chapter  3
42 Pages

Rhetorical probability: Form, eikos, tianming, and rendao

In this chapter, I try to do so by comparing and contrasting an important reason Aristotle and Confucius value rhetorical activities. This reason, as pointed out by Kennedy and mentioned in both the Introduction and Chapter One, is that rhetoric is energeia, activity that is valued both for its own sake and for its usefulness. Let us examine more closely energeia, the mental and emotional energy. Commenting on Aristotle’s view of metaphor as “expressions that represent things as in a state of activity” (Rhetoric 1411b27), Kennedy translates Aristotle’s view of metaphor-as-energeia as that which makes “the lifeless living through the metaphor” (3.11.2) and he suggests further that energeia “may be translated [as] ‘actualization’” (Kennedy 249). In terms of rhetorical invention, this means that metaphorical thinking helps to actualize in our minds or through our understanding the meanings of the seemingly random objects, events, or things. Actualization, in other words, is a process that is both dynamic and meaningful, and I focus on it in this chapter precisely because it simultaneously differentiates and connects, transforms and stabilizes things, inquiries, and cultures. For example, rhetoric as a discipline of study has its distinct characteristics such as its dealing mainly with contingent subject matters, inventing probable knowledge and probable truths, but it does not treat these dynamic human efforts as purely random; rather, it treats them as containing a certain kind of stability or constancy within. How does this process take place? Recall Aristotle’s dynamic and communal sense of truth. Aristotle describes what is actualized as the form or truth but also characterizes actualization as comprising different levels through human inquiry, for instance, the lower “level” of human experiences of things and the higher “level” of human understandings of the “essence or form” (Lear 131) or truths of those things. To Aristotle, the “highest level actuality simply is God” (Lear 295), the prime mover, but by focusing on the levels of actuality, truth, or form, Aristotle’s rhetoric as energeia, as actualizing activities, connects the realm of probability with that of stability-and vice versa. This connection, I would like to show in this chapter, is very real to both Aristotle and Confucius and is an important reason they both value rhetorical activities, especially rhetorical invention. In other words, Aristotle and Confucius differ not in their views of whether there is anything beyond this world, nor whether the connection between it and the world exists, nor whether human beings can know and put into words their knowledge of either; rather, they differ in the conceptual metaphors they use to describe realities as the form or the way, a difference that has important consequences.