Rhetoric's empathy : deliberation, narrative imagination, and the democratic hope of inquiry
Rhetoricians have long sought to improve our efforts and capacity to reason together, to achieve at the very least mutual understanding in the face of conflict and difference. In Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, for instance, Wayne Booth argues that the socalled rational-irrational split, in part, keeps us from doing this: achieving understanding of one another’s reasons. But despite this call to improve our rhetoric, there persists (especially in writing pedagogy) the sense that we must choose between reason and emotions like empathy. This dissertation explores whether empathic reasoning, an instance of the narrative imagination, helps us better understand, maybe even negotiate, conflicts of apparently incommensurable values. This dissertation argues that, by more fully considering, employing, and teaching empathic reasoning, we might usefully foreground (1) our apparent struggles sometimes to find common ground with others, especially our perceived adversaries; (2) the ways in which we structure our worlds through language, and omit from our world, through both language and force, “the other”; and (3) the subtle yet audacious ways in which we often fail to reason, equitably and charitably, with others. If, as many scholars in rhetoric argue, greater empathic reasoning is required to improve deliberation and public discourse, then what are the limits and possibilities of this form of reasoning? And what are the potential means by which we might model, cultivate, and improve our abilities to engage in, and analyze, this process of reasoning and moral inquiry? Finally, what does rhetorical instruction, practice, and theory offer by way of a means of cultivating these capacities for reasoned deliberation, reciprocation, and informed judgment? Throughout this project I explore some of these limits and possibilities of empathic reasoning; and in every chapter I come to the same basic conclusion. That despite the limits of empathic reasoning there is great need, still, for realizing and cultivating further its possibilities: for improving the ways we reason together, in part by expanding our capacities to imagine more fully -- charitably, responsibly, critically -- the contingencies that inform and the particulars that comprise our life stories, our interconnected narratives.