The Enthymeme(s)

The Enthymeme(s) & the Rhetorical Tradition.

…in Against the sophists, after his brief description of choosing and combining ideai to its kairos, Isocrates adds that the able rhetor must ”embellish the whole speech with fitting enthymemes.1

This statement can be read in The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity. But, what is an enthymeme? Considering Walkers presenting Isocrates as being the one who instituted this form of education, the enthymemes seem rather crucial to a rhetorical speech.This text will be focused around this rhetorical figure – the enthymeme, and, the difference between truth and credibility and is written with both pain and pleasure but most of all – how I was fooled into a trap looking like I had no other choice. It´s always painful to admit that you have been fooled. I was given an impossible choice by my supervisor while writing a thesis on rhetorics/education/wisdom:

A double bind is a situation where a person has a choice (typically between two options), but whichever way they choose, they lose out, often with the same result. Usually in the double bind there is no alternative, as the person is forced to choose and does not have the luxury of not choosing (this would be a third choice that could well be preferable).This situation may occur by chance, but in persuasion it is often carefully engineered by the persuader. Any alternative choices are either removed or hidden so only the double bind options appear valid. (171124)

The choice was a construction in the form of an enthymeme. I could choose the textual identity of ”I regret my sexuality” and purchase myself a position as a Phd-student, or, choose to write something that would not mean that I gave away an important part of my self (-es), I did the latter and was harrased out of the institution. This text you have in front of your eyes now…I stumble along, trying to write that ”third way”. Write myself (-es) out of this situation where I´m stuck, traumatized. I know I need to make this a less acute memory by making it a his-story. I have met people in Rhetorics that research the consequences of this ”hidden secret”, the enthymemes. But back to this ”thing” that happened to me ten years ago. So, I had this mentor once who some years after she tried to guide me in this very homophobic way via a very specific enthymeme, she later explained in a text why the enthymeme she had guided me towards rhetorical figure is so useful when you want to convince an audience:

From this point of view the topoi enthymematôn becomes a suggestion to discursive procedures thought to have a special potential to create coherence between the thesis of the speaker and the listeners structures of meaning.2

There are different enthymemes and I will exemplify a few, but I will analyse this particular enthymeme, and it´s special potential to create coherence between the thesis of the speaker (rhetorics is the solution to our educational problems), and the listeners structures of meaning as thoroughly (and meandering) as needed. This possibility to create coherence might sound trivial in the first place, to a rhetor though, it´s crucial, as – listening (or reading publics) seldom keep on listening (or reading), to someone who sound (or seem) incoherent. When a public listen they listen for logos – coherence. It takes a special situation, a special speaker, a special place, to put up with non-logos (That is, if you´re not a psychiatrist listening and interpreting somebody sitting in front of you, or lying down on a coach). The only way around this is using pathos – strong feelings.

The most common goal speakers have in front of an audience is to talk (or write) themselves into a position where they are able to suggest a solution to some kind of problem. You want to gather people around a problem and make them convinced that your suggestion might be a good solution, AND, trigger them to some kind of action in line with the solution you are proposing. To be able to create some coherence with the listeners structures of meaning (worldview), then seems like an (almost) unavoidable strategy.  

So to get you into this thing with enthymemes, a first glance. This example is taken out of Kieran Egans The educated mind, how cognitive rules shape our understanding(1998). The thesis I wrote was meant to show how Egan uses doxa (opinion) to sell the idea of saving education with classical rhetorics. Egan likes to present himself as an educationalist (I do not disagree). Here is the first half of my first (unconscious) encounter with the rhetorical figure enthymeme and it looks like this:

I have kept an old letter, published in Ann Landers column, from someone who signed sadly as – TOO SOON OLD, TO LATE SMART. The letter expresses frustration with schools in which our children ”are subjected to twelve years  of `education´ without knowing how to conduct themselves in real life situations” and suggests that schools introduce a course on the consequenses on shoplifting, that several days a week be devoted to the subject of the hazards on cigarette smoking, that there be instruction on the dangers of alcoholism, that sex education be a ”must” in every school, and that there be courses on ”life” in every school, with how-to instructions on settling arguments, expressing anger and hostility, handling competitive feelings involving brothers and sisters,  coping with alcoholic parents, and dealing with ”funny uncles” and passes made by homosexual peers. The writer acknowledges the importance of algebra and geometry in the curriculum but argues that the importance on how to handle ones life should take precedence. TOO SOON OLD – TOO LATE SMART expresses very clearly how the curriculum would be changed if the curriculum if socializing would be made more prominent in the schools mandate.3

