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Kenneth Burke, Aristotle, and the Future of Rhetoric Author(s): Joseph Schwartz Source: College Composition and Communication,

Vol. 17, No. 5 (Dec., 1966), pp. 210-216 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: . Accessed: 27/08/2013 19:06
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?(enneth and the ?Future Burke, Aristotle, of .Rhetoric

THERE HAS BEEN MUCH TALK of late of a new rhetoric or, even more sobering, of new rhetorics. "I think," Robert Gorrell has written, "that there are legitimate reasons for considering the new rhetoric as more valid than analogy and more substantial than myth."' At the very least, as Richard Ohmann has observed, "if the new rhetoric has yet to appear, there is no shortage of new ideas about rhetoric."2 If such a thing exists or is in the process of being born-a "new" rhetoric, that is, not simply a rhetoric by a new man as Quintilian's rhetoric was "new" in comparison with Aristotle's-then one should be able to discover something of its character by a close study of the one man whose name is regularly and consistently mentioned by those who discuss new rhetorics-Kenneth Burke. Since most rhetorical treatises from Aristotle's time through the nineteenth century were somewhat like Aristotle's in their approach (or the authors thought they were being like Aristotle), it will be more than convenient to look at Burke and Aristotle together. Aristotle will provide a frame of reference within which we can better comprehend Burke's views. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot: no rhetorician has his complete meaning alone. "His significance, his appreciation, is the appreciation of his relation to

1'Very Like a Whale-A Report on Rhetoric," College Composition and Communication, XVI

(October, 1965), 139.

what has gone before. You cannot value him alone; you must set him up, for contrast and comparison, among the dead."3 This is a principle of historical criticism to which I shall return again. I will not be concerned with studying the influence of Aristotle on Burke, although that influence is obvious; rather, I will be concerned with the comprehensible associations which can be determined by comparison and contrast. My approach is phenomenological, not causal. A second reason for looking carefully at the work of Kenneth Burke when considering the future of rhetoric is that he is truly concerned with something that can still be called rhetoric within the historical meaning of that term. He is, for example, much different from I. A. Richards or Alfred Korzybski and the semanticists. Richards is basically concerned with the meaning of words, a small though fundamental aspect of the rhetorical problem. Korzybski, too, is concerned with meaning-the meaning of meaning, and thus with one aspect of rhetoric. Since, however, his major effort is to destroy the concept of rhetoric itself by amputating from language its rhetorical dimension-the power of the word in its tendentious matrixhe is ultimately concerned with the building of an anti-rhetoric. Burke, on the other hand, is large in scope, broad for a subject characterized historically by its broadness. He is so much the rhet3"Tradition and the Individual Talent," Selected Essays (New York, 1932), p. 4.

2"In Lieu of a New Rhetoric," College English, XXVI (October, 1964), 17.


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KENNETH BURKE orician that his literary criticism, except for some brilliant personal insights, is of little value,4 since the aesthetic dimension of literature is almost totally obscured for Burke by its rhetorical dimension. And since Aristotle, building upon the example of Isocrates and a hint from Plato in the Phaedrus, gave to rhetoric its historically characteristic scope, he will serve as both father and a representative of the tradition from which Burke grows. Burke accepts both traditionally broad definitions of rhetoric as the art of persuasion, on the one hand, and the study of the means of persuasion available for any given situation, on the other.5 The sociological view of things, endemic to Burke's thinking, is reflected in his specific statements. Rhetoric is "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols."6 Many years ago, C. S. Baldwin made the point that two conceptions of rhetoric, not mutually exclusive, have competed throughout the ages. First was Aristotle's concept of rhetoric as the art of giving effectiveness to the truth. Second was the notion of rhetoric as the art of giving effectiveness to the speaker. A crucial matter of emphasis, rather than generic causes, makes for a significant difference. Burke's inclination is toward giving effectiveness to the speaker, even though it cannot be said finally that he has no concern for giving effectiveness to the truth. Although his epistemological position differs significantly from that of Aristotle's, he does give heed to the concept of energizing the truth as he understands it. In Counter-Statement, however, he seems to define rhetoric as "the use of language in such a way as to produce a desired impression upon 4Marius Burkeas Literary Bewley,"Kenneth Critic,"The Complex Fate (London, 1952), pp. 211-243.


