Booth: Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent

Booth, Wayne C. “from Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent.” The rhetorical tradition : readings from classical times to the present. 2nd ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell & Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin''s, 2001. 1491-1519. Print.



Editors'' Introduction:


Booth b. 1921 (d. 2005). In The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) "advanced the idea that authors imagined ideal audiences for their works and readers generally were willing to take on the role assigned to them. The rhetoric of fiction--or atleast of nondidactic fiction--was thus a collaborative effort at communication" (1491). In "Confessions of an Aging, Hypocritical Ex-Missionary," coins term "rhetorology," do explain the practice of "search[ing] together for true grounds, then labor[ing] to decide how those grounds dictate a change of mind about more superficial beliefs. Any genuine rhetorologist entering any fray is committed to the possibility of conversion to the ''enemy'' camp" (Booth 25-36 qtd. in 1491).


Booth recognizes that both sides (only two?) of issues held deeply ingrained assumptions about truth and reason (think evolution debate; bible and positivism). He labels "scientism" and "irrationalism." "Booth asks whether it is possible to know, in a rational way, when we should change our minds, or how we should talk about what we believe" (1491).


Five Dogmas "arise from accepting the fact-value (or object-subject) split that underlies scientism and irrationalism" (1492) (mostly direct quoting follows):


  • Motivism: regards all reasons as determined by innate drives or prior conditioning. Thus there are no real reasons, only rationalizations.
  • Humans are atomic mechanisms: therefore purposeless from ethical or moral point of view
  • the universe itself is value-free: nature is indifferent to human values
  • systematic doubt: the proper activity of the intellect, advanced by many influential philosophical systems
  • the purpose of argument is to win: if no proof can be brought for values, if rational argument is impossible or irrelevant, the one''s convictions may be defended by any means, from exhortation to demonstration to violence (doesn''t this sound Machiavellian?) (1492)


Booth is against this split; strives for renewed respect for reasoning and rhetoric. Probability and good reasons--not certainty.


from Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent


Three: The Dogmas Questioned


Changes of Scene and Dramatis Personae


Nature and Knowledge Revivified


Nature as Will or Act


Reality as Feeling: The Wisdom of the Body


Divers Orders, Divers "Logics"


Doubt and Assent


The Criterion of Falsifiability


Systematic Assent


What Do We Know About Ourselves and Our "World"?


The Purposes of Rhetoric


Four: Some Warrants of Assent With Notes on the Topics of Protest


The Great Reservoir of Good Reasons


Value Terms and Substantive Proofs


Example I: Finding a Concurring Public vs. Getting on the Bandwagon