Historical Rhetorics/A Little Aristotle and the Other Socrates/Welch's ''Electric Rhetoric'', chapters 2 & 3

Welch, Kathleen E. Electric Rhetoric / Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1999.


Isocrates's Rhetoric

"For Isocrates, rhetoric consists of language as it constitutes part of thought (that is, interior discourse) and language as it constitutes one's negotiations with the world (that is, exterior discourse). Writing, speaking, and thinking are mutually dependent for him and, I contend, heavily conditioned by the technology of writing" (34).
"[...]rhetoric works toward more complex thinking, part of which derives from the act of writing, which brings with it the ability to construct a disembodied audience" (43).
"[...] logos signifies not simply speech but rather can signify thought, reflection, a story, history, or reasoning" (46).

Nomos or Physis / Rhetoric as Metaphysics or Ornament (Or, [the Paradox of] Sub.stance v. Sytle)


Here's how I interpret Welch's interpretation of Isocrates (pg. 31). Welch turns the physis/nomos binary on its head. It is not that we are physis-ically perfect and then corrupted by nomos (as, say, we appear in the allegory of the cave, such that by transcending our human institutions, relations, and neighbors we reach a higher ethical/moral knowledge); rather, it is through our ability to come together as neighbors, relations, institutions that we transcend (if that is the right word), our baser human instincts.

Another way I frame her project: instead of thinking about Isocrates in terms of style, let's think of him as articulating a metaphysic. Here's how she puts it:

What happens to classical rhetoric when Isocrates' rhetorical theories are interpreted as a central, and not merely a decorative, part of the ideology that incorporates a traditionally received body of material? (33).

Rhetoric as Ethics


Words Welch uses to describe Isocrates' logos and rhetoric: associative (pg 32) (vs. abstract), belief (32) (vs certainty), judgment (39-40) (vs. knowledge). For Welch's discussion of judgment vs. philosophy see 39-40. Important for Welch's recasting of Isocrates: he equally insists that strong external discourse equates to strong internal discourse. Fake it to you make it(?)

Welch: "Isocrates claims that rhetorical study can produce wise interior discourse, or deliberation with oneself across a range of subject areas" (35).

"Isocrates returns repeatedly to the development of judgment through the development of language ability. Writing constitutes a central role in this agenda. Crucially, Isocrates uses the word "philosophia" to signify the development of judgment, not just the gathering of knowledge, so that everyday issues as well as more momentous ones can be negotiated as they develop" (38)

There is a strong ethical basis for Iscorates' rhetoric (see Vitanza's discussion of Isocrates' logos (NSHoR 174). Question: do you train people how to write, or how to live? In other words, to what extent are you responsible (um, Socrates) for the moral choices of your students?