the hearer or reader."7 And since Burke is convinced that the condition of estrangement is natural to society as we know it,8 the position of the persuader becomes vitally important. He is the one who must achieve some kind of social cohesion. He does this through the method of identification. He must be able to identify with the needs, values, and desires of others in order to understand, and hence, persuade them. Further, with this knowledge he must be able to make others identify with his program of action. In Burke's terminology, identification takes place in the process of consubstantiality. Burke recognizes the sameness of human material, the eternal likenesses of the human condition, and asserts that the patterns of experience for all men are much alike.9 The persuader selects from the cluster of attitudes which surround a subject/object those that will evoke the pattern of experience suasive to one's cause. If our patterns are substantially the same, as Burke believes, identification is nothing more than "a name for the function of sociality."10 Burke's method and description will seem less complex and language-burdened if we call to mind, as an analogy only, T. S. Eliot's definition of the objective correlative. The natural desire to be cooperative (because of Burke's views of language and of man as a symbol-using animal) and the natural desire to be competitive (because of Burke's view of the condition of society) are balanced in his definition of rhetoric, yet once again, as "a study of the competitive use of the cooperative."" Despite Burke's "well oiled and metal7 (Los Altos, California, 1953), p. 210. 8A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 211.

5A Rhetoric of Motives (New York, 1950), p. 46. 6Ibid., p. 43.

9Counter-Statement, pp. 176-178, and A Grammar of Motives (New York, 1945), pp. 55-58. l0Attitudes Toward History (New York, 1937) II, 144. 11A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 442.

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COLLEGE COMPOSITIONAND COMMUNICATION I am not nearly so confident that he escapes the confusion between the truth and its artful presentation. In any event, his emphasis seems to be on its presentation in his various definitions of rhetoric. This will become clearer if we turn to his analysis of the function of rhetoric. The function of rhetoric for Burke flows with expected directions from his definitions. (One should keep in mind, as well, his assumptions about the nature of society.) The end of rhetoric is "to form attitudes or to induce actions."'4 More specifically, its purpose is "the manipulation of men's beliefs for political ends."15 When it comes to discussing end as purpose, Burke, as pragmatist, stresses forcibly the concept of the world as a place of strife. Rhetoric is . . . par excellence the region of the Scramble,of insult and injury, bickering, squabbling, malice and the lie, cloaked malice and the subsidizedlie.16 His celebrated image of the universe of discourse is that of "the Human Barnyard with its addiction to the Scramble."'7 Even language contains the element of threat. Consequently, then, the function of rhetoric is to promote social cooperation in the human jungle. In order to do this rhetoric should be used to impose an ultimate hierarchy upon social forms: .. a sound system of communication, such as lies at the roots of civilization, cannot be built upon a structureof economic warfare. The discordant "subpersonalities"of the world's conflicting cultures and heterogeneous kinds of effort can only be reintegrated by means of a unifying "master-purpose," with the logic of classificationthat would follow from it. The segregational,or dissociative
14A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 41. 1I5bid. l6Permanence and Change (Los Altos, California, 1954), p. 163. 17A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 442.

