Gage, John. “An Adequate Epistemology for Composition: Classical and Modern Perspectives.” Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse. Ed. Robert Conners, Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford. Carbondale: Souther Illinois UP, 1984. 152-73. Print. (PN175 .E84 1984)

  • Trajectory of article:  1) the implications for rhetoric of differing epistemologies; 2) demonstrate how particular epistemological assumptions undergird both classical rhetoric and contemporary composition pedagogies; 3) an argument about paying close, special attention to the ways that epistemological assumptions are being transmitted to our students through our composition pedagogies.
  • The relationship between rhetoric and epistemology is complex because it gets right at the heart of the question of whether there is knowledge without language or whether language itself is constitutive of knowledge (for the second perspective, see Sanchez’s work).  In other words, when language is used to describe reality an interpretation occurs.
  • Two epistemologies of rhetoric:  1) rhetoric is used as a means/technique to convey and communicate ideas that are unknowable or have been discovered in ways that exist outside of rhetoric itself (the Bellestrist position); or 2) Rhetoric itself is a way to discover knowledge and validate it’s existence . . . in other words, language makes knowing anything possible.  In this perspective rhetoric makes knowledge possible and attempts to create “mutual understandings” for the development/creation of sharable truths (153-4).  Scott’s/postmoderns view of rhetoric as epistemic.
  • Rhetoric as dialectic means that knowledge is co-created in the communicative situation . . . it is something that people do together and operates at the level of discourse itself (not outside of it on reality).  In this sense, rhetoric is dialectic when knowledge is shared as it’s agreeability among multiple parties constitutes validity.  So, as G. notes, “Rhetoric can be viewed as dialectical, then, when knowledge is seen as an activity, carried out in relation to the intentions and reasons of others and necessarily relative to the capacities and limits of human discourse, rather than a commodity which is contained in one mind and transferred to another” (156).  Aristotelian enthymemes are representative of rhetoric as dialectical.
  • G. contrasts the rhetoric as epistemic perspective with the idea that rhetoric operates as technique in the second half of this essay by investigating how “rhetoric as technique” is taught in composition pedagogies.  Rhetoric is rendered non-dialectical when it is treated as ornamentation, incapable of transforming knowledge in it’s delivery and instead used as a means of making pre-existing knowledge more palatable to the audience’s context.
  • Because an audience isn’t present in the composing moment for students in the majority of our composition classes, G. argues that rhetoric isn’t actually at work . . . rather an eristic view of rhetoric as “winning” comes into play because the imagined audience can’t negotiate the terms of engagement and the revisions to knowledge that occur in real dialectical, enthymematic reasoning.  Likewise, the enthymeme loses its power when it is considered as a form of abstract syllogistic (minus a premise) reasoning because it loses the context that the audience fills with their shared, common knowledge (165).

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