‘ What Is Good Rhetoric?’ By Tushar Irani

Plato said we ought to be suspicious of persuasive speakers and the appeal to emotions.But rhetoric can be a civic good.

Philosophers have had a longstanding problem with rhetoric. The standard view of the quarrel is well-known: philosophy is a truth-directed activity concerned with reasoned argument, while rhetoric is uninterested in truth and concerned merely with persuasion. This view is often traced to Plato, but it is too crude. As Plato himself recognised, philosophers need to present their ideas in persuasive form if they are to gain acceptance, and there are uses of rhetoric that can further our commitment to truth rather than frustrate it. The power of an effective speaker to captivate an audience is apt to arouse our suspicion in democratic politics, yet we should also acknowledge that the practice of rhetoric can serve a civic purpose. The real question here is what distinguishes good rhetoric from bad rhetoric.

Plato was deeply interested in this question. Although a concern for truth pervades his thought, this is not the main or the most important problem he has with rhetoric in his dialogues. To understand Plato’s critique, we need to read it against the backdrop of a deep mistrust of persuasive speaking that he shared with his contemporaries following Athens’ loss of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta in the late fifth century BCE. Apart from the huge death toll and casualties suffered by the city, the loss had a monumental impact on the Athenian psyche. In the Laws, usually regarded as Plato’s last work, he has his Athenian Visitor state that ‘[E]very Greek takes it for granted that my city loves talk and does a great deal of it, whereas Sparta is a city of few words, and Crete practices cunning more than talk.’

No doubt there were many factors that contributed to Athens’ loss of the war, but if there is one thing we can point to above all, it is the fact that the Athenian people themselves were persuaded by charismatic statesmen and generals of the period to undertake a series of disastrous military campaigns. As many writers – historians, tragedians and comedians alike – would lament during and after the war, it was in large part the Athenians’ ‘love of talk’ that led to their defeat.

Athens’ downfall provides us with a cautionary tale in our own era. While it would be wrong to reject a persuasive speech simply because the speaker fails to belong to our preferred political party, it would be equally wrong to think that we should accept every speech that strikes us as persuasive. Adolf Hitler’s Nuremberg Rallies of the 1920s and ’30s were highly effective propaganda tools in consolidating power for the Nazi Party and influencing the views of the German people, but the wider effects of his ability to fabricate a redeemed Germany were devastating for the country. The principle here is simple: good rhetoric is not reducible to persuasive rhetoric. Persuasion might often be the goal of the rhetorician, but if rhetoric is to serve some civic good, it must serve the people on whom it operates. Plato was the first to observe that persuasion cannot in fact be the proper end of rhetoric, since it is an open question how it serves the interests of an audience to have their views influenced by a persuasive speech.

In his Gorgias and the Phaedrus, Plato therefore takes a different approach to the value of rhetoric. Together, these two works put forward a comprehensive theory of when and how a persuasive speech qualifies as good rhetoric. The Gorgias is best interpreted as a critique of the conventional practice of rhetoric. In this dialogue, Socrates argues that the chief purpose of conventional rhetoric is not (properly speaking) persuasion, but flattery. His point is that the practice of persuasive speaking typically achieves its effects by satisfying the pleasures and desires of an audience.

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posted by f,sheikh

HAZRAT ALI’s Philosophy of Religions

HAZRAT ALI’s Philosophy of Religions
(Extracts from Introductory Notes to Nahjul Balagha by Sayed Mohamed Askari Jafery)