lie" vocabulary, there is little that is radically new in his definitionsof rhetoric. He is very Aristotelian in his practical awareness of the fallibility of the human being. Much of Aristotle's Rhetoric has a handbook characterbecause of his recognition of the need to give effectiveness to the speaker. Ultimately, however, it must be said that Burke differs from Aristotle in a matter of emphasis again. Aristotle'sdefinition of rhetoric seems more concerned with giving effectiveness to the truth. "We see that its function is not to persuade, but to discover the available means of persuasionin a given case." In a given case, speaking broadly, the persuader himself is only one of the means; there remains the truth of the proposition itself, insofar as probablescan be called true, and the characterof the audience. I do not mean to suggest by this that Burke is a sophist; his neo-liberalpragmatism means a great deal to him as the proposition he advances for acceptance.12He feels as stronglyas Aristotle does that rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectic and is related especially to ethics and politics. Burke makes much of dialectic,the namingprocess,insisting that it is a veritable part of rhetorical inquiry itself. For Burke dialectic is the counterpartof rhetoric in the same way that for Aristotle rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectic. Aristotle's opening discussion in the Rhetoric provides us with a division between rhetoric and dialectic that warns us, as Maurice Natansonnotes, "againstconfusing truth with its artful presentation and at the same time shows that they are separate facets of a single universe of discourse: the intelligible world."'3 I am quite sure that Burke is deeply cognizant of the idea of a single universeof discourse;
na12Nevertheless, pragmatism by its ture lends itself to meansratherthanvery ends. 13"The Limitsof Rhetoric," in The Province

of Rhetoric, edited by Joseph Schwartz and John Rycenga (New York, 1965), p. 58.

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statecannotendure-andmustmakeway the inter-relatedrhetorical and dialectifor an associative, or congregational cal processeswe reach an ultimate classtate.18 sifying principle which becomes a guiding unitary principle. For Burke, While Aristotle accepts as obvious the this principle seems to be the Marxian prescriptivefunction of rhetoric, Burke view of reality. The diffuse world of goes far beyond anything suggested by probables becomes finally an absolute. Aristotle. As a matter of fact, it seems There is nothing so ambitious in Aristo me that Aristotle warns against totle. For him, rhetoric operates only in precisely the kind of thing Burke does. the world of probables,not in the world "Andhence it is that Rhetoric,and those of scientific demonstration.We deliberwho profess it, slip into the guise of ate, he tells us, only about such things politics, whether from defects of educa- as admit of possibilities; on matters tion, or through quackery,or from other which admit of no alternative,,no one human failings."For Aristotle,the func- deliberates. tion of rhetoric (like the function of It follows logically that for Burke the dialectic) can be apprehended in that scope of rhetoric is immense, almost it is the faculty for providingarguments; unlimited. Whereverthere is "meaning," it is not the science of politics. Since there is persuasion.l9 The dimensions Aristotle recognizes, however, that pop- of the linguistic locality in the universe ular audiences cannot follow scientific of discourseare fourfold and all contain demonstrations, he acknowledges the rhetoric.The first dimensionof language need in the political order for the use is the logical one or, as Burke calls it, of rhetoric.And he does assert that self- the naming process. This corresponds defense is one of the functions of rhet- roughly to Aristotle's use of the term oric. But it finds its end in judgment, reason in the Rhetoric. Next is the not in a hierarchyof social forms,which, rhetorical dimension-how one uses the for Aristotle, would have been a given. "name." This seems somewhat like ArisBecause of his belief in the perfectibility totle's concept of pathos. The ethical of man, he has more faith in scientific dimensionof language, that is, the study demonstrationand does not emphasize of terms that express value judgments the "HumanBarnyardwith its addiction as these reveal the person, is similar to to Scramble." Truth is, for him, a larger Aristotle'sdiscussionof ethos in relation term than rhetoric (or dialectic). I to the character of the speaker. The wonder if the same can be said for final dimension of language, poeticalBurke? Although Aristotle deals at the use of symbols, has yet to be dislength with the emotions, so crucially cussed at length by Burke. One can important for those who think of the predict, however, that this will be his universe of discourse as a Barnyard,he equivalent for Aristotle's Poetics in its is specifically critical of the "technical" conception of subject. The scope of writers of his day who dealt solely with rhetoricis in the firstplace, then, verbal. this aspect of the art. Burke has a puissant sense of the For Burke, the persuader, operating potency and efficacy of the word, since dialectically, finds the proper "name" he feels that man reveals his symbolizing and tries rhetoricallyto persuade others through language. The perthat this is the proper "name." This capacity suader must, it follows, be an adequate procedure of naming and advocating analyst of language. Rhetoric is conseems to go on and on until through cealed in every meaning no matter how
8lbid., p. 19. l9Ibid., p. 172.

