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In a discussion one selects a notion to argue. The other, often referred to as the "ideal listener", may just as well choose another "talking point" to emphasize. Defining dialectics in positive ways is fine with me. However, I am attacking the term and the "hénourme!" (a Sartrian rhetorical tic) number of qualifications it has acquired, especially in the past two centuries. It appears that every wanker who fancies himself a philosopher has to slap out a new brand of dialectics.

The argument against this Platonic pretence is not new. Popper wrote:

Finally, in forming our judgements on Plato's procedure, we must not forget that Plato likes to argue against rhetoric and sophistry, and indeed he is the man who by his attacks on the "Sophists" created the bad associations connected with that word. I believe that we therefore have every reason to censor him when he himself makes use of rhetoric and sophistry in place of argument.

Essentially Plato is in bad faith. Nor is his chatter about truth all that convincing as it is only for the rare few, invariably those in power:

Socrates: I know how to produce one witness to the truth of what I say, the man with whom I'm debating, but the others I ignore. I know how to secure one man's vote, but with the many I will not even enter into discussion.
(Quoted in Brian Vickers, In Defense of Rhetoric)

For the masses there's propaganda, as Plato eloquently argues.

The term does not carry much clout with modern works on argumentation. Stephen Toulmin, who is quoted in the Wiki article, never uses the term in his The Uses of Argument. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca in The New Rhetoric mention it only en passant: In real life dialectics just doesn't happen and is practically indistinguishable from debate. Acknowledged modern authorities on critical reasoning, rhetoric and argumentation, such as Douglas Walton and Christopher Tindale, rarely discuss or ever use the term.

What use is the term with its dangerous Platonic pretensions? I suppose philosophers can play with it all they want. After all, they needn't really concern themselves with messy reality that fetters the masses, much to Nietzsche's consternation.

 

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 07:47:02 PM EST
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