Rhetorics of Inquiry
The point is, then, that there is not one rhetoric of inquiry but several. The term "rhetoric" is rich in meaning and history but also, and for the same reason, rife with ambiguity. Most neutrally, perhaps, it is the study and practice of persuasion. (28) But this broad conception permits varying emphases or narrowings: thus, rhetoric as argumentation, as figuration, as stylistics, as audience and situational adaptation, and as an art of composition or arrangement. These may be viewed coequally as component parts of a comprehensive rhetorical theory of inquiry, or any one of them may be featured as the central organizing term of such a theory, the others thus relegated to a subordinate status. In contemporary rhetorical treatments one finds echoes of classical divisions. For example, Geertz and Billig display strong affinities in their writings with the playful and flexible, at the same time skeptical and self-questioning turns of mind of the sophists of ancient Greece and Rome. (29) But Geertz tells us little at all about the argumentative structures of the ethnographies he examines in Works and Lives, and a great deal about how they use language. Billig, on the other hand, would have us regard argumentation as central to rhetoric but is downright contemptuous of the tropological and stylistic strands in sophistic rhetorical theory.
these varying theoretical conceptions of rhetoric as persuasion are conceptions of rhetoric as genres of persuasive discourse, such as the rhetoric of the academic professions, the rhetoric of scientific sociologists, the rhetoric of sociobiology. (30) Lyne (this volume) is more precise in characterizing a rhetoric as "a discourse strategy spanning and organizing numerous discourses, and acting as a trajectory for discourses yet unorganized." The rhetoric of sociobiology, suggests Lyne, is an example of a "'bio-rhetoric,' a strategy for inventing and organizing discourses about biology in such a way that they mesh with with the discourses of social, political, or moral life."
Then too there are the various senses of "mere" rhetoric and worse: of manner rather than matter, style rather than substance, form rather than content; of rhetoric as an art of gulling people, and of bombast, exhibitionism, ingratiation and decoration. These provide the basis for "deconstructions" of scholarly pretensions, as for example, in Thomas Szasz' well known critique of the mental health professions for what he described as a self-serving secular theology promoted in the guise of objectivity. (31)
At the opposite pole from these dyslogistic conceptions of rhetoric are its eulogistic senses. Much of the reconstructive work of the new rhetoric of inquiry is built around conceptions of rhetoric as the study of how one ought to argue and ought to use language in situations and on issues for which there can be no proof. Presupposed here is the possibility for reasoned judgment and comparison--for discovering, as Booth puts it, those "good reasons"
that really warrant assent. (32) To Booth's discovery of good reasons, Margolis (this volume) speaks of the need to discover forms of argument, suitable to the tasks of assembling the elements of our history together and in addressing effectively our habits of conviction.