For Hazrat Ali and the Imams of his descent, religion is a vital and positive force of life. Their philosophy does not relate to war of words without life and earnestness which is the main feature of the Ptolemy’s schools of thought or those of the Western and Eastern philosophers. Their ardent love of knowledge, their devotion in evolution of human mind, their sincere faith in God, and in His Mercy, Love and Kindness, and their looking for above the literalness of common interpretation of the law, show the spirituality and expansiveness of their philosophy of religion. Hazrat Imam Jafer-e-Sadiq defines knowledge as: Enlightenment of heart is its essence, Truth is its principal object, Inspiration is its guide, Reason is its acceptor, God is its Inspirer, and the words of man are its utterers. To them evolution of mind is the essence of life and religion is the essence of the evolution of mind.
How correctly Hazrat Ali taught that a man without mind is not a man, and a mind without religion is worse than the instinct of a beast; more harmful, more dangerous and more carnivorous. Devotion without understanding will not bring Blessing of God, it is useless. He attaches so much value to mind and its correct ways of grasping truth that he says first leader and guide is your mind. At another place, he says that nothing is more useful to man than his intelligence, or there is nothing wealthier than wisdom, or there is no greater bounty of the Lord than the intellect granted to man. One can dispense with everything but one’s mind and intelligence; there is no better guide towards truth than wisdom. One hour of deep and sober meditation is better than a life of prayers without understanding.
Next to intelligence Hazrat Ali attaches importance to sincerity of purpose of life. He believed, if one sincerely and intelligently goes in search of truth or religion and if one wanders sincerely out of the right path even then there is a reward. There is a sermon in Nahjul Balagha in which he says, “Do not kill Kharijites after me because to go in search of truth and to lose the true path is better than to spend the entire span of one’s life in pursuit of vicious pleasure and wickedness.”
The natural and logical sequence of the above two attributes is to take count of oneself, one’s knowledge, thoughts, intentions, desires and deeds. He therefore, advises, “Weigh your own souls before the time of weighing of your actions arrives. Take count with yourself before you are called upon to account for your conduct in this existence.” To obtain favorable results of such weighing and taking count of oneself one must have done good deeds. And so far as actions and reactions are concerned he wants us to understand, that human conduct is not fortuitous, one act is the result of another; life, destiny and character mean connected series of incidents. Events and actions which are related to each other, as cause and effect by an Ordained Law. Apply yourself to good and pure actions, adhere to truth, follow the true path to salvation, before death makes you leave this abode. If you do not warn yourself and do not guide yourself none other can direct you. Abstain from foulness though it may be fair seeming to your sight. Avoid evil, however pleasant, for you know not how far it takes you away from Him.
Next to sincere faith in the unity of God, he lays great stress on piety. He wants us to realize that piety is not a juicy morsel to be swallowed easily not it is a dip in river to clean all dirt and filth from the body. Piety means actions and those actions in beginning may be sour, harsh, and painful to perform. Piety means to free oneself from vicious desires and wicked deeds. This freedom cannot be obtained but by constant efforts and endeavors.
With Hazrat Ali, fanatic asceticism is a sin against the self. History cites many instances where he admonished those who had given up their homes and families, had severed every connection with society, had taken to a mosque, and had been praying, fasting and reciting the Holy Book morning, noon and night. For him it is not piety, but fanatic asceticism which is not allowed in Islam. He says that one who acts with piety gives rests to his soul; one who takes warning, understands the truth and one who understands it attains perfect knowledge.
His teachings do not convey any impression of predestination. On the contrary they portray a soul animated with living faith in God and yet full of trust in human development, founded on individual exertion springing from human volition. According to him, Quaza means obedience to commandments of God and avoidance of sin. Qader means the ability to live a pious and Holy life, and to do that which brings one nearer to God and to shun that which throws one away from Perfection. He taught, “Say not that man is compelled, for that attribution is tyranny to God.” In a sermon in Nahjul Balagha he says, “The theory of compulsion, predestination or predetermination of fate is a satanic insinuation and a doctrine of faith amongst the enemies of God. On the contrary, God has ordained man to obey His Commands and has given him freedom of will and action, he is at full liberty to obey His Commands or disobey. There is no compulsion in accepting the religions preached by His apostles and no compulsion to obey His Commands. Even His Commands (like daily prayers, fasting, zakat etc.,) are not hard, harsh and unbearable and every leniency and case on account of age and health is granted to man.”
Hazrat Ali’s teachings are gospel of work. He wants man to work, and to work honestly, sincerely and diligently. He emphasizes, work, work, and do good work while you still have life, health and opportunities. A life without work, is a life without worth. A mind without sober thoughts and a life without program of honest work is the most fertile soil for seeds of vice and wickedness. Work with nobility of purpose, is one of the form of prayers.
As far as the question of man and God is concerned, Hazrat Ali teaches us to believe in a God Who has created us, who loves us, nourishes us, helps us and is our well-wisher. He should be loved, adored and venerated. He says, “God is not like any object that the human mind can conceive. No attribute can be ascribed to Him which bore the least resemblance to any quality of which human beings have perception from their knowledge of material objects. The perfection of piety consists in knowing God; the perfection of knowledge is the affirmation of His Verity; and the perfection of verity is the acknowledgment of His Unity in all sincerity; and the perfection of sincerity is to deny all attribute to the Deity. He, who refers an attribute to God believes the attribute to be God, and he who so believes an attribute to be God, regards God as two or part of one. He who asks where God is, assimilates Him with some object. God is the Creator, not because He Himself is created. God is Existent not because he was non-existent. He is with every object, not from resemblance or nearness. He is outside everything not from separation or indifference towards His creatures. He works and creates not in the meaning of motions or actions. He sees and hears but not with the help of bodily organs or outside agencies. He was seeing when there was nothing created to see. He has no relation to matter, time and space. God is Omniscient because knowledge is His essence; Loving because love is His Essence; Mighty, because Power is His Essence; Forgiving, because Forgiveness is His Essence; and not because these are attributes apart from His Essence.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: These are some main points which I am presenting as it is there in the book referred on top of this article, without my own remark or addition.


