Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heidegger on the Condition for The Possibility of Rhetoric: Comparison with Aristotle and Cicero

This is the text of an essay I wrote for a Heidegger seminar. It's on the conditions for the possibility of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is a topic that has been discussed and explored from the Greeks onward. In this post I shall examine the question: what makes rhetoric possible? To do so I shall engage the thought of Heidegger with two key thinkers who all thought about and tried to characterise rhetoric:, Aristotle and Cicero. I will show that Heidegger’s notions of disposedness/moods and of discourse are the main conditions for the possibility of rhetoric. With regard to Aristotle and Cicero, I will show that they, according to Heidegger, started along the right path towards an explication of one of the conditions for rhetoric: moods. Both Aristotle, in Book Two of the Rhetoric, and Cicero in The Ideal Orator examine at some length emotions (pathe) and how the orator must be attentive to them in order to successfully convince the crowd. To be sure, this is far from the ontological analysis of Dasein that Heidegger is engaged in. Nonetheless, they recognised that moods were an essential component of Dasein’s Being within the context of rhetorical speech. Thus, to place Heidegger within the rhetorical tradition Aristotle and Cicero come close to recognising one of the fundamental components of rhetoric, (and, even if they didn’t explicitly realise it, the Being of Dasein) namely moods.


I shall now treat the views of both Aristotle and Cicero on moods/emotions (pathe). My aim is to demonstrate that both of them regard pathe as central to the art of rhetoric.
In Book 2 of his Rhetoric, Aristotle examines the emotions with regard to the practice of rhetoric. He states that, “by these, the emotions, are meant those states which are attended by pain and pleasure, and which as they change make a difference in our judgements [of the same thing]” (Italics mine) (R. 92). This is an essential point: without knowledge of the emotions, which influence one’s judgement of a situation or event, the orator cannot hope to provide a convincing argument. Swaying the emotion of the audience to one side or another is an effective method of persuasion for Aristotle, given the prominent place he seems to give them with regard to judgements. He goes on to state that there are three points the orator must keep in mind within the context of the examination of pa/qh; he uses anger as an example: (1) what the mental state of the angry person is (2) with whom they are wont to be angry (3) what the things are that commonly make them so. The speaker, in order to effectively arouse emotion, must be familiar with all three moments.

When speaking of fear, Aristotle writes that, “ the speaker must bring them into the right frame of mind so that they shall take themselves to be the kind of people who are likely to suffer.” (R. 110) In other words, the speaker must work to influence the state of mind of the audience such that they are swayed towards the position of the orator: if the orator is speaking of the fear of his client h/she should work to bring the audience into that state as well—this makes his argument all the more effective.

Cicero, in his treatise “On the Ideal Orator” takes this notion and runs with it. He focuses not only on the emotion state of the audience, but also of the orator. In Book 2, he writes, “the most desirable situation for the orator is when the jurors themselves come to the case in an emotional state of mind suited to what his own interests demand” (IO 172). In other words, if the jury has already been “pre-swayed”, it is much easier to provide a convincing argument: their emotional state is well suited to the task. However, “if…the jurors are unbiased and unemotional, more effort is required; for then, the given situation offers no help, and all feelings must be stirred by my speech alone” (ibid) To turn this around, the more emotionally pliable the jurors are, the easier it is the persuade them. Pathe thus play an essential role in rhetoric, as with Aristotle.

However, Cicero goes further than Aristotle in his examination of pathe, and looks at the role of the emotional state of the orator. The state of the orator is just as important as having a knowledge of the state of the audience, “for no material is so easy to kindle, that it can catch fire unless fire is actually applied to it; likewise, no mind is so susceptible to an orator’s power, that it can be set on fire unless the orator who approaches it is burning and all ablaze himself” (IO 173). Thus, in order to bring the audience into the state of mind the orator wants, the orator must himself be in that state; if h/she does not do this the attempt will seem false and fall flat. For a convincing argument to be convincing the speaker must bring the jurors to the emotional state that best suits his case—but h/she can only do this if they are in this state as well.

