The Rhetorical Element: Not only where you’re coming from, but where you’re going.

From Thomas L. Haskell, “Objectivity Is Not Neutrality:┬áRhetoric vs. Practice in Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream”

That two people sharing the same position should say different things about it need not be surprising. One obvious reason is the difficulty of forecasting audience response. We all occasionally polemicize on behalf of our own version of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and the posture we assume in public is shaped by our estimate of where our audience already stands on these issues and which way it needs to be moved in order to strengthen the position we admire. Two authors may say very different, even opposite, things in defense of the same position, simply because they have different estimates of where their audience currently stands, or what its members need to hear in order to be moved in the desired direction. For the same reason a single person may, without any inconsistency, adopt different rhetorical postures on different occasions. If, for example, a proponent of the welfare state were to deliver exactly the same speech to the National Association of Manufacturers and the Young Socialist League, we would not applaud the speaker’s consistency, but lament the insensitivity of the performance, the failure to anticipate objections coming from different directions. Estimating the composition and likely reaction of the audience for a book is notoriously difficult, so it is easy to see how Novick and I might share much the same position on substantive issues, and yet adopt opposing postures and appear for all the world as if we were completely at loggerheads.

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