foreign rhetoric one should not to look for labels but for examples of how rhetoric interplays in those cultures.
In addition to keeping an open mind; we live in the land of opportunities. For many this may mean little, but for scholars who are really interested in understanding the rhetorical traditions of other cultures, this could translate into visiting those cultures in order to truly comprehend their customs and their past. By taking the time to understand the way people lived in foreign lands and perhaps even learning their language, one may be fortunate enough to have a good grasp of the rhetorical traditions of that foreign community. Of course not very many people have the desire, the resources, or the time to pick up and move overseas, and that is why we can also rely on translations in order to accomplish the goal of comprehending rhetorical traditions of other cultures.
On translations, Xing Lu warns us incessantly. In her piece, Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B.C.E. A Comparison with Classical Greek Rhetoric, Lu presents three ways of examining translations. First, she argues that many consider translations as the faithful transcription of one language into another, in which fidelity is the guiding principle. Second, she presents the thoughts of Walter Benjamin, who proposes that fidelity is not serviceable any more, and that interpretation is necessary, leaving translators with the task of appropriation versus just marrying text fidelity (10). After examining these ideas, Lu concludes that a good translation cannot be just fidelity or appropriation. In fact, she indicates that translators need to also become “mediators.” For Lu, “Achieving such goal [translation] requires not only competence in both languages and familiarity with the subject matter at hand, but also sensitivity to the cultures of both the original author and the audience of the translation” (11). It is easy to agree with Lu; in trying to understand the traditions of rhetoric of other countries through translations of texts, it is important to determine if the translators are adequately prepared. Ideally, the texts to be studied have been translated not only by bilingual individuals but also by people that are bicultural too. Both bilingualism and biculturalism are the only ways in which a true blend occurs, and which will provide a more accurate picture of what is being translated.
Another reason why it is possible to understand the rhetorical traditions of other cultures is because we now have a much wider discernment of what rhetoric was based on in different cultures. To illustrate, we now know that the Nyaya, Indian rhetoric, was based on self-abnegation and the seeking of agreement and harmony. Indian rhetors’ success was measured by the production of useful activities that originate from debating (Lloyd 375). Furtheremore Lloyd quoting Burke states that “the speaker’s ‘act of persuasion may be for the purpose of causing the audience to identify itself with the speaker’s interests, and the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport (375). Knowing these differences may make it is easier to understand and to approach the study of Nyaya rhetorical traditions for westerners or by Middle Easterners to try to get to know western rhetorical customs better.
The last reason why it is possible to understand foreign rhetorical traditions is because scholars of different cultures may now be better aware than in the past of the importance of explaining their own rhetorical traditions. For instance, after examining the way that Chinese scholars theorized Chinese rhetorical traditions, Lu now has a more holistic approach to it. She argues that Chinese scholars have failed to introduce to western societies the Chinese works on the study of ming (naming) while at the same time also failing to embrace an understanding of rhetorical traditions of the West (40). Unfortunately, this has translated into westerners going to China and creating their own interpretation of rhetoric, which often times is not correct. To illustrate, Lu speaks of a polarization of these two cultures as the product of Westerns intellectuals drawing the wrong conclusion that Chinese culture was spiritually oriented while western cultures were scientifically and logically driven (39). However, these misinterpretations should now be almost non-existent as with the use of technology and modern means of communication distance and language barriers should be minimal.
Having the ability to keep an open mind, the opportunity to explore other cultures (becoming bicultural) and to examine well translated texts, as well as getting native scholars to better explain their own rhetorical traditions are ways in which one can truly understand the rhetorical traditions of other cultures. It remains to be seen if scholars truly care enough to achieve this understanding, if so, we should all be soon enjoying a much broader and deeper understanding of non-western rhetorical traditions, and the Orient should be able to see western rhetoric with new lenses other than those originated in Greece.