top of page

The Absence of Rhetorical Theory in Richard Rorty’s Linguistic Pragmatism

Robert Danisch

Philosophy and Rhetoric 46 (2) 2013: 156-181

This article argues that the “linguistic turn” in analytic philosophy had a deep and significant impact on the development of Richard Rorty’s pragmatism. One of the central features of the “linguistic turn” was its attention to the role of language in mediating questions of philosophy, and, in Rorty’s hands, the “linguistic turn” drew philosophy very close to rhetorical theory. However, I argue that Rorty failed to engage or embrace rhetorical theory in any substantive way. This meant that his pragmatism cleaved philosophy off from the social democratic project. Such a separation of philosophy from the problems of maintaining and cultivating democracy abandons an important strand of first generation pragmatism. This amounts to a missed opportunity. By complimenting the linguistic turn with a robust account of the role of rhetoric in socio-political affairs, Rorty could have tied philosophy to social democracy in just the manner that Dewey had hoped. But instead Rorty is constrained by the tradition of philosophy and unable to make the “linguistic turn” into any kind of rhetorical turn.

Risk Assessment as Rhetorical Practice: The Ironic Mathematics of Terrorism, Banking, and Public Policy

Robert Danisch

Public Understanding of Science 22 (2) 2013: 236-251

The twin problems of possible terrorist attacks and a global economic recession have been, and continue to be, critical components of contemporary political culture. At the center of both problems is the assessment of future risk. To calculate the probability that a loan will default or to estimate the likelihood of an act of bioterrorism crippling an American city is to engage in the quantitative science of risk assessment. The process of risk assessment is an attempt to rationalize the uncertainty and contingency of the future. In this essay, I read risk assessments made by the Department of Homeland Security and by major banks during the recent financial collapse as examples of rhetorical practice. As such, I show the rhetorical form and function of risk assessments in order to determine the effect that they have on contemporary political culture.

The Roots and Form of Obama’s Rhetorical Pragmatism

Robert Danisch

Rhetoric Review 31 (2) 2012: 148-168.

Journalists and political pundits have described Barack Obama’s beliefs and political style with the label pragmatism. This essay answers the following questions: What is the meaning of this label? What specific strands of the pragmatist tradition resonate through Obama’s presidency? What effect does the label have on Obama’s rhetorical practices? To answer these questions, this essay argues that Obama’s rhetoric extends Jane Addams’s political philosophy and Alain Locke’s philosophy of race and that Addams and Locke are important resources for understanding Obama’s pragmatism. Moreover, Obama develops a rhetorical pragmatism embodied in the form and style of his speeches.

Stanley Fish is not a Sophist: The Difference Between Skeptical and Prudential Versions of Rhetorical Pragmatism​

Robert Danisch

Rhetoric Review 31 (2) 2012: 148-168.

Political Rhetoric in a World Risk Society

Robert Danisch

Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40 (2) 2010: 172-192.

The article’s author, Robert Danisch, draws on Ulrich Beck’s concept of “world risk society”–a world of constant, dynamic, and incalculable risks–to show how the relationship between rhetoric, technology, and science is shifting from Enlightenment-era industrial modernity to a new period of “late modernity” because of radical changes in contemporary society. Danisch claims progressive-era politics made rational decisions on various social problems by relying on the advice from experts in the fields of science and engineering, while our current risk society repositions judgement by showing the limits of traditional techno-scientific rationality “highlighting the uncertainty that attends scientific and technological development” (173). With the significant advances of modern science and technology come feelings of what Beck calls “manufactured uncertainty”–heightened states of public fear, uncertainty, and danger. Danisch analyzes the rhetoric-contingent relationship and discusses how the public sphere is shaped by contingency and opinion, plus looks at the importance of experts in the techno-scientific fields in both the progessive-era and our current world risk society, and how their advice shapes our actions. Both Beck and Danisch posit that the public sphere is eroding and blame modern technological advancements that require more and more specialization and complexity in order to fully understand such advancements and their respective effects (which, according to Danisch, has turned our government into a technocracy). Danisch admits Beck’s solution to rectifying such issues (basically more democracy) is rather thin and instead calls for a newfound focus on public sphere, a place where “we invent and foster locations or forums for deliberation between scientists and engineers” (191), which in turn would give the public places for reaching “moral and ethical decisions regarding the dangers we face” (191). He concludes that should such a strategy prove inefficient for progress, the rhetoric of science should work towards more focus on informing the public, including building a solid scientific prudence.

Is it Safe to Eat That? Raw Oysters, Risk Assessment, and Rhetoric of Science

Robert Danisch, Jessica Mudry

Social Epistemology 22 (2) 2008: 129-143

Recently, oysters have been identified by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) as a risky food to eat because they may or may not contain the pathogenic bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The USFDA’s attempts to manage the risk manifest themselves in a “Quantitative Risk Assessment”, a report that attempts to quantify and predict the number of oyster eaters that will fall ill from Vibrio. In seeking to produce knowledge and eliminate uncertainty, the USFDA, through the use of a discourse of quantification, does the opposite. Instead, we argue, documents such as risk assessments are best understood as kinds of rhetorical practice. According to this perspective, these documents are epistemologically and ontologically reductive, produce uncertainty, politicize the act of eating, and serve an ironic function.

Aphorisms, Enthymemes, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. on the First Amendment

Robert Danisch

Rhetoric Review 27 (3) 2008: 219-235.

By relying on Oliver Wendell Holmes’s decisions as a Supreme Court Justice, I argue that aphorisms employ enthymematic reasoning and that enthymemes are best conveyed through aphorisms. Such an argument requires that I classify Holmes’ s decisions as aphorisms and show how Holmes explicitly rejects formal, legal rhetoric. These two moves are most clear in his First Amendment decisions, and it is these decisions that demonstrate how Holmes rethinks, broadly, the relationship between rhetoric and law. Holmes’s position on the First Amendment, informed by the relationship between aphorisms and enthymemes, helps show how style is constitutive of reason.

Alain Locke on Race and Reciprocity: The Necessity of Epideictic Rhetoric for Cultural Pluralism

Robert Danisch

Howard Journal of Communications 19 (4) 2008: 297-314.

In this essay, Alain Locke’s work is read as a search for an epideictic rhetoric. Locke, through his philosophy and editorial work, helps rethink the significance of epideictic rhetoric by articulating a pluralist notion of values and accounting for competition between value-systems. He suggested that race an and should be celebrated and that acts of celebration should use aesthetic sensibilities capable of displaying the value of race. Showing the connections between Locke’s philosophy and the rhetorical tradition illustrates the value and potential of a multi-cultural citizenry and the necessity of epideictic rhetoric in producing, maintaining, and negotiating relationships within such a community.

Power and the Celebration of the Self: Michel Foucault's Epideictic Rhetoric

Robert Danisch

Southern Communication Journal 71 (3) 2006: 291-307.

I argue that Michel Foucault can be read as practicing a kind of epideictic rhetoric. Foucault’s work is epideictic because it tells a history of the present, is concerned with aesthetics, and is involved in uncovering and displaying common cultural values or ideals. Through an analysis of the epideictic dimensions of Foucault’s work I link his conception of power to his concern with the self and demonstrate that self-creation is connected to a display of the history of the present. Such a move implies that epideictic is a critical practice for contemporary rhetorical theorists and critics, the significance of which can be extended and developed in the light of Foucault’s position on power and human agency.

bottom of page