The only comment I will give here is that I had been more than impressed and surprised by Egans book from page one. I could recognize a pedagogical practise where students had been given the strongest tools there is to judge themselves and others. Egan uses the perspectives of ethos/logos/pathos, in a way you rarely find in a contemporary book on education. The description of pedagogical development (maturation), and how it is coupled to language development (individual and societal) in Egans book is an hithertoo unseen masterpiece, with theory and practical examples intermingled, and I wanted very much to give this away. But, when I read this rather negative opinion on homosexuality, I had a strong reaction. My own sexual identity became threatened. These sentences, the first half of this enthymeme, is all I will give you for now. We will get back to the full construction of it later.

The enthymeme – a cognitive tool. Egans book starts as rhetorical tradition proscribes, by promising to present a solution to a problem:

Those of us who where around during the economic crisis of the late sixteenth century in Europe find som features of the current economical crisis oddly familiar. There is a major social puzzle, which touches and irritates nearly everyone, and lashings of blame fly in all directions. Today we are puzzled by the school´s difficulty in providing even the most rudimentary education to so many students, despite a decade or more of effort by expensive proffesionals. The costs of our educational crisis, in terms of social alienation, psychological rootlessness, and ignorance of the world and the possibilities of human experience within it, are incalculable and heartbreaking. *

Quiet strong beginning. And, I wanted to use Egans text to make people want to walk in his direction, but had to show some kind of critical thinking, have a method, a filter or something to make it into what we think of as science. To just write ”I like this book so much, it´s incredible!”, would not have done the trick when it comes to take the first shaky steps on a what I back then dreamed of as a possible academical ladder. I had to show some kind of smartness and ability when it comes to critical thinking. It took a year (or more), and a course named ”the rhetoric of negotiation) to find an analytical tool – doxa (”opinion”), and use it as a filter:

That doxa exists as a ground for negotiations contributes to its coherence. But this does not include just favorable consequences. Because doxa isn´t power neutral. As all transactions it grows out of a force measurement between diffferent interests and needs. In this contest a social, political or cultural elite might dominate. With a word from the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci (died as a political prisoner 1937) Doxa then becomes a product of hegemony (power empire). Then the forms become important to preserve and spread doxa/…/Doxa decides which topos that are important in a certain argument in a certain time. In that way doxaaffects how we argue in different questions, accordingly which of all reasons thinkable we use and which we neither use or count on meeting” (My translation from swedish). Hellspong Lennart, 2007, Förhandlingens retorik*, Lunds Studentlitteratur, p 158. (*The Rhetoric of negotiation).

My idea was to demonstrate how Egan use doxa in a balanced way, how he seek support in opinions for and against, to keep himself in a position where he both become trustworthy and are able to keep his message highly interesting with the help of the tension represented by and between different opinions, to negotiate with each particular readers own opinion, towards a position where rhetorics is presented the solution to several problems in contemporary education. I wrote a draft, it was read by a professor and got a very positive response (2005), including an offered a position as a Phd-student (a payed position in Sweden), as a result (I have kept the email). I was tutored (written instructions) into writing a thesis where I, in the end of the thesis would have stated in the form of an enthymeme that after studying rhetorics I had started to regret my (homo-) sexual identity.

Today, more than ten years later, I have no problems reading these sentences as an enthymeme belonging to the same family my supervisor categorized as ”able-to-create-coherence”, earlier. Back then, I did not know of the enthymemic structure, had no definition, neither a name on this rhetorical figure, as it wasn´t a part of the curriculum […]. I had been given no chance whatsoever to understand what I was tutored into. No ”cognitive tool” is offered in the classical rhetorical curriculum. The same circumstances, no seminars, nothing written about enthymemes, silenced when I tried to mention them on seminars on the master course in Rhetorics at Uppsala University. I went there to write a thesis based on this treatment. Even the headmaster took an active part in this ”operation silencing Anders” […] that over time have become quite large scale when it comes to the number of people involved. People representing rhetorical tradition in the Swedish academy (Uppsala University/Södertörns Högskola) have, until this day done everything [no limits], to stop me from telling this his-story. 