How much does it matter whether God exists? By Nathan Schneider

Two rooms, in two different cities, but pretty much the same scene: one man stands before a few dozen supporters, many of them middle-aged white males, plus a smaller, precocious cohort in early adulthood. As the man speaks, they interrupt him with good, earnest, detailed questions, which he ably answers more or less to their satisfaction. These crowds crave the intricacies of arguments and the upshots of science. The only thing that seems beyond their ken is how their counterparts in the other room could be convinced of something so wrong.

One of those rooms was in New York City, high in an office building overlooking the ruins that then still remained of the World Trade Center; the man was Richard Dawkins, the Oxford zoologist and ‘New Atheist’ polemicist. The man in the other room was his arch-rival, the evangelical Christian philosopher and debater William Lane Craig, speaking in a classroom on the sprawling campus of his megachurch in Marietta, Georgia. If one were to attend both events without understanding English, it would be hard to know the difference.

Whether such a thing as God exists is one of those questions that we use to mark our identities, choose our friends, and divide our families. But there are also moments when the question starts to seem suspect, or only partly useful. Once, backstage before a sold-out debate  at the University of Notre Dame between Craig and Sam Harris, Dawkins’s fellow New Atheist, I heard an elderly Catholic theologian approach Harris and spit out: ‘I agree with you more than I do with that guy!’

During the heyday of the New Atheist movement, a few years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, I was in the wake of a teenage conversion to Catholicism. One might think that my converts’ zeal would pit me squarely against the New Atheist camp. But it didn’t. Really, neither side of the does-God-exist debates seemed to represent me, and the arguments in question had little to do with my embrace of my new-found faith. I had been drawn by the loosey-goosey proposition that love can conquer hate and death, expressed concretely in the lives of monks I had briefly lived among and members of the Catholic Worker Movement who shared their homes with the homeless and abandoned. I actually agreed with most of what the New Atheists wrote about science and free enquiry; what I disagreed most sorely with them about was their hawkish support for military invasions in Muslim-majority countries.

Still, I became fascinated with the question of God as I tried to wrap my head around it for myself. I travelled around the world to meet God debaters, and studied the historical thinkers from whom their arguments derive. I found that I wasn’t alone in doubting the pertinence of the question.

The thinkers who crafted the classic proofs for the existence of God – from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, for instance – were writing to audiences for whom the existence of divine beings was uncontroversial. The purposes of these proofs had more to do with contentions about what we mean by God, and how far into such matters human reason can really take us.


posted by f. sheikh

Did Rationalism Die In Islam With Averroes? Are Theologians Philosophers?