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scientific the pretensions of the namer might be. All linguistic structures must be seen within their meta-linguistic dimensions. Because of Burke's view of the scope of rhetoric, he stresses the nonverbal (in Aristotle's terms, "non-artistic") modes of persuasion. Aristotle deals with these non-artistic proofs, but defines them so that they seem clearly apart from the ordinary dimensions of the rhetorical situation. Since they are not supplied by the speaker/writer's effort, existing beforehand as a given, they are not contained within the aspect of the "discovery" of the available means of persuasion. But since they can be employed, especially in forensic speaking, they are available to the rhetorician, now understood as the practitioner of the art. Aristotle devotes about twenty paragraphs to the non-artistic means, discussing those at hand in his day. Thus, for Aristotle, the evidence of witnesses is an external proof, though a legitimate means to be drawn upon if it suits the case in question. For Burke any non-verbal object/symbol becomes a rhetorical tool because it has rhetoric in it. He draws liberally from ethics, psychology, anthropology, psychology and psychoanalysis for samples of such object/symbols. It can be said without question that for Burke everything has rhetoric in it. Some of his commentators have made the point, however, that Burke is aware of the fact that not everything is rhetoric. I wonder. A close look at his literary criticism persuades me that for him even the art object, which should have its own aesthetic justification for being, is a rhetorical object first and foremost, not merely something that has rhetoric in it.20 It may be that Burke is correct in minimiz-

ing the distinctions that exist between science and rhetoric, on the one hand, and art and rhetoric, on the other. But it is clear that in this way he differs from Aristotle, again by way of emphasis. Aristotle's definition of the scope of rhetoric is broad in its view that those things belong to rhetoric (things that come within the general ken of men) which belong to no definite science. Burke's notion of scope is broader. The difference may be explained by the years between the two men. The experience of centuries, the advances in technology, and the growth of knowledge about psychology are all factors which could possibly convince one that every science and art is both itself and rhetoric. Aristotle's view of the nature, function, and scope of rhetoric has its origin in his epistemological position. I have already alluded to his idea that truth exists, that man can acquire it, and that acquiring it will lead to a fuller and better life. Man is in a state of becoming, of actualizing his potential, working toward his ultimate perfectibility. He is distinguished from the rest of creation in his activity by a rational principle. The more he heeds the directives of reason, the more he will realize the potential of his soul. He is by nature a rational and political animal whose identifying characteristic is to be in society. Aristotle's enlightened paganism was so cogently expressed and carefully constructed that many of his commentators are convinced that his limitations are historical rather than philosophical. Burke's view of the nature, function, and scope of rhetoric also has its origin in certain epistemological positions. He insists that man is free to make choices, that language is sermonic-and hence persuasion is possible. Not only is persuasion possible, but ever-increasing 20Cf. Bewley. And consider the implications certitude is likely because of the relaof this sentence from Counter-Statement, p. tionship between dialectic and rhetoric. 210: "In accordancewith the definitionwe have an awareness of the interplay cited, effective literature could be nothing else Through of these two, man can discover that a but rhetoric. . ."

