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Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings by John ... - JAC Online

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Reviews 279<br />

<strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong>:A <strong>Rhetoric</strong>With<strong>Readings</strong>,2nd 00., <strong>John</strong> D. Ramage and<br />

<strong>John</strong> C. Bean (New York: Macmillan, 1992, 775 pages.)<br />

Reviewed <strong>by</strong> J. Blake Scott, University of Oklahoma<br />

Professional journals tend to avoid reviewing composition textbooks in<br />

preference of more "scholarly" works. That's understandable, but unfortunate.<br />

We maynot take writing textbooks seriously, but we cannot ignore their<br />

power. As Kathleen Welch, Robert Scholes and a host of others have pointed<br />

out, textbooks can impose dangerous ideologies on writing classrooms.<br />

Perhaps in response to such concerns, a whole new breed of "rhetorically<br />

aware" composition textbooks has emerged. These books, usually written<br />

for advanced courses, second-semester freshman composition, or special<br />

classes in argumentative writing, can be dangerous and deceptive.<br />

For example, consider <strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong>:A <strong>Rhetoric</strong>With<strong>Readings</strong>,a<br />

book that focuses on argumentative writing, based on logic, in a variety of<br />

modes. After it first appeared in 1989, a sufficient number of writing<br />

programs adopted it for their advanced or second-semester courses to<br />

warrant the production of a second edition <strong>with</strong> added "process" elements.<br />

(My own institution, for example, urges us to use this book for our secondsemester<br />

courses.) At first I was impressed <strong>with</strong> the book's apparently wellgrounded<br />

applications of important rhetorical theory. A quick scan of its<br />

sections entitled "A Detailed Look at the Uses of Evidence in Argumentation,"<br />

"Moving Your Audience: Finding Audienced-Based Reasons," and<br />

"Accomodating Your Audience: Treating Opposing Views in an Argument<br />

That Both Clarifies and Persuades" suggested a theoretical stance sensitive<br />

to rhetoric. But once I excavated the book's real underlying theory and saw<br />

its manifestations in my classroom, I was alarmed.<br />

<strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong>is dangerous for two reasons. First, its authors work<br />

from an unexamined ideology based on absolutist, empirical beliefs in<br />

"truth," "reality," "objectivity," and "clarity"-notions which undermine a<br />

flexible definition of rhetoric. Second, the authors attempt to temper these<br />

ideas <strong>with</strong> twisted notions of rhetoric, hoping to create a smooth, appeasing<br />

blend of syllogistic logic and audience-based rhetorical theory. In the book's<br />

preface, Ramage and Bean ironically devote three-fourths of a page to<br />

"Theory of Argumentation in the Text." The first theory they discuss, and the<br />

one that guides the first two sections of the book, aligns argumentation <strong>with</strong><br />

formal logic. In Part I, "An Overview of Argument," the authors carefully<br />

distinguish between argumentation and persuasion: '''Persuasion' is primarily<br />

concerned <strong>with</strong> influencing the way people think or act, whereas 'argument'<br />

is concerned <strong>with</strong> discovery and conveying our best judgments about<br />

the truth of things through an appeal to reasons." Throughout the book,<br />

Ramage and Bean describe argumentation <strong>with</strong>out a goal of finding "truth"<br />

as less than ideal. Persuasion and manipulation take on negative connota-


280 Journal of Advanced Composition<br />

tions such as "cheating" and "trickery." Indeed, the authors tout argumentation<br />

as a defense against persuasion. The clash between argumentation as<br />

discovery of truth and argumentation based on the sophistic gaining of<br />

adherence is clearly the subject of the section "Clarification or Victory? The<br />

Debate Between Socrates and Callicles." The writers describe Socrates as a<br />

"vanquisher of error" seeking enlightenment and clarification. Callicles is<br />

characterized as a "shadowy figure" who takes a utilitarian approach to<br />

argumentation. Interestingly enough, the authors acknowledge Callicles'<br />

position of questioning all truths as legitimate. They say,"Clearly, our world<br />

is more like Callicles'. We are exposed to multiple cultural perspectives<br />

directly and indirectly." Despite this acknowledgement, Ramage and Bean<br />

continue to uphold the idea that arguments can be inherently complete and<br />

thus perfect versions of "truth," revealing text-centered viewsofwriting, and<br />

traces of a Romantic philosophy that emphasizes the encoder's self-discovery<br />

and clarification. The rest of the book's first section is devoted to a<br />

"process" approach to reading and writing which depends on constructed<br />

strategies and steps that "systematically" guide the student through that<br />

complex process.<br />

In section two, "The Logical Structure of <strong>Arguments</strong>: Claims, Reasons,<br />

and Evidence," the writers use syllogistic logic and Toulmin's schema for<br />

classifying arguments as "heuristic" devices. The section begins <strong>with</strong> an<br />

analysis of the "rhetorical triangle." Ramage and Bean's version, however,<br />

leaves out the critical fourth element: context or culture. Without context or<br />

culture, argumentation can only take place in a vacuum. The writers attach<br />

logos, ethos, and pathos to message, writer/speaker, and audience, respectively.<br />