My master thesis describing rhetorical tradition filtered through these events is backed by good, contemporary rhetorical theory; where this ”hide-the-enthymeme-curriculum is described as the backbone of classical rhetoric (or Rhetorical Tradition). Making classical rhetorics non-democratic, authoritarian and built on institutional, misogynistic bullying. And, the most important part. This rhetorical research field once started with trying to find an answer to a rather big question; how do we avoid something like a second Auschwitz (?), the extermination of jews, gipsys and homosexuals in the second world war. Part of this research makes the final solution stand out as 100 % logic and it has to do with language/identity and epistemic violence (We´ll have a look into this research later).

Besides this link to Auschwitz: enthymemes have been and are crucial in the political campaigns of Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro (and their likes, here in Sweden we have ”Sverigedemokraterna”, born directly out of Nazi seeds). In our contemporary world these before mentioned political leaders (demagogues),  amongst other things have shown themselves to be absolutely catastrophic when it comes to everything that looks like an proactive politics on climate change – the biggest threat to humanity ever experienced (my opinion). To throw some light on these political/rhetorical processes is the force that keeps me going, to see what they choose sacrifice, I see it as our contemporary Auschwitz (yes, it´s ok to think of me as rather extreme).

Of course I became ”irritated” on not being approved of when I refused to regret my sexual identity, devastated. Today, I regard this my story as something much bigger than myself. Problem: there are persons acting as watch dogs in the Swedish academy guarding our national intellectual borders , preventing this field of research from passing into our universities. They have shown themselves prepared to break Swedish law several times to stay in the position they have conquered.

Evil? My supervisor, no… I think Maria – to begin with was more like fascinated by the way she could guide and control my psychological development (we had a very alive, open communication, both irl and by email. The latter have been commented as ”rather unusual” by lawyers **), towards disciplining myself to ameliorate the ethos I could create in front of listening or reading publics. 

When I finally (2008?) decided to not let my-self (-es) be bought by rhetorical tradition, when I had decided to not accept to get payed to do research/teach, to not sacrifice my self (es) – Maria just became ”a little bit afraid”. Very human, not evil. She wanted what she thought was best for me (and rhetorical tradition). To begin with, she (and the rest of the institution), tried quite hard to make me change my mind (I will show emails that demonstrate how this was done). Today, they all seem afraid, and frightened people do very strange things…(I know (!), I have been totally frightened myself during this process from time to time, traumatized). The first time during the presentation of that I-don´t-regret-my-sexuality-version of this thesis in front of a staged, very hostile audience arranged by the professor who got me into this shit (!) from the start. He too was angry (disappointed) and afraid. Talking about feelings. Lets get back to that other half of this particular enthymeme in Egans book.

Enthymemic relief. If I had felt threatened by the first half of this enthymeme when I read Egans book. The: ”TOO SOON OLD – TOO LATE SMART-part was hanging as a dark cloud over my reading at the same time as I loved the rest of it. The amount of relief I felt when I came to the second half of this enthymeme, some two hundred pages later was great. The below became descisive to my valuation of the text:

…because the playfullness is tactically and rhetorically useful in breaking up metanarratives that work for some at the cost of others.4

I associated directly to the Christian metanarrative. Religion have been central to negative connotations associated with feelings of homosexuality and religion has to be a part of rhetorics, otherwise it become misleading, it´s the science of beliefs. With this second part of the enthymeme (though I couldn´t read it as an enthymeme back them), and the threat I had felt – did relax; with this relaxation I could approve of Egans recipe to save our educational systems without personal reservations. The tension I had felt works as part of an explanation to Isocrates recommendation to ”embellish the whole speech with fitting enthymemes”. A history with suspension (tension) have much greater possibility to be read or listened to than something boring (scientific literature have a tendency of being ”not-exciting”), and Egan did need to reach out to a bigger audience outside academia to accomplish a change (and he has, his book is now used in teacher education in Sweden and rhetorics is very `a la mode´). The importance Egan himself gives to this particular enthymeme can be established by the fact that he some pages later try to reinforce this relaxation:

Postmodern irony is particularly hospitable to those who wish to disrupt some metanarrative by which they have been victimized. Some feminists, for example, recognize that ”irony is a particularly appropriate strategy for feminism.”5 

And yet another time just a little bit later:

One can construct meanings, and so ”solidarity”, with others for purposes of living well and not causing pain. This is hardly a pointless use of intelligence, and it becomes less shocking as an aim for intellectual activity if we only recognize that this is the best we can hope for. Pointless, purposeless activity is, after all, how play used to be defined until its fundamental psychological and social importance became clear, and postmodernists happily adopt this sense of playfullness.6

