ISSA Proceedings 2014 ~ Isocrates’ Moral Argumentation

Abstract: Two of Michael Calvin McGee’s unpublished manuscripts hint at how the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates developed a perspective on argumentation that may be useful for contemporary analysis of public affairs. The first manuscript describes Isocrates as a “cultural surgeon” who operated using “moral argumentation.” The second manuscript suggests how individuals may repair cultural faults using moral argumentation. Through rhetorical analysis of Spanish 15­M protest logoi, this paper explores the critical utility of Isocratic moral argumentation.

Keywords: Isocrates, Michael Calvin McGee, social movements, protest, 15-M, rhetoric, public argument, argumentation

1. Introduction
How may an understanding of argumentation scholar Michael Calvin McGee’s use of the term “moral argumentation” inform the analysis of modern-day protest activity? Exploration of this question promises to enrich understanding of this term and shed light on how argumentation by twenty-first century protestors may contribute to the processes of deliberation and unity formation. McGee first describes moral argumentation in the first of his two unpublished manuscripts on the topic of Isocrates (McGee 1986, 1998). In this manuscript, “Isocrates: A Parent of Rhetoric and Culture Studies,” McGee provides no direct definition of moral argumentation; however, some preliminary understandings may be extrapolated from McGee’s use of the term by reading this paper in tandem with the second manuscript, “Choosing A Poros: Reflections on How to Implicate Isocrates in Liberal Theory.” Although the term moral argumentation has been employed in other philosophical contexts, McGee inflects it in a unique and particular way that warrants further study (Habermas 1984, 1988, 1990, 1996). This paper aims to (re)construct the meaning of McGee’s “moral argumentation” to support a case study of protest logoi (i.e., reasoned arguments, such as protest slogans) by the Spanish protest group 15-M.

2. Moral argumentation
In the first manuscript, “Isocrates: A Parent of Rhetoric and Culture Studies,” McGee argues that Isocrates’ argumentation may be characterized as the “skill and talent of discovering how best to apply values to a given circumstance” [emphasis added] (McGee 1986). McGee’s definition attributes an implicit and intrinsic moral component to Isocrates’ form of argumentation, which is signaled by McGee’s use of the term “values,” a word that connotatively and denotatively carries ethical and moral implications (McGee 1986). McGee contends that for Isocrates, engaging in or performing “moral argumentation encouraged right action” (McGee 1986). McGee asserts that Isocrates stated that “moral knowledge” could be obtained through studying the “history of public address,” which also serves as a history of “virtue in action” (McGee 1986). By “public address,” McGee most likely gestures to the classical Greek understanding of the term, encompassing a variety of speeches (e.g., forensic, epideictic, deliberative, encomiastic) that were traditionally delivered at “the law courts, in political assemblies, and on ceremonial occasions at public festivals” (Ilie 2009, p. 833; McGee 1986). Thus, inherent in McGee’s description of this acquisitional process is the salient role history plays in obtaining “moral knowledge,” which is further articulated in the manner in which Isocrates constructed arguments (McGee 1986). Read more

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Time to say Good-bye

September 20th 2009 – a short walk through the busy city of Brussels: Journées du Patrimoine and Dimanche sans Voiture – though using the car is apparently not forbidden it is widely accepted not to use it. Nevertheless, the streets are crowded.

The sun is shining, and it is ideal for people from the Belgium and European capital to enjoy lovely day outdoor. Not just the Grand Place is reminiscent of a modern version of Pieter Brueghel’ s paintings but the main streets are occupied by colourful ado. Variegated syllables in different languages, the sound of music from everywhere and the people in their various dresses: simple and modern, jaunty and a little bit frivolous or conservative-respectable. Men, women – showing their faces au naturel and others who still look more like a masque of themselves – despite the vibe of the folk’s fair, despite people apparently taking over the lead.

And it is in the middle of this hassle and bustle and bursting joyfulness that I begin to get contemplative: Finally a decision had now been taken – a decision that stood in waiting position since some time, but loosely only, still needing confirmation. And a decision that is not really a single event – it is part of a series of events, decisions, part of a long development. A historical decision? A fundamental change?
So many decisions had been taken and are frequently taken – though they seem to be large or small, we do not really know what their meaning is in the historical development – a history made by men, a history that is made by us and nevertheless weighs as nightmare on our shoulders.

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