September 23, 2012

Feeling Enlightened?: Why Emotion is Essential

The reading I chose was this look into the background of rhetoric during the Enlightenment. Many different ideas were forged during the enlightenment, whether they were completely new ways of thinking, or modifications of old ideas. It's no surprise that, when given the change, rhetoric would be looked at and possibly change for the better.

The particular ideas that came to mind were the "plain" styles that people like Bacon and Descartes wanted more emphasized. By the time I had read and understood the ideas behind such a take for progression I thought it to be a good idea that is very unlikely to work.

My prior studies in philosophy have always been helped by the fact that my first professor didn't just have a doctorate in philosophy. He had one in neuroscience as well. He often talked about how the brain developed and how long it takes to get that frontal lobe going with the "reasoning" aspect of ourselves. The problem with this "plain" take on everything is the fact that our brains developed in a way that the flat-out facts won't cut it for a motivation. As humans, it seems the best we can do is set our minds on something, steer in the direction with reason, and use emotion as a driving force. When we employ rhetoric, we harness the emotions of others towards a greater good assuming we use our reasoning. Same goes for them as a rebuttal. They'll assess the situation using reasoning and push forward with emotion. We do greater things that way. The flat out facts won't always get the job done.

One good example I can think of is the power of faith. I'm not a particularly religious person. I'm actually agnostic. What intrigues me is what people do when they believe in something and somehow, someway, something positive happens. A show that explains this well would be the hit broadway musical The Book of Mormon. John Stewart of the Daily Show couldn't have said it better: It's a musical that somehow satirizes and celebrates that which is religion. Another is The Invention of Lying which allowed a person to harness their emotion in order to cope and continue on.

With that said, rhetoric is something complex. Yes, in it's current state it's a shame that the wicked can mis-use it. We have to take the bad with the good. That seems to be the only option here, at least for awhile. It will be that way until we're no longer emotional human beings, something that I doubt will ever happen. Who knows though, maybe one day we'll all be Mr. Spocks.

1 comment:

Michelle Macchio said...

While I can appreciate your views of the Enlightenment philosophies as described in this post, I would like to point out ways in which my views vary with yours. While I agree that emotions play a key role in communication, adding superfluous ornamentation to speech is not necessarily the only way to appeal to pathos. My interpretation of “plain” style as proposed by Bacon and Locke is one that does not entirely objectify speech so as to eliminate all potential for an emotional response, but instead it eliminate unnecessary utterances of speech as a means of providing clarity and expanding the potential for understanding—especially when dealing with complex concepts (which as Locke discussed, are uncertain in nature and most doubtful). I’m sure you have found yourself reading something dense, such as a philosophical work or a theoretical analysis of some sort, and thought to yourself, “Wow, these concepts are so simple, but the word choice and elaboration is making it sound way more complicated than it needs to be”. Personally, I am a fan of writing such as that of Ernest Hemmingway: plain, simple speech full of emotion-provoking potential and complex ideas. If you have read Hemmingway, I’m sure you are well aware of how short and concise all of his works are. I understand that Hemmingway may not be considered a rhetorical writer, but I think his works as an example of plain style can clearly be applied to rhetorical speech.

Also, your view of rhetoric as being in a poor current state is one I am curious about. In my opinion, rhetoric, like most other things we are capable of as human beings, has the potential to do good or evil—throughout history, no more today than at any other time. What I find most crucial is looking at ways in which we can understand the ways it functions and, as an extension of this, discovering ways in which it can be manipulated and used for evil. We may never be able to combat all evil in the world, but (in the words of Foucault) at least we can use knowledge and discourse to expose and resist it.

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