Both Aristotle’s and Cicero’s views could fall under the heading of “Grand Oratory”. This is so due to the emphasis on emotion: grand oratory thought the swaying of emotions were essential to rhetoric and did not shy away from engaging them. There was, however, another tradition of rhetoric which shied away from influencing the emotions of the audience. Those in this camp argued that one should merely stick to the facts, and only provide a rational argument, devoid of all emotion, regarding the case. Aristotle and Cicero (and, as we shall see, Heidegger) think this is misguided: moods play an essential role in judgements and therefore in rhetorical speech.


I shall now move to a discussion of Heidegger and, not only examine the conditions for the possibility of rhetoric, but also place Heidegger within the “rhetorical tradition”, that is, in relation to Aristotle and Cicero. In Division I, Heidegger examines and explicates three structures of disclosedness: disposedness, understanding, and discourse. Of these three I shall examine disposedness and discourse; they are the structures which are more explicitly connected with rhetoric. To be sure, however, all of the structures Heidegger goes through in Being and Time make possible rhetorical speech insofar as it is a possibility that Dasein can take up. Thus, although I am well aware that moods and discourse are only two structures among many and that these structures co-implicate others, I shall focus my discussion on these two; I will only mention the co-implication and not explicate it in any great detail.

Disposedness is one of the three structures of disclosedness Heidegger outlines; it is an existential structure of Dasein. The tripartite nature of disclosedness is examined in attempting to answer the question how are Dasein’s ways to be ontologically determined? In other words, what are the fundamental elements of Dasein that allow for concrete, factical existence? It is important to note here that Heidegger sees these structures as equiprimordial, that is, they necessarily arise together and co-implicate each other; disclosedness required all three of the structures in order to be disclosedness. Thus Heidegger turns to analysis of Being-in and the “there” of Dasein. Dasein’s “there” is equivalent to disclosedness; Dasein is its disclosedness (or, alternatively, Being-there is disclosedness). Heidegger thinks it is essential not to conceive of Being-In as being between: this is already framing the ontology in term of presence at hand, which is something Heidegger avoids like the plague. Rather, Being-In is an essential kind of the Being of Dasein. Dasein, in its there, is essentially disclosedness.

This means that disposedness is an essential “component” of Dasein’s existence insofar as it is one of the equiprimordial structures that make up disposedness. Ontically, that is, in terms of our everyday, factical experience of the world, it corresponds to moods (Stimmung). Now, it is essential that one does not take “having a mood” as a subjective feeling: Stimmung are neither objective nor subjective. Heidegger thinks they are remote from any psychical conditions: they come from neither outside nor inside, for they arise out of Being-in-the-world. This is the first important difference between the thought of Aristotle/Cicero and Heidegger regarding moods. Both Aristotle and Cicero, although they recognise that moods play an important role in rhetoric, they still conceive of them as psychological states of mind; Heidegger conceives of moods very differently. Instead, one could think of them as the tonality that one finds themselves in.

Heidegger then raises an essential point for our discussion of rhetoric: Dasein is always in a mood. Even the mood of tranquil tarrying alongside is, according to Heidegger, a mood; we are never free of moods. One can easily see a parallel move in Aristotle and Cicero, though they don’t explicitly conceive of moods as a fundamental element of the disclosedness of Dasein. This makes sense from the standpoint of disclosedness: if Dasein necessarily is always its there, and the structures that make up disclosedness all are required, then it follows that Dasein can never be without a mood: disclosedness would be in a faulty mode at that point. Moods are essential to the “there” of Dasein as well as any factical possibilities it takes up: including rhetoric. The orator always argues from a mood into a mood; Aristotle and Cicero both recognise the importance of understanding moods. Without this grasp of the audience, the orator cannot give an effective speech: they must realise that moods are always present and must shape their speech accordingly.