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KENNETH BURKE hierarchy of social goals does exist, a hierarchy with an ultimate unitary term at the top. But since life is a warfare, it will have to compete with other proposed unitary terms. The Marxian version of the Hegelian dialectic is applied to the masses of men in the class war and the "magic" of language emerges. It is ultimately a materialistic view of reality with man, as symbolusing animal, at its center-the center of a socio-political framework. At the base of this view of the world of intelligible discourse is an ethical system. It is, however, an ethical system so vague that it is difficult to define. Action is good; inaction is bad. Participation is good; non-participation is bad. Cooperation and communication are preferred to non-cooperation and non-communication. Means seem to be confused with ends. While I have noted many of the differences between Burke and Aristotle, what impresses me most, finally, is their likenesses. And what I am led to conclude is that there must be a tradition of rhetoric which is still intact, a durable tradition with something indestructible about it. It should be possible, then, to predict that this tradition will be prominent in whatever future rhetoric may have. The tendency for scholars to commend those aspects of a rhetorician's theory in which he is most unlike others is a natural one; yet it should not obscure the value of those things in which he may be most like his predecessors. It appears to me that the I-Message-Thou triangle is the permanent center of the rhetorical macrocosm. The components of this triangle are indigenous to the nature of discourse. A knowledge of the central tradition of rhetoric enlightens the scholar as to the enduring quality of something central to the fact of this discipline. Our attitudes toward each element of the triangle may, indeed, change as circumstances alter. Our understanding of each component may


be modified as a result of experience and new knowledge. But something permanent is being altered, being modified. The durable elements of this triangle would seem to be the nature of man as persuader and persuadable, the character of discourse as sermonic, and right action as guided by the truth as end. I do not mean to imply that Burke can be judged as valuable only by assessing him in the light of Aristotelian principles, although some kind of judgment in that order is inevitable. I mean instead that Burke is necessarily Burke as Burke because Aristotle has been. I look forward to new theories of rhetoric and to the practice of new rhetoricians (as artists), but I do not foresee the development of something so new that it cannot be regarded as part of the tradition of rhetoric. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot again: rhetoric never improves, but the material of rhetoric is never quite the same.21 Burke, for instance, as a representative sample of the new, must be in the way of looking something like Aristotle (and he is), while at the same time he must be somewhat different as a result of his awareness of the past and the present. The tradition of rhetoric finally seems to me to be something like the following: that body of principles which inevitably flows from the I-Message-Thou relationship with its perception of the pastness of the past and of the presence of the past as it creates a simultaneous coherent order that thrusts through the awareness of the presentness of the present into the future. Let me be specific with but one illustration of a contemporary movement that has received more attention from rhetoricians than it deserves. Reading Burke as he is an extension and contributor to the mainstream of the rhetorical tradition is convincing evidence that
21 T. S. Eliot, p. 6.

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COLLEGE COMPOSITIONAND COMMUNICATION to become acquainted once more with the roots of the tradition of which we are but the latest extension in time. We will discern perhaps that the history of rhetoric must be perceived as the study of the concept of effective expression as the terms of that definition are understood within the epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical framework of any given moment in history.23 We will learn, as well, that the concept of expression itself has durable properties capable of modification only because there is something durable there to begin with. Knowing these things will not lead every man to choose a substantive rhetoric over a pragmatic rhetoric or an intoxicant rhetoric, but it will make the reasons for any given choice clear.24
Marquette University Milwaukee, Wisconsin
23 p. Albert Duhamel, "The Function of Rhetoric as Effective Expression," The Province of Rhetoric, pp. 36-37. 24Eric Voegelin, "Necessary Moral Bases for Communicationin a Democracy," Problems of Communication in a Pluralistic Society, edited by Reynolds C. Seitz (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1956), pp. 53-68.

the hope for a rhetoric of non-commitment much sought after in certain quarters in our century is an impossibility. To purify the language of the tribe by amputating the tendentious aspect of language is not only impossible but absurd. To discriminate among values through the use of language is the only direction that rhetoric can take. To avoid the manifold problems raised by that stance is to avoid the world of intelligible discourse itself. The newness of any "new" rhetoric will have validity only if that rhetoric is an integral part of the vital and lively tradition of "old" rhetoric.22 So, it seems to me, there is little gained but novelty in identifying our contemporary attempts at communication as a "new" rhetoric, except as the term "new" is analogous. The present revival of interest in classical rhetoric is a good thing because it will force us
22This is, I think, how we have used the term "new" when applied to poetry. Poetry as Eliot notes in the citation above is never new in the sense that it is an improvement over past poetry.

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