James Crosswhite examines what a rhetorical concept of reason can bring to argumentation theory. In order to do this, his aim is to connect theory to practice. Further, he recognizes the rhetoric is a unique field because all disciplines employ rhetoric. However, he suggests that rhetorical theory is further unique because it doesn’t claim to have access to eternal truths, but instead has a social purpose. Because of this, rhetoric gets around the philosophical problems of skepticism and uncertainty.
Philosophy’s rejection of eternal truths can be seen in Heidegger’s concept that there is nothing outside of language, and there is no split between subject/object. Traditionally, philosophy had viewed language as a medium for representing the outside world. Instead, Heidegger argued that language is our world. One consequence of this view is that writing courses no longer suggest that language transmits or expresses the outside world.
A further blow to the traditional view of language can be seen in deconstruction. However, this has limits because it is a negative hermeneutics based on endless interpretation. Rhetoric does more by examine the interaction of agent with context and looks at the positive role language has as a communicative process that calls for social action. The shifts in philosophical thinking have led people to believe that it is useless or destructive for society. One way that philosophical thinking goes wrong is that it assumes that the collapse of metaphysical understanding of the world means a collapse of the world itself.
Crosswhite argues that metaphysics isn’t the foundation for human experience, but that humans create metaphysics as a way to understand their experience. He turns to Perlman’s anti-correspondence theory and its ethical dimension to understand how a foundationless rhetoric doesn’t have to mean not having a general theory of writing. To do this, he sees argumentation as a resolution to foundationless rhetoric through a theory of rationality.
He roots the initial problem of the traditional theory of argumentation on the influence of Aristotle. He also says that students tend to resist argumentation because they view it as a type of verbal fighting they are uncomfortable with. However, Crosswhite believes that argument isn’t just a type of conflict. Instead, argument is a type of dialogue.
Crosswhite examines how old views of rhetoric identified claims as reflecting the outside world. However, he points out that both claims and propositions are socially situated and don’t reflect an external truth. He agrees with Habermas that claims are subject to challenge and that shared understanding of those claims is what motivates communication. Claims function as an invitation for dialogue. Further, as Habermas points out, claims are dialogic and part of social action. One question that is raised by this view of claims is how do we judge the worth or truth of one claim over another without any epistemic foundation.
To answer this question, Crosswhite turns to a theory of questioning that hasn’t been traditionally addressed in argumentation theory. He says that when a claim is called into question, this is the basis for an argument. Dialogic argumentation means being able to understand the questioner’s position. In the composition classroom, it is important to understand resistance as a form of rejection of the questioner’s position or the rejection of being “claimed.” One most recognize that not all students have the same ability to take the questioner role.
Crosswhite further points out that arguing with someone shows respect and the ability to accept being questioned. Further, he says that argument is a type of conflict, but one that involves mutual respect. One question raised by his perspective is whether or not conflicting claims are conflicting claims about reality, values, or just function of misunderstanding. He acknowledges that argumentation has a similarity to violence, without the desire to impose one’s will on another. In fact, the fact that one needs cooperation from another is a marked difference between violence. Another question that comes out of this discussion is whether feminine argumentation would be different in its understanding of argument as conflict. In fact, violence can be seen as a form of failed argumentation. However, can argument actually do more damage in some ways than violence? He believes that despite this question, argument is the greatest method of containing violence.
He agrees the Lakoff that metaphors do matter and that argumentation is also described in terms of war is interesting. However, he believes that argument is a type of conflict with different aims, goals and resolutions than war. He wants teachers to become participants in the process of argument by recognizing its unique type of conflict, one where there is mutual respect.
One important feature of Crosswhite’s theory is that audience plays an important role in all aspects of argumentation. In fact, if there is no audience, there can be no claim and thus no argument. In short, the audience shapes everything. Audience is invented as measures of arguments success. However, Crosswhite goes beyond the notions that audience is invoked or addressed. He relies on the concept presented in the “New Rhetoric” in which there is both a universal/ideal and particular/real audience.
One problem in this conception of audience is revealed by Habermas through his idea that the standard of truth is agreement. He used the concept of the ideal speech situation to measure this standard but eventually found this concept to be problematic. However, despite the limits of the universal audience, Crosswhite believes that one shouldn’t abandon this useful construct. He even argues that the idea of the transversal audience might be useful, in which disparate groups might be shaped by similar structures. He wants the universal audience to be an epistemological tool, rather than a metaphysical claim by recognizing the essential need for concepts of universality in describing social and political realities.
Another point that Crosswhite argues is that logic does not equal reason. He wants to advance a theory of logic that replaces traditional logic because finding logic of everyday reasoning has important educational consequences. Logicians have been trying to break out of the formal logic trap. One way to do this is to adopt a new standard of persuasion which is based on audiences. To do this, fallacies would go by the way side-a fallacy would just be the inability to persuade a particular audience and/or not making the argument either too universal, or not universal enough.
Crosswhite acknowledges that not everything can be put into claims. He also recognizes that audiences can promote ideologies and not arguments. Further, argument tends to create consensus or sameness, which can be problematic when it comes to ideologies. It raises the question if it is ethical to force students in an ideological sameness. However, he believes that recognizing difference isn’t enough. Resolving conflicts should also be a goal. One issue raised by this perspective is how one can justify one ideology over another without an external world or foundation for one’s belief.
Overall, Crosswhite believes that argumentative reasoning is a paradigm of experience itself. It is a process of inquiry that takes place in a dialogic and social context. Sometimes the motive to persuade can be a barrier to this inquiry process. One way to mediate this in the classroom is to avoid topics which people have strong emotional attachments to.