Scott, Robert L. "On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic"

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Robert L. Scott published “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic” in 1967. He begins by explaining how in classical rhetoric (such as Plato’s portrayal in the Socratic dialogues) there is an absolute "Truth." Scott argues against this notion of an absolute or definitive Truth. Drawing on the work of Stephen Toulmin, Scott first explains how through the “analytic argument” (i.e., the kind of argument used in the traditional syllogism (see: Glossary), one cannot actually gain any empirical knowledge about the world. This is because by nature, the facts of the world are contingent and dependent on time, whereas analytic arguments are meant to be immutable and time-independent. Scott then discusses Douglas Ehninger and Wayne Brockriede’s views on debate, saying that the “cooperative critical inquiry” used in debate is a more accurate means for finding—or creating—truth. Scott then explains how understanding the nature of truth has important ramifications in ethics. One must attempt to make the proper moral choices even though no objective standard of truth for ethics actually exists.

Scott argues that "truth" is contingent, and rather rhetoric creates truth (see Richard Vatz). Truth comes from learning through experience--not before the experience. Scott believes that individuals acting upon a preconceived and definite idea of truth are not acting responsibly in regard to ethics. Thus, the actors are merely acting as instruments of an outside truth, and removing responsibility based on the situation. Ultimately to act without certainity or a notion of absolute truth, especially in ethical matters, is actually the most responsible approach. Truth is dual, based on precepts and circumstances. By claiming that rhetoric is epistemic, Scott is saying that rhetoric is what creates truth, it is how we come to know what we know.

See Also

James Berlin

Richard Vatz

Further Reading

Robert L. Scott, "On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic: Ten Years Later" (1976)

James Berlin, "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class" (1988)

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