Niall Keane - Affective Demonstration and Speaking Communally: The Practice of Rhetoric

This is one of the papers from our 2017 Annual Conference, the Future of Phenomenology. Information and the full conference booklet can be found at www.britishphenomenology.org.uk

Heidegger’s interest in the themes of theory and practice have been well documented, especially his early lectures on Aristotle’s Ethics and his prioritization of praxis over theoria. However, a less explored way into the distinction between theory and practice is to be found in Heidegger’s SS1924 analysis of Aristotle’s Rhetoric (GA 18), which analyses rhetoric in terms of a practical dynamis rather than a techne. Rhetoric, for Heidegger, is a capacity to concretise practically the diverse ways of speaking together. Rhetoric identifies the most practically appropriate means of disclosing what speaks for itself, making something evident in its substantive character. 

In Heidegger’s SS1924 lecture course, he argues that the primacy of the practical attitude is represented in the proper use of pisteis, the means of persuasion, which in the parallel theoretical field of dialectic are termed syllogisms. Pistis is not simply about belief, but is a form of affective, embodied, and shared demonstration. In the end, the analogous nature of these two fields of logos, rhetoric and dialectic, practice and theory, hinges on their overlapping and yet distinct approaches to the question of demonstrable truth and how it is disclosed in a twofold manner, either by logical proof or affective demonstration. Logos is thus the fundamental determination of the communal and expressive life of the human being, and finds in rhetoric a degree of demonstrative force which discloses the modal character of truth, which is always tied to context, listener, and affect.

This paper will locate in Heidegger’s analysis of rhetoric an alternative way into the theory and practice distinction, by drawing attention to two types of thinking and speaking, theoretical and practical, and in conclusion the paper will address Heidegger’s attack on metaphysical modality in the name of a deeper and more essential blocked possibility. Heidegger’s reading of the rhetoric, the practical exercise of speaking and hearing together, is an early example of this. His interpretations of the affects of rhetoric are precisely an early attempt to draw our attention to blocked possibilities rooted in the practical attitude.

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