This makes for a neat three-part diagram, but it distorts complex<br />

rhetorical concepts <strong>by</strong>placing them in different spheres and simplifying their<br />

meanings. As the book proceeds, logos, ethos, and pathos are used in<br />

increasingly limited ways. After briefly describing ethos and pathos, Ramage<br />

and Bean then abandon these concepts in search of an internally consistent<br />

argument that can stand on its own. They begin, "One way to discover<br />

assumed premises isto convert each ofyour enthymemic because clauses into<br />

a three-part stucture called a syllogism." Students practice isolating these<br />

three parts in textbook exercises, but then find it a staggering leap to apply<br />

syllogisms to their own writing and end up doubting their usefulness.<br />

Ramage and Bean outline Toulmin's schema in a diagram similar to a<br />

syllogistic proof and include exercises that ask students to focus on finding<br />

and labeling individual elements <strong>with</strong> little concern about how they relate to<br />

the argument in a macrocosmicway or <strong>with</strong>in a specific social context. Thus,<br />

instead of a unified argument, the student ends up <strong>with</strong> a series of disjointed<br />

parts. Not only do these arbitrary constructions and mechanistic exercises<br />

confuse students, they also bore them. Ramage and Bean would have a<br />

difficult time answering the ever-popular student question, "What does this<br />

have to do <strong>with</strong> real life?"


Reviews 281<br />

The authors' quest for "truth" is particularly evident in the two chapters<br />

dealing <strong>with</strong> evidence. Throughout this chapter, they assert that there is a<br />

"correct" way of using evidence, a way of sorting out "facts" and achieving<br />

objectivity. One definition of fact that Ramage and Bean provide is "a<br />

noncontroversial piece of data that is verifiable through observation."<br />

Ramage and Bean describe their second major guiding theory as a<br />

rhetorical one which finds "additional philosophical grounding in the work<br />

of Chaim Perelman and others." Instead of using the concepts of audience<br />

and adherence as measuring sticks throughout, the authors reserve them for<br />

selected places. Ramage and Bean first discuss audience in chapter four,<br />

where they describe shared assumptions as such things as "axioms in geometry<br />

or the self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence." After<br />

this chapter, audience and adherence slip into the background until they are<br />

seriously considered for the first time in chapter eight.<br />

The third section of <strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong> is entitled "The <strong>Rhetoric</strong>al<br />

Structure of <strong>Arguments</strong>." This title alone displays the authors' incessant<br />

need to express everything in a structure-even the dynamic, interactive<br />

elements of rhetoric. It is here, on page 145, that the book finally addresses<br />

such issues as adherence, ethos, and pathos. But this is too little, too late.<br />

Ramage and Bean offer short overviews of the appeals to credibility and<br />

emotions, and in assigning worth to methods for deploying these appeals<br />

("the problem of slanted language," "Appeal to Emotions Through Appropriate<br />

Word Choice"), the authors ignore the psychological and social<br />

dimensions of argumentation. Specific audiences and specific contexts are<br />

sidelined for a text-dominant view; context or culture is still missing from<br />

their rhetorical triangle. In this section about rhetorical "structures,"<br />

Ramage and Bean repeatedly use a bridge metaphor to "connect" the selfcontained<br />

arguments in section two to rhetorical concerns. With such titles<br />

as"Audience-BasedReasons: Buildinga BridgeBetween Writer and Reader,"<br />

the authors describe writing as a linear, pipeline transfer between encoder<br />

and audience. This destroys anyand all notions ofwriting as a continuous and<br />

simultaneous interaction among all elements of the rhetorical triangle.<br />

The final two sections of <strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong> only compound the book's<br />

problems. First, Ramage and Bean divide argumentation into fivecategories<br />

that suggest mutually exclusive purposes for writing arguments and reduce<br />

these purposes to algebraic equations (X is/isn't a Y). Finally, the textbook<br />

provides numerous excerpts from arguments <strong>by</strong> "professional" writers.<br />

These excerpts, along <strong>with</strong> the categories of arguments, provide the writing<br />

instructor <strong>with</strong> a too convenient, too simplistic, and too deductive means of<br />

teaching argumentation.<br />

<strong>Writing</strong><strong>Arguments</strong> has its bright spots. Sections on gathering library<br />

sources, conducting field research, and documenting sources are helpful, as<br />

are some of the exercises and invention strategies in the "process" chapters.<br />

On the whole, though, this textbook operates from an ideology foreign to


282 Journal of Advanced Composition<br />

rhetoric, one which denies situational contexts and there<strong>by</strong> disempowers<br />

students. Ramage and Bean apply the important rhetorical theory of<br />

Perelman and others, but they do so in a limited, compromised, and distorted<br />

way.<br />

A Note of Gratitude<br />

The editors would like to express their gratitude to lAC's editorial readers: <strong>John</strong><br />

Ackerman, Katherine H. Adams, Virginia Allen, Paul Anderson, Deborah Andrews,<br />

Pamela J. Annas, Chris M. Anson, Phillip Arrington, G. Douglas Atkins, Janet M.<br />

Atwill, Linda Bannister, Dean Barclay, Paul G. Bator, Mary Vroman Battle, Dale<br />

