Prototypes versus Aristotelian Categories in the Teaching of Writing

Prototypes versus Aristotelian Categories in the Teaching of Writing.

via Prototypes versus Aristotelian Categories in the Teaching of Writing.

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4 thoughts on “Prototypes versus Aristotelian Categories in the Teaching of Writing

  1. The problem is not Aristotle, it is the bastardization of Aristotle into bite size morsels. You could have a complex theory of genre (and rhetoric does) that accounts for everything in this article about writing that fits a predictable pattern (of rhetorical situations that regular occur, or social action that demands utterance) and innovates on the form. Sean O’Rourke and I were recently emailing back and forth regarding how nice Randy was to mention me in front of the Dean as saying something smart recently. I told Sean that Randy was also extra nice because he “caught my drift” about Aristotle’s ethos/pathos/logos without necessarily having to take on my intellectual baggage. Here’s what I said to Sean

    “Yes, and that was the point about the rhetorical triangle being SO INCREDIBLY STUPID. Ethos was not “speaker”; that it was low emotions as they engage and appeal to audiences; that pathos was not actually audience, but those sense-experience derived practices that stimulate the body and ought to be appealed to through speech as well; and logos not as text, but as enthymematic reasoning and signs that assume audience-held knowledge and assumes it can be refined, reorganized, and classified by using prejudices and stereotypes to refine thought and instigate action.

    Whoever wrote the Rhet. Comp. rhetorical triangle ought to get whacked. I keep a crowbar in my truck for the day I meet that guy.”

    • The rhetorical triangle goes back to work by Roman Jakobson. My intent in this piece was not to give some sort of full account of Aristotle’s ideas about rhetoric and poetics but simply to explain the theory of natural kinds to people so that they could understand how the theory of natural prototypes differs from it. Best, Bob

      • Thanks, Bob. I didn’t think you’d be seeing this, because your entry was fantastically smart and comprehensive and mine was in no way meant as a direct reply, just a blustery reflection on a recent conversation at my university.

        But now to follow up better now that you’ve appreciatively engaged my tangent, I do think Aristotle is oversimplified in the composition classroom and in the history of rhetorical studies, leading to some of the problems you put forward and as represented in our field often by bad genre criticism. But I’m also not tied enough to Aristotle to actually say he can’t be “tainted,” so I see your turn to “natural prototypes” is interesting and a better alternative than vulgarizing an ancient Greek for his authority without taking seriously his texts. The vulgarizing was famous in our field with basic genre applications or what was deragotorily labeled Neo-Aristotelian speech criticism (when my students are shocked to find ethos, pathos, and logos in the same speech, for example).

        So the rhetorical triangle only angers me because it maps on usefully complex concepts onto one another to flatten them. You can get a useful synopsis of the communication/rhetorical triangle from surveying the writers here:

        http://books.google.com/books?id=LhWOKbars-YC&q=triangle#v=snippet&q=triangle&f=false

        It’s very complex, and everyone from Pierce, to Ogden & Richard, to Jakobsen, are doing very useful things. But then somewhere in our field’s history it hit textbooks as ETHOS=SPEAKER/PATHOS=AUDIENCE/LOGOS=TEXT, and every composition grad student I hear from the composition side of our discipline (who typically aren’t asked to read the original Greek texts) recites it this way when teaching students. In other fields, that sort of conflation would not be tolerated, but because in the composition world we so bend to ease of access to people who only want “rhetoric” for our “tools,” the ancient ideas and complex intervening linguistic/philosophical theory gets sacrificed at the alter of pedagogy.

  2. Thanks, Bob. I didn’t think you’d be seeing this, because your entry was fantastically smart and comprehensive and mine was in no way meant as a direct reply, just a blustery reflection on a recent conversation at my university.

    But now to follow up better now that you’ve appreciatively engaged my tangent, I do think Aristotle is oversimplified in the composition classroom and in the history of rhetorical studies, leading to some of the problems you put forward and as represented in our field often by bad genre criticism. But I’m also not tied enough to Aristotle to actually say he can’t be “tainted,” so I see your turn to “natural prototypes” is interesting and a better alternative than vulgarizing an ancient Greek for his authority without taking seriously his texts. The vulgarizing was famous in our field with basic genre applications or what was deragotorily labeled Neo-Aristotelian speech criticism (when my students are shocked to find ethos, pathos, and logos in the same speech, for example).

    So the rhetorical triangle only angers me because it maps on usefully complex concepts onto one another to flatten them. You can get a useful synopsis of the communication/rhetorical triangle from surveying the writers here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=LhWOKbars-YC&q=triangle#v=snippet&q=triangle&f=false

    It’s very complex, and everyone from Pierce, to Ogden & Richard, to Jakobsen, are doing very useful things. But then somewhere in our field’s history it hit textbooks as ETHOS=SPEAKER/PATHOS=AUDIENCE/LOGOS=TEXT, and every composition grad student I hear from the composition side of our discipline (who typically aren’t asked to read the original Greek texts) recites it this way when teaching students. In other fields, that sort of conflation would not be tolerated, but because in the composition world we so bend to ease of access to people who only want “rhetoric” for our “tools,” the ancient ideas and complex intervening linguistic/philosophical theory gets sacrificed at the alter of pedagogy.

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