Egan as rhetor knew exactly what he was doing composing this text. To be able to create tension in a story and make it more exciting means power, and Egan has worked on this whole story in a meticulous way. He needed to reach out, and I wanted that too with the thesis I was writing. I did find this structure more than just interesting and decided to show it in my thesis, I felt I had made a big, important discovery. But, as this structure is kept as a secret to make it possible to discipline students I had no name for it. To me, back then, this still represented ”two sides of doxa” though, I did not yet have a name for this structure that had introduced this tension to my reading. What I did know was that my teachers did refer with warmth to the 15th century philosopher/rhetor Giambattista Vico . So I started reading all I could find about Vico. Vico´s polemic texts was a result of a long struggle against the fact that Descartes at that time new scientific method, slowly was taking over pedagogics, changing curriculums in schools and universities all over Europe. He wrote a speech against it: ”On the study methods of our time”. In it you find Vicos number one argument against scientific method, that students would become more or less immoral with a curriculum based on scientific method:

Such an approach [Cartesian] is distinctly harmful, since training in common sense is essential to the education of adolescents, so that faculty should be developed as early as possible; else they break into odd or arrogant behavior when adulthood is reached. It is a positive fact that, just as knowledge arises in truth and error, so common sense arises from perceptions of similitude. Probabilities stands, so to speak, midway between truth and falsity.7

I am split when it comes to Vico, to name him the father of Creationism might be to harsh, but I will do this here as this ideology also can be associated with the contemporary rise of already mentioned demagogues in our times, and this is the real problem I´m adressing here (de-democratisation). At the same time, I am not the least split when it comes to giving Vico the honor of being the one who made me conscious of my own first enthymeme, the one we just have begun to study. That Egan names Vico´s book* as one of his big inspirations was/is interesting. That he in the same sentence mentions Allan Bloom (The closing of the American mind), might help us to make an early evaluation of the ideology purported in Egans book. Now, lets check out the description that made me re-cognize my first enthymeme instead:

So argument in the Scienza Nuova is not ”the disposition of a proof” but is ”that third term that one finds in order to unify the two arguments of a proposed problem…[and] more than this…is the art by which truth is apprehended, because it is the art of seeing under all the topical heads whatever there is in the matter at issue, which will enable us to distuingish well and have an adequate concept of it (R 178/162). These ”topical heads” become in the new science Vico´s axioms, which like the alphabete in a book, allow us to discern patterns which contribute to the comprehension of the whole.8

I directly associated to my reactions to the both halves of Egans TOO SOON OLD – TOO LATE SMART – break up metanarratives-enthymeme (threat – relaxation). Though it says nothing of enthymemes here this is stated two pages later in Vicos axioms, the geometry of the human world. But, before this Goetch describes the aim for this particular form of argumentation:

In this way the axioms become pisteis, means of persuasion, by which we come to understand the realities of our situation. The audience to be brought to a krisis is the reader of whom Vico speaks in the section on method.9

Some sentences later comes the part that identifies this description as being one of enthymemes:

Now the full force of this passage should be clear, Reader, author and the full ”speech situation”, or status, are being adressed in the Scienza Nuova in a complete rhetorical sense. Vico is giving us in his axiomatic method a new kind of rhetorical demonstration that employs the degnità as enthymeme for one of  ”the artistic ways of proceeding concerning the means of persuasion (Rh 1355a4). The body of persuasion is the text as a whole through which the degnità circulate, impelled by the ingenious of the readers, who meditate these cose tho themselves and reache toward the invention of an eloquent whole.10

So, I was very naive, or rather, I new nothing about enthymemes when I did comtemplate on how to write my thesis. And, knowing nothing about this structure I was defenseless and easy to guide towards this krisis. I will describe why closer, lets have a look at a text that works well to describe this state of mind – krisis. I used this quote in my thesis, ( ten years later I found the same quote in my supervisors doctoral thesis). The man speaking is Knud Illeris, a professor of pedagogics and the quote is taken from his Lärande (Learning):