( Interesting article by Peter Adamson on Islamic Philosophers, role of theologians, especially ” Kalam” in philosophy and its place in Western Philosophy f.sheikh)

May be I’m just an optimist, but I think people today mostly acknowledge the importance and originality of philosophy in the Islamic world. Would any scholar now say in print, as Bertrand Russell notoriously did in his History of Western Philosophy (written in 1945), that ‘Arabic philosophy is not important as original thought. Men like Avicenna and Averroes are essentially commentators’? I certainly hope not. But even if we now see more clearly, we still have blindspots. The thinkers taken seriously as ‘philosophers’ are typically the authors Russell dismissed as mere commentators, men such as al-Kindī, al-Fārābī, Avicenna, and Averroes. Though they were far from unoriginal, they were indeed enthusiasts for Aristotle and other Greek authors. Yet these were not the only intellectuals and rationalists of their time, nor did rationalism and philosophical reflection die with Averroes at the end of the 12th century, as is still often believed. Throughout Islamic history, many of the figures of interest and relevance to the historian of philosophy were not Aristotelians, but practitioners of kalām, which is usually translated as ‘theology’.

The word kalām literally means ‘word’, and here abbreviates the Arabic expression ʿilm al-kalām: ‘science of the word’. It is often contrasted to the term falsafa, which as you can probably guess was imported into Arabic as a loan-word from the Greek philosophia. When modern-day scholars draw this contrast, when they assume that kalām was non-philosophical or even anti-philosophical, they are taking their lead from the medieval tradition itself. In particular, from two self-styled ‘philosophers (falāsifa)’, al-Fārābī and Averroes. In their eyes, the ‘theologians (mutakallimūn)’ engaged in mere dialectical argumentation; whereas philosophy offers demonstrative proofs. The theologian does not ground arguments in first principles, but just defends his own favourite interpretation of scripture against rival interpretations. Averroes was scornful of the results, complaining that it can lead to violent schism. For him, only a philosopher can offer a really reliable reading of the Quran, since the philosopher knows what is true on independent grounds – that is, on the grounds of Aristotelian science.

But should we accept this sharp opposition? These Aristotelians talk as if kalām makes insufficient use of reason. But most contemporaries would have seen it as controversial precisely because it was so rationalist. Theologians often departed from the surface meaning of the Quran on rational grounds: Revelation might seem to speak of God as if He had a body, but we can rule this out by giving arguments against His corporeality. The mutakallimūn also engaged in detailed disputes over such central philosophical issues as free will, atomism and the sources of moral responsibility, and debated such technicalities as the inherence of properties in substances, or the status of non-existing objects. If history had gone differently and there had been no hard-line Aristotelians writing in Arabic, I have no doubt that historians of philosophy would consider the output of the mutakallimūn to be the ‘philosophical’ tradition of the Islamic world.

That would have made our approach to Islamic intellectual history more like our treatment of Christian medieval thought. After all, medieval philosophy classes are mostly devoted to figures who considered themselves to be ‘theologians’, such as Anselm, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t like medieval philosophy either, precisely because of its religious context. But my view is that philosophy is where you find it, and that it is narrow-minded to ignore philosophical argumentation put forward by thinkers simply because they have a religious agenda, whether that agenda grows out of Christianity (as with Aquinas), Judaism (as with Maimonides), Hinduism (as with Nyāya epistemology or Vedānta philosophy of mind), or Islam.

The refusal to appreciate the philosophical interest of kalām is especially pernicious when it comes to the period after the pivotal figure of philosophy in the Islamic world, Avicenna (he died in 1037). His impact was enormous and pervasive. So we find ‘theologians’ such as al-Ghazālī (died 1111) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (died 1210) engaging in minute analysis of Avicenna’s arguments, accepting some aspects of the Avicennian system while finding fault with others. Al-Ghazālī is notorious for his critique of Avicenna’s metaphysics in TheIncoherence of the Philosophers, but he also heaped ridicule on anyone who denied the utility of the philosophers’ logic. As for al-Rāzī, his enormous theological compendia are comparable to those written by men such as Aquinas and Scotus in Latin Christendom, filled with scholastic argumentation and even structured in terms of philosophical elements like the Aristotelian categories. The myth that philosophy somehow died out in the Islamic world around the time of Averroes (died 1198) is in part the result of assuming that such texts fall outside the remit of the history of philosophy, despite being chock-full of intricate philosophical argumentation.

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