Moods/disposedness allow things to matter to Dasein through concern and solicitude. This is an essential point for our discussion. Concern is Dasein’s way of comporting towards entities in the world. We don’t merely stand and stare at entities as mere things present at hand; they are objects of our concernful circumspection. The hammer isn’t (essentially) a thing with a slender wooden handle and a metal top with a claw coming out the back: it is a thing used for hammering; it is ready to hand. In fact, Heidegger sees looking at something as if it were only present at hand as a privative mode of concern: concernful dealings with entities make possible the privative mode of presence at hand. Solicitude is more interesting for our purposes of examining rhetoric: this is mode of circumspection towards other Dasein. How one is disposed and how Other Dasein are disposed affect the solicitous actions carried out with them. Rhetoric is, in part, precisely working to influence the mood of other Dasein so as to sway them to the side of the orator. It could be seen as a mode of solicitude that aims to sway other Dasein to one side or another. The connection between moods and concern/solicitude is this: that the disclosure of the world permits entities within the world to be encountered in the first place, whether as present at hand or ready to hand. Letting something be encountered is fundamentally circumspective. Something which is circumspective has the character of Dasein being affected in some way. To be affected is possible only insofar as encounters within the world matter to Dasein. Thus the plight of the person the orator is arguing for can only matter to him/her on the basis of disposedness; the murderers who pursue a Roman senator are disclosed as fearful only on the basis of the “state of fear” of that senator, not the other way around.

In comparison with Aristotle and Cicero, we can see firstly that emotion (moods) play an important role in each of the two camps, though for slightly different reasons. Heidegger’s thinking could be said to underlie that of Aristotle and Cicero; it explains why they give such a prominent place to pathe in their respective theories of rhetoric. Aristotle and Cicero regard emotion as merely an ontic phenomena, that is, as merely a concrete, lived aspect of Dasein’s existence. Heidegger, however, analyses them on a deeper level: the ontological. He pulls out the primordial nature of moods in realising they are a fundamental component of the Being of Dasein; without them Dasein would not be Dasein. Though, both Aristotle and Cicero recognise that the orator always argues from a mood into a mood; Cicero goes so far as to argue that one must be all ablaze in order to set the audience on fire as well. Heidegger, however, realises the ontological import of this idea. Moods are disclosive and are not merely subjective states; they arise out of Being-in-the-world. Thus, given the importance of moods to Dasein, Heidegger would stand opposed to those who though engaging the emotions was an inappropriate tactic for the orator. Heidegger would say this is misguided: Dasein is always in a mood; one’s “emotions” are always already there, thus it makes no sense to speak of not playing to the mood of the audience.

In sum, then, how does disposedness make possible rhetoric? Firstly, moods are essential to the Being of Dasein. The orator, given that moods are a primordial facet of Dasein’s Being, always works to influence them: Aristotle recognises that judgements can be influenced in virtue of one’s emotional state. Heidegger, I believe, would agree with this in some respect; disclosedness is possible in virtue of disposedness. Thus, if one’s mood changes the manner in which things are disclosed changes as well. An orator always argues from a mood into a mood. Moods make possible rhetoric insofar as they provide the “backdrop” for the speech: the audience is always disposed in some way and the orator must either play upon this or sway it in another direction. Moreover, as Cicero recognises, orators must also be disposed in order to sway the audience to their side; if they were not then they could have no effect upon the crowd they are speaking to. Thus, disposedness is essential for rhetorical argumentation. The orator must influence the mood of the crowd in order to provide a convincing argument.

