Author> Chaïm Perelman
Title> The Realm of Rhetoric
Publisher> Univeristy of Notre Dame Press
The Realm of Rhetoric is a prolegomenon for the considerably larger and possibly better known The New Rhetoric: a Treatise on Argumentation – written in French in 1958 by Chaïm Perelman in collaboration with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. Due to the latter, rhetoric and argumentation was to know a revitalization that would strongly influence the course of thought during the 20th century. The understructure of his work regarded law issues and what answers might be given to the question: „How do we come to reason about values?” Arnold C. Carrol notes in the introductory part: „This question was inevitable because one cannot arrive at clear conclusions concerning how justice or any other value is distinguished from its opposite” This being said, we might think that the theoretical compass of Perelman’s research is not that wide (in that he regards legal issues and only value related speech), but as one moves through the text one can trace a quite broad palette of argumentative illustrations. After all, the “realm” of rhetoric must be at least several “countries” range, in order to sufficiently satisfy the requirements for that kind of reputation. And it’s not just that, because it’s hard to think that this kingdom could have been born on mere ground, by subduing a no man’s land or “conquering” nobody’s belongings. His actual task was to defeat the old sovereignty of logic – to date, the “queen” of argumentation fields.
What must we understand, asks Perelman, in order to proceed against logic? “To equate the principles and processes of practical argument with principles and processes of formal logic and mathematics is mistaken”. Now, why is that? First of all, we must notice that, even when one does not use formal logic (or any sort of formalized speech), even when one doesn’t “calculate”, one reasons, argues and quite frequently claims “rationality”. The fact is that some disagreements (or any type of situation that needs argumentation) could be subordinated to logic principles while others couldn’t, and that is because the speech acts that might be presented as arguments have no “self-evident premises”. In other words, we can reason demonstratively from true premises based on self-evident intuition (Kantian apriority), or we can reason dialectically from “generally accepted as reasonable” premises. Any elaboration of appropriate language (that is to say whichever form of argumentation) within these fields has to have this indispensable instrument called rhetoric.
The differences between these types of reasoning go even further by adding two separate designs: while formal demonstration aims to convince by logically drawing out the conclusion from the premises, argumentation aims to increase adherence of an audience to a certain standpoint or to transfer this adherence from the premises to conclusion. To “gain a meeting of minds”, says Perelman. This restriction entails the fact that a speaker cannot choose as his point of departure a rejected claim. This is the rhetoric equivalent of the pragma-dialectic rule for the opening stage (which states that the critical discussion has to proceed from some “point of agreement”, “common point” or background knowledge). If not, the speaker might find himself committing the gravest error of all, petitio principii, in that he will assume an adherence that hasn’t been established.
Let us underline here that the audience should no be understood literally but as a figuratively gathering of those whom the speaker wants to influence. That persuasion works that way might have become rhetoric’s buzzword, but the observation still holds and gives the possibility of judging the relationship between the speaker and his audience; in fact, argumentation takes place if and only if these two entities are connected through a special linguistic thread.
An analytical move points out onwards that the audience can be: self based, particular or universal. While the first is quite easy to determine, the second and the third are problematic. The phenomenology of particular and universal audience is supported by Kant’s distinction between conviction and persuasion. As Perelman notes, “[T]he specialist who addresses a learned society and the priest who preaches in his church know the theses upon which they can based their expositions. The philosopher is in an infinitely more difficult situation” because “his discourse is addressed to everyone”. Assuming this viewpoint, the conclusion follows: „discourse addressed to a specific audience aims to persuade while discourse addressed to the universal audience aims to convince”. That is to say, philosophic premises are in principle „universalizable” and philosophic speech arises from the epidictic genre which aims primarily to intensify adherence to purported values. The question is not so much taken into account in this book but it makes a central point in the original The New Rhetoric.
An act of argumentation can start from two distinct points: reality (facts, truths, presumptions) or values (hierarchies, preferable etc). From this point on, one has to construct a presence by making a choice for a certain speech. Of course, these are made voluntarily but let us note that, in Perelman’s view, these concepts inevitably inhabit the world of argumentation. We could hardly utter anything without a preliminary selection of facts or values¸ without giving these a specific linguistic description and interpreting data or giving it a particular significance. The natural language often and in an unperceivable manner expresses (or better said, creates) these circumstances. When argumentation takes place, we are not merely “witnessing a simple objective” description of reality, but a signification construct. As an argument, Perelman remarks how Orestes was described both as “the murderer of his mother” and as “the avenger of his father”.
In order for this construct to win adherence, it uses techniques of argumentation. Perelman divides these techniques into liaisons – those which cover the classic transfer of adherence from premises to conclusions, and division – those which aim to “separate elements which language or a recognized tradition have previously tied together”. The liaisons are better structured and can be recognized as one of these three categories: a) quasi-logical arguments b) arguments which are based on the reality c) arguments which establish the reality. We are not going to continue our investigation by analyzing these categories because the argumentation schemes are rather hard to sum up in a review. However, we are going to note here that these systems based on audience are not the only one possible and, therefore, not free of controversy. In order to be evaluated, an argument must comply with the standards that apply to the people in whose cultural community the argumentation takes place. This is a very dangerous position. Not few are those who wish to clearly emphasize that this is an easy pathway for unwanted subjectivism or fallacy dispositions. If knowledge about audiences’ beliefs is all that it takes for a speech to act effectively, that could mean that relativism is bound to be the “law” of reasonableness. Is it really the case? It’s hard to decide, but even if this wasn’t at stake, yet another hot spot was found by later evaluations of Perelman’s work. Namely, where did the dialectic point of view disappear? You don’t have to be a fault-finder in order to notice that the author carefully regards audience’s beliefs but just the same disregards it as a reasonable instance that can interfere. For example, universal audience is defined as “the totality of being capable of reasoning” while neglecting his chance of making discussion moves.
Is this a weakness on the linchpin? I believe not, since Perelman main goal was not the adequate elaboration of the “screenplay of argumentation”, with characters and succession of lines, but the whole scene, the theater in which the play takes place. The import of argumentation and export of formal evaluation, that is to say (in Star Trek terms) to boldly go where no one has gone before has little to do with specification of dialectical context. To demand this sort of stretching from Perelman’s book is to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
 Frans H. van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, „A systematic theory of argumentation: the pragma-dialectical approach”, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 60