In “Choosing Between Isocrates and Artistotle,” Haskins attempts to dispel several assumptions that support and maintain Aristotelian rhetoric as the apex of the classical Greek rhetorical tradition. Haskins worries that rhetoric students are being taught that classical rhetoric is a “single, monolithic paradigm;” in studying the rhetorical canon, teachers and students should attend to the competing “schools of thought” and excluded voices that contributed to what is now perceived as Ancient Greek rhetoric. Haskins also is concerned with the atemporal characteristic Athenian rhetoric has come to embody by contemporary rhetorical scholars such as George Kennedy and Donald Bryant. Haskins challenges us to “re-historicize” Aristotle’s approach to rhetoric; afterall, Aristotle himself was well aware of the historical and cultural specificity of Athenian rhetoric. Hasksins then attends to the theory/practice binary, which perpetuates the misconception that Aristotle’s highly theoretical rhetoric is superior to Isocrates’ practical rhetoric. Hasksins dispell’s this assumption by showing that, in fact, Aristotle thinks of rhetoric as an art “on the lowest run of philosophically legitimate pursuits,” while Isocrates’s attitude toward imitative performance demonstrates highly theoretical insights about teaching rhetoric as well as the role rhetoric plays in a democracy. Haskins also shows that while Aristotle considered rhetoric as capable of persuading opinions and actions of those who are ignorant, Isocrates, on the other hand, deemed rhetoric capable of generating knowledge about politics and culture and creating social community out of division—the antecedent to the Burkean concept of identification. Lastly, Haskins addresses the notion of neutrality in Aristotle’s techne rhetorike, which he claims is responsible for rhetoric’s reputation as an instrument capable of being used by to shape opinion and action rather than community.
Ultimately concerned with pedagogical implications, Haskins claims we need to study the cultural debate at work in specific moments and places in Ancient Greece rather than “rhetoric proper” maintained by a homogenous rhetorical canon. Haskins compares Isocrates and Aristotle to demonstrate how fruitful it is to investigate how each major figure in Greek rhetoric attempts to establish intellectual and political space for their ideas in specific moments of time. Haskins believes we need to diversify the canon, not by locating transhistorical values in various rhetorical discourses, but instead by showing relevance to the particular socio, cultural, and historical contexts in which they were produced. Haskins also warns revisionist historians against extracting theory from discourse, which he claims will only maintain the assumption that theory is superior to practice. Further, Haskins is weary of solely thinking of rhetoric as persuasive means because that perpetuates the undue claim that rhetoric is simply a means of employing persuasive strategies of already discovered knowledge. Lastly, in terms of neutrality, Haskins is concerned with the tendency to remove moral responsibility from the art of rhetoric and simply conceive of rhetoric as an instrument that can be utilized across the disciplines.
Haskins is especially interested in privileging Isocrates rhetoric because he feels “Isocrates shows that…by studying and critically imitating our own culture’s discursive diversity we can become persons of practical wisdom” (200). Rhetoric, in other words, is more than an instrument; rhetoric constructs our “personal and communal identities” (200).