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This article was written on 10 May 2008, and is filed under Essays, Miscellania.

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Donald Philip Verene: Philosophical Rhetoric

In the context of an excellent article on Ernesto Grassi and Henry Johnstone (thanks A):

Narrative is the speech of memory. Philosophies are essentially narratives.
All great works of philosophy simply tell the reader what is the nature of things.
The arguments we ?nd within such works are meaningful within the structure of
the narrative they contain. The narration confers meaning. Questions of meaning
always precede questions of truth. Philosophical arguments do not stand on their
own. They cannot pro?tably be removed from the narrative that informs them
and evaluated as though they had independent value and truth.

Philosophies, like all narratives, act against forgetting. To forget is to
leave something out, to omit or overlook a feature of a subject matter or of the
world. Philosophical speech is memorial speech because it reminds us of what
we have already forgotten or nearly forgotten about experience. The speech of
philosophical narrative can never become literal-minded because to act against
forgetting is to attempt to hold opposites together. The narrative is always based
on a metaphor; a metaphor is always a narrative in brief. The narrative is also
the means to overcome controversy, because for the self to overcome an inconsistency of its thoughts it must develop not simply a new argument but a new
position, a new narrative in which to contain any new argument.

The self makes itself by speaking to itself, not in the sense of introspection
but in the sense of the art of conversation, which is tied to the original meaning of dialectic. On this view, philosophy is not rhetorical simply in its need to
resolve controversy, nor is it rhetorical simply in terms of its starting points for
rational demonstration. Philosophy is rhetorical in these senses, but it is further
rhetorical in its total expression. Any philosophy commands its truth by the way
it speaks. Great philosophies speak in a powerful manner that affects both mind
and heart. It is common, in the Dialogues, that, after engaging in the elenchos,
Socrates says he is unsure whether a claim that seems to be true really is true.
His answer is to offer a “likely story.” All philosophies, on my view, are likely
stories, which originate in the philosopher’s own autobiography and are attempts
to move from this to the autobiography of humanity, to formulate the narrative
of human existence in the world and to speak of things human and divine.

“Philosophical Rhetoric” (2007)

One Comment

  1. Dave
    10 May 2008

    Terrific – many thanks.

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