Bauer, Charles Bazerman, Walter H. Beale, Pat Belanoff, L. Bensel-Meyers, Carol<br />

Berkenkotter, James Berlin, Don Bialostosky, Wendy Bishop, Nancy Blyler, Richard<br />

Boyd, Alice G. Brand, Deborah Brandt, Charles W. Bridges, <strong>John</strong> C. Briggs, Linda<br />

Brod key, Robert Brooke, Stuart C. Brown, Christopher C. Burnham, Vincent<br />

Casaregola, Miriam T. Chaplin, David W. Chapman, Gregory Clark, Irene Lurkis<br />

Clark, <strong>John</strong> Clifford, Richard M. Coe, Roger Cole, Greg Colomb, Brian Connery,<br />

Marilyn M. Cooper, Jim W. Corder, Barbara Couture, William A. Covino, Bene S.<br />

Cox,Sharon Crowley,Timothy W.Crusius, M.Francine Danis, Reed WayDasenbrock,<br />

Bonnie Devet, Mary Jane Dickerson, Anne DiPardo, Robert DiYanni, Stephen<br />

Doheny-Farina, Paul Dombrowski, Timothy R. Donovan, Sam Dragga, Patricia M.<br />

Dyer, Lisa Ede, Richard Leo Enos, Christine Farris, Susan Feinberg, Michael<br />

Flanigan, Kathryn Flannery, Kristie Fleckenstein, Elizabeth Flynn, Sheryl Fontaine,<br />

Tom Fox, To<strong>by</strong> Fulwiler, Fredric G. Gale, Pamela Gay, Diana George, Elizabeth<br />

Giddens, George D. Gopen, Stuart C. Greene, Alan Gross, Robert Haas, <strong>John</strong><br />

Hagge, Kristine Hansen, Patricia Harkin, Jeanette Harris, Joseph Harris, Gail<br />

Hawisher, <strong>John</strong> R. Hayes, Janice N. Hays, Tom Hemmeter, Bruce Herzberg, Doug<br />

Hesse, William Holinger, SylviaA. Holladay, Bruce Horner, Winifred Homer, Alice<br />

Homing, Maureen M. Hourigan, Susan M. Hubbuch, Thomas N. Huckin, Christine<br />

Hult, Susan Hunter, Bob Inkster, Alan Jackson, Martin J. Jacobi, Jay Jaco<strong>by</strong>, Gloria<br />

Jaffe, Susan C.Jarratt, David Jolliffe, Debra Joumet, David S. Kaufer, Thomas Kent,<br />

Kate Kiefer, Joyce Kinkead, Gesa Kirsch, Judith Kirscht, Michael Kleine, Amitava<br />

Kumar, Sarah Liggett, Carol Lipson, Joan Livingston-Webber, Edward Lotto, Kim<br />

Brian Lovejoy, Andrea A. Lunsford, Ronald F. Lunsford, Ben McClelland, Susan<br />

McLeod, Paul Meyer, Susan Miller, Thomas P. Miller, Charles Moran, Michael G.<br />

Moran, Kim Moreland, Kerri Morris, Joseph M.Moxley,Jasper Neel, Janice Neuleib,<br />

James R. Nicholl, George DUe, Gillian R. Overing, Twila Yates Papay, David Payne,<br />

Thomas E. Pearsall, Elizabeth F. Penfield, Ann M. Penrose, Joseph Petraglia, Rita<br />

Pollard, Rosenthene B. Purnell, Alan C. Purves, Paul W. Ranieri, Elizabeth Rankin,<br />

Paul W. Rea, SallyReagan, Thomas Recchio, James A. Reither, Joy Ritchie, Duane<br />

H. Roen, Katherine Ronald, Mike Rose, Anne Rosenthal, Hephzibah Roskelly,<br />

William T. Ross, Audrey J. Roth, David Russell, <strong>John</strong> Ruszkiewicz, Mariolina<br />

Salvatori, <strong>John</strong> Schilb, Penelope Schott, Patrocinio Schweickart, Marie J. Secor,<br />

Cynthia L. Selfe, Jack Selzer, Ira Shor, Jeanne Simpson, David Smit, William E.<br />

Smith, Jeff Sommers, Anna o.Soter, Don W.Stacks, Joe C.Strange, James Strickland,<br />

Michael Strickland, Gail Stygall,James Suchan, Ron Sudol, Patricia Sullivan, Judith<br />

Summerfield, <strong>John</strong> M. Swales, C. Jan Swearingen, Elizabeth Tebeaux, Nathaniel<br />

Teich, Dene Kay Thomas, Gordon Thomas, Trudelle Thomas, Charlotte Thralls,<br />

Howard Tinberg, Barbara Tomlinson, <strong>John</strong> Trimbur, Douglas Vipond, Ralph Voss,<br />

Barbara E. Walvoord, David Wallace, Tilly Warnock, Kathleen Welch, Susan Wells,<br />

Edward M. White, Mark Wiley,Elizabeth Winston, Lynn Worsham, William Wresch,<br />

Art Young, Richard Young, James Thomas Zebroski, William Zeiger.

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