Ch. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation

Chapter 1—Agreement

In this Chapter, Perleman and Olbrechts-Tyteca analyze the premises of an argument which speaker must be aware in order to persuade one’s audience to adere to a writer’s proposition and illustrate how a listener focuses on three aspects of a proposition to see if they adhere: agreement on the premises of one’s proposition, the choice of the premises, and the presentation of those premises. In order to describe the types of objects of agreement that play different roles in the argumentation process, they focus on the real (facts, truths, and presumptions generally agreed upon by a universal audience) and the preferable (values, heirachies and lines of related arguments, which are specific to certain audiences).66 Understanding the ways in which premises are received by an audience is key to helping a speaker understand which implicit or explict premises he or she can depend on to win over an audience.

P and OT illustrate how one can fail to persuade an audience if the premise of one’s argument is based on facts, which are doubted because of a disagreement among an audience or the introduction of a new audience member which sheds new light on what was previously perceived as a fact. This new perspective from the new member may present opposing facts to discredit the premised fact or illustrate how the premised fact is really just the subjective conclusion of another’s argument (68). They also point out that accepted facts may be observable facts or just probable ones 68. These same points apply to truths as well, which they define as complex systems which connect facts 69. They point out how a fact + a truth = a new fact. Or in other words, accepted fact + theory = accepted new fact. Or also, very probably fact + probable theory = probable fact.

P and OT then speak about the importance of recognizing that an audience wants their presumptions reinforced. Thus, preliminary argumentation strives to establish the existence of certain presumptions, which we deem as normal because it is related to a reference group to which all else is compared. Thus if a speaker wants to begin an argument by dispelling a presumption, he or she must present new information which dispels the common assumptions about the reference group. Nevertheless, what is important here to realize is that arguments are often based on presumed facts in the same manner as arguments are based on observed facts (73).

Arguments are also based on hierarchical values and loci of the preferable. One appeals to values to induce audience to make certain choices rather than others and to justify those choices so they can be accepted and approved by others (75). One can disqualify a value, subordinate it, or interpret it differently in an effort to weaken another’s value based argument, but one cannot reject a value altogether (75). When arguing, one must keep in mind that universal values are accepted by universal audiences, but concrete values are only accepted by particular groups (77). But more importantly, one must be aware of the hierarchical nature of values and be certain when addressing an audience, that one is aware of which values an audience subordinates and/or privileges (82). Therefore, if an arguments is based on a hierarchical structure or the argument concludes with a hierarchy, one value is always sacrificed in an argument (83).

When arguing, one can also rely on general premises called loci,which are premises of a general nature which serve as basis for values and heirachies (84). Thus loci are most general premises which are often implied yet justify choices we make (similar to warrant). In order to truly understand an audience, one must understand the loci, which serves as an audience’s foundation for values and hierarchies as well as the intensity to which they privilege and adhere to these loci.

Chapter 4: Dissociation of Concepts

I don’t have a firm grasp on this chapter, but I will give it a whirl—-

When one objects to an argument, one often objects to the connecting links which an argument is based on. One will either reject that the connected links are connected or claim that the connection never really existed (411). This lack of connection can be proved by actual or mental experience, by changes in a situation, by examination of certain variables (411). One can either affirm that elements which should remain separate and interdependent have been improperly associated in past or modify or dissociate the connected links (411-2). Thus in order to convince someone to change their mind, that person can dissociate notions that they previously held to be linked. This task is difficult, so often a compromise solution is best means to move consensus forward. P and OT illustrate that these connected links or notions that need to be dissociated in order to persuade someone of something often come in the form of philosophical pairs (appearance/ reality, good/evil, just/unjust for example). One is privileged and the one that is privileged can only be understood in comparison with other. P and OT claim that the pairs of means/act, act/person, individual/group, act/essence, symbol/thing, particular/general and their variants and connections provide terms of most common connecting links that form basis of an argument (423). These pairs are often never discussed. When we argue, what we often can do to persuade an audience is make good use of dissociations already admitted by audience, introduce dissociations to audience, present dissociations accepted by other audiences, or recall a dissociation audience may have forgotten about (427). Much argument is concerned with reversing the pair. The result is a dissociation, but also the result can be the rejection of each term of the pair and repudiation of the viewpoint presupposed by resorting to the pair (436).

I think this point is similar to Burke’s theory that all dialectics can be blurred, and thus P and OT illustrate in a very complex way how the dissociation of dialectics can be useful in argument. But don’t trust me on this one.


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One response to “Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. THE NEW RHETORIC: A TREATISE ON ARGUMENTATION

  1. Laurie –
    Chapter 4 was a tough read for me, too… the idea behind the pairs (Kelly and I were just talking about this) is, we think, grounded in association and dissociation. Within argumentation, then, the rhetor separates these “elements” (or pairs) so that an audience may perceive unity among them.
    So – Assoc. = quasi-logical, brining things together via formal logic, real meaning bringing together elements to modify audience’s thoughts
    And – Diss. = an attempt to re-formulate notions of the audience

    I wish I could copy my little concept map into this space, but here is a verbal version:

    Argumentation is a discursive technique (according to P, OT).

    The rehtor linguistically creates presecne which the audience adheres to.

    The rhetor creates this presence by – 1. analyzing how the audience thinks and acts, 2. stylistically re-creating the resulting information, 3. the audience adheres to the presence because it fills audience’s consciousness with its “very being”, 4. rhetor enters into communion [evoking Burke’s identification] with audience and, as a result of subsequent argumentative techniques, they act together (the goal is action in mind or body).

    So – accoridng to P, OT, the rheto BECOMES the audience and in that merger is action.

    The stuff from Chapter 4 is from “Book II” of The New Rhetoric – and focuses on linguistic techniques used to persuade and convince. The pairing is a part of that.

    Also – sidenote – I haven’t had a chance to post myself yet today, so – Perelman says that the universal audience “never actually exists” – it is a tool of invention that many people, esp upon its reception as an idea, misconstrued as an actual group of elites, etc. The rhetor constructs the universal audience in order to persuade a particular audience that resides within the universal audience (think of the persuasion of female voters within the democratic party, for example).
    Critics like Johnstone and Walter Ong seem to get this idea differently than P O-T suggest.
    Bottom line – argumentation is a function of the audience being addressed rather than a system founded in postivism or formal logic.
    (I think this post was more for me than you, but I hope it does something for you!)

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