Discourse is the third structure involved in the disclosedness of Dasein. It is equiprimordial with understanding and disposedness, that is, the three necessarily arise together and co-imply each other. Discourse, though, occupies an ambiguous position in the tripartite structure: Heidegger argues it underlies understanding and therefore interpretation.
Most importantly, however, discourse underlies language. Heidegger refers to discourse as “the articulation of intelligibility” (BT 203). What is the nature of the intelligibility it articulates? Heidegger first describes it as “meaning”. Meaning is also an essential moment in the structure of the understanding: it is that within the projective understanding occurs. Heidegger then associates this intelligibility with the “totality of significations” [Bedeutungsganze]: the worldhood of the world. The world, for Heidegger, is not the sum total of entities within it, nor is it the proverbial “box” within which entities lie. Instead, he conceives it as a web of interrelations of entities. Dasein does not merely sit and stare at entities as if they were merely present at hand. Instead, Dasein primarily encounters entities in its dealings with them; to turn this around we deal with things because we are concerned. On the basis of our concernful dealings with entities, the totality of significations comes to be. Let us take a concrete example that Heidegger supplies to illustrate this point. A hammer, for instance, is not merely a thing with a slender wooden handle and a metal top with a claw coming out the back: it is something one uses for hammering. In other words, it is encountered as ready-to-hand— not present-at-hand. Now, a thing such as a hammer can only be ready to hand within a totality of equipment; it is only as such because of the other things that are co-implies along with it (nails, wood, etc). This totality has the character of “reference” (i.e. the in-order-to). This simply makes explicit what is stated above: one uses the hammer in order to hammer nails, which is in order to fasten pieces of wood together, etc.

Heidegger now goes deeper in his analysis of the character of references. The references that tie entities together must be related back to the Being of Dasein; they do not merely float about detached from us. References, on a “deeper” level, have the character of involvement. Involvement could be conceived of as the relation between the hammer and the actual act of hammering. In other words, Dasein can hammer with a hammer because the hammer is assigned to hammering (hammering nails, which is assigned to connecting wood, etc). What, then, makes this totality of involvements possible? Heidegger argues it is the for-the-sake-of-which, or, the meaningful assignments of Dasein. If hammering were not for-the-sake-of connecting wood, which is in turn for-the-sake-of building a house in which Dasein can dwell, there would be no totality of involvement. Dasein, if it did not assign itself to this totality, would not really be Dasein: this is one of the characteristics of its Being. In virtue of the nature of Dasein’s projects, then, the world (i.e. the totality of involvements) opens up. The world is the “backdrop” of Dasein’s self-assignment; it is that towards which the for-the-sake-of-which (Re. meaningful assignments) is directed.

Based on this, Heidegger then argues that there is one more “level” to references: they are significant. Or, to put it another way, meaningfulness is the reason for the involvements of things (activities, entities, etc). We have now arrived at the starting point of our discussion of discourse: it articulated the totality of significations.

Now that we have a grasp of what discourse articulates we can move to show its structure and interrelation with the other moments of disclosedness. It is essential to conceive of discourse as an existentiale phenomena. That is, it is a constitutive and indispensable facet of Dasein’s being. Discourse is in no way equivalent to what Heidegger calls “assertion” or even, in a way, discoursing or talking. “Talking” or “discoursing” are intimately connected with discourse as an existentiale; they are the ontic manifestation of it. Yet, they are not what Heidegger means when he talks of discourse as an existentiale structure; they are the “worldly” phenomena that accompany it. This is evidenced by two structures that Heidegger believes are essential to it, but do not involve language: hearing and keeping silent.

The way in which discourse is expressed is through language; it is through discoursing or talking that Dasein articulates the intelligibility of Being-in-the-world. Here Being-with makes an appearance. “Being-with belongs to Being-in-the-world...” (BT 204); this is apparent in discourse. Dasein is always already Mitdasein; Being-with-others. In Dasein’s concernful dealings there lies a reference to others—they are encountered in Dasein’s dealings. Thus, the world is always a with-world; there are other Dasein as well as my Dasein. Talking or discoursing is always talking-with or talking-to ; this is an essential moment of communication.
Communication is one of the constitutive moments of discourse. Heidegger implores us to think of communication as broadly as possible. It is not merely “assertion” (in Heidegger’s sense of the word). Instead, through communication, “Being-with becomes explicitly shared” (BT 205). That is, the co-state-of-mind and co-understanding that are manifest in Mitdasein are “taken hold of”. One can begin to see the connection between disposedness and understanding with discourse as well as the ambiguous position that discourse occupies in Heidegger’s thinking. Not only is discourse an essential point of the tripartite structure of disclosedness, but it also in a way underlies the other two insofar as it makes them “public” and explicitly shared. What is expressed in discourse is disposedness and understanding which, as we have seen, is necessarily a co-disposedness and a co-understanding.

