14 Pages

Taking the Measure o f Relativism and The Civic Virtue o f Rhetoric

WithGabriel R. Ricci

Philosophical relativism partly originates in the public and communal standards of discourse that framed the ancient discipline of rhetoric. While other matters seemed to occupy Socrates's infamous interlocutors, as Sophists they were intent on advancing oratorical skills in the public arena. In doing so they cultivated the requisite atmosphere for civil society. The family dispute between rhetoric and philosophy, spawned by Plato, however, has obscured rhetoric's commitment to the deliberation and choice intrinsic to the life of a community. Any real effort to disclose the virtue of relativism must retrieve Protagoras's dictum. Since his doctrine hangs on his detractors' comments, retrieval will resurrect a later incarnation of this principle in the Vichian proposal for a human science. By recovering this tenet, the chapter corrects the view that relativism is simply a world view opposed to objectivism, and that Protagoras opposed philosophical standards and consequently denied the validity of what Karl-Otto Apel would term evidentiary consciousness.