There are three other moments along with communication that are constitutive for discourse: what the talk is about; what is said in the talk; and the making known. All these, in similar fashion to the structures of disclosedness, arise together and are necessary for the “complete” phenomenon of discourse. In what is said in the talk, Dasein has the character of expressing itself. What is expressed in the talk is Dasein’s disposedness; this is done through “intonation, modulation, the tempo of talk, ‘the way of speaking’” (BT. 206) We shall come back to this point later in the paper: orators spent a great deal of time fine tuning precisely these elements of their speeches in order to effectively convince their audience.

Neither Aristotle nor Cicero treat the issue of language (Discourse) as a condition for the possibility of rhetoric, though it is a constant theme of rhetorical handbooks. In a similar fashion to pa/qh, they conceive of it merely as an ontic phenomenon, and not as an existentiale. Moreover, Heidegger’s analysis of discourse underlies that of Cicero; one can only make a rhetorical display in virtue of discourse. Tied in with this is the notion that discourse (language) discloses Being-with; it makes the co-disposedness of Mitdasein explicit. None of the ancient thinkers hit upon this. This being said, Cicero and Aristotle do recognise the power of language to influence the mood of the audience and that one’s language must be properly suited to that which the orator wants to express. In other words, we could repeat Cicero’s quote that the orator must be all ablaze in order to set the audience on fire—their language must be fiery and powerful in order to properly sway the audience. On some level, then, Cicero recognises a connection between moods and language: language is a medium in which moods are disclosed. Heidegger has a similar notion in that moods are disclosed in language through the intonation, pace of the talk, etc.

Later in The Ideal Orator, Cicero begins a discussion of gesture, which is another central feature of an effective rhetorical display. He conceives of gesture as separate from language; it is something that is used to supplement one’s speech. Heidegger, however, would disagree with this characterisation: discourse is a broad phenomenon that does not necessarily hinge on language. That which is expressed in discourse does not necessarily become a theme for assertion. One communicates4 through gesture as one communicates through language (if one takes communication in Heidegger’s broad sense). Thus gesture is an ontic manifestation of discourse the same way language is and consequently carries out the same function language does. They are not totally separate phenomena: they spring from the same ground and carry out the same function in a rhetorical speech.

In sum, then, how does discourse make possible rhetoric? First, and most importantly, it is the condition for the possibility of language. Without language, oratory would be non existent. Moreover, in its ontic manifestation, it allows for the appropriation of disposedness (which is always co-disposedness) which the orator works upon in the course of his speech. Connected with this point is the issue of gesture, which orator also makes use of. Discourse is not necessarily made manifest in language: gesture is another mode by which understanding and disposedness are articulated. In short, discourse makes possible the ways by which the orator tries to convince the crowd of his point, whether it be through language, gesture, tempo of the talk, etc.

Although it seems on the surface that Heidegger is saying many of the same things as Aristotle, in fact they are quite different: Heidegger is working on another “level” (the ontological). In other words, Aristotle does not conceive of emotions as an essential feature of the disclosedness of Dasein, though he does give them a prominent place in his theory of rhetoric. Heidegger’s notion of moods/disposedness could be said to underlie that of Aristotle; it explains why Aristotle would give emotions such a prominent place. Heidegger is the only thinker of the two that truly examines the conditions for the possibility of rhetoric; the others hint at it, but never conceive of moods or discourse as a grounding phenomenon. Thus Heidegger would think that there can only be “grand oratory”: moods would always already implicated. Aristotle recognises the importance of moods, but never makes the move Heidegger does and state they are primordial structures of the Being of Dasein. Moreover, neither Aristotle nor Cicero treat discourse/language as a true condition for the possibility of rhetoric. Once again, Heidegger’s analysis of discourse underlies that of the two ancient thinkers. It provides the condition for the possibility of language, which, as we have seen, is the “medium” through which moods are made manifest. Both moods and discourse provide the conditions for the possibility of one of the most celebrated arts of the ancient world: oratory.

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