Accomodation is a concept I borrow from Piagets learning theory: that circulates around the understanding of learning as a process of equilibrium, the individual the strives towards equilibrium the whole time in the interplay with the surroundings through constant adaption. Which means through a process where the individual adapts to his surroundings at the same time as the individual strives to adapt the surroundings to his own needs. This adaption is a constant interplay between the assimilative and accomodative processes, which tend to balance each other the whole time. Assimilation is about incorporating something in already existing structures. On the social plane there is this discussion if immigrants ought to be assimilated in the new society or not/…/ In a learning situation assimilation is about incorporating new influences in already existing structures of knowledge, ways of understanding, patterns of movement and action potentials. When someone accomodate the individual changes itself to be able to handle the environment – as when the eye accomodate the interpupillary to the light./…/Accomodation is generally seen as a much more demanding process compared to assimilation. It´s much easier to add something to an already existing schema than to undertake the complicated degradation, restructuring, and reconstruction as the accomodative learning implies. Above all it seems strenous to degrade or abandon an already acquired understanding or insight. We don´t abandon positions we have reached, maybe with painstaking effort, or at least got used to. To abandon the things we are used to demands subjectively persuasive reasons.11

I like all of these sentences, but lets use the three last ones, to get closer to where I was situated when I had to choose between a PHd-position and what turned out to be the machinery of expulsion: ”the complicated degradation, restructuring and reconstruction as the accomodative learning implies”. This, my supervisors ”I regret-my-sexuality-in-the-end-of-thesis-on-rhetorics-and-wisdom”-enthymeme wasn´t born totally out of the blue. The autumn 1999 I came back to Stockholm from Lisbon, Portugal, after a six months period of an examination/lab/thesis period in molecular biology.  I had been suggested a half-year visit in Lisbon during a course in immunology. Two months after I got home I tested positive for hiv. Long story short, after a year of sabbatical I changed direction and Rhetorics was the one course open that looked interesting. I was hooked on rhetorics from day one. Due to my hiv I had experienced a drinking problem, not drinking everyday, quite seldom actually but when I did I couldn´t stop and was afraid of ”hurting” somebody with my viruses. I entered AA. In the beginnging of this process (7 years) I fell in love with a person that from his perspective might have been attracted by me being ”happy and sober”. It took a while for him to figure out what he wanted with me and when he finally came to the conclusion that my whole situation was to scary I was hooked (complicated, I totally understood him and came to love him even more – talking about logics). These experiences and a fantastic supervisor in rhetorics led me to write my first thesis on trust, (learning, language and the process in AA). But, my viruses, AA and that (not-) love story is not the focus here, the thing is that my identity had become (”rather”) unstable by all these circumstances. I have later learned that each of these three ”things” separatly might be the cause of PTSD. Lets just say, I was rather good material for an accomodative process. And, I almost accepted this offer. The only thing I blame today is Rhetorical Tradition. If rhetorics would have had a normal curriculum you would never not-give-away the most central term of this knowledge-system. Try to imagine a biology that would leave out genetics, this would be considered fraud. And, it is exactly like this classical rhetorical didactics is organized (I´ll show material from our master course in rhetorics later, there is NO difference in this comparison!).

Now, lets get on to my supervisors method, how they worked my psyche. So, to begin with, the teachers (my supervisors) kept quiet about enthymemes (they must have seen that I was investigating this structure but didn´t say a word […] about there being a name for it. Topos, on the contrary was a frequent used concept. Very hard [impossible?], though to understand, as we students never where presented to them as a part of the enthymemes. It´s like if I would have been presented to the genetic code but never told that this code produces proteins when I studied molecular biology. This is not logic at all in a learning process and might sound almost insane but this is still the reality in the classical rhetorical curriculum. The reason is the disciplining potential arising from keeping this little treasure amongst the ”guardians” of rhetorical tradition. It really works like a kind of secret society. So, how did my supervisors work me? I´ll give her (my supervisor) the chance to describe it herself. These words is taken from her doctoral thesis she was writing while supervising me, Topos as meaning makers, the topical perspective on thinking and learning through argumentation 2012:

Sceletons of reasoning you can fill in. An interesting example of this is the Tetralogies of Antiphone (Diels & Krantz, 2001, 87), meant to work as pedagogical examples in education.They are constructed as sceletons the students can fill in by adding their own proofs and examples.12

A ”sceleton” might sound like an odd concept when you are discussing philosophy, and I don´t know if it helps to think of a text as a ”body”. The Sceleton I got was a list of topos (headlines) to fill in. I already had my thesis written, they just sharpened it by changing the disposition making the doubts around my sexual orientation/maturation I already had presented into the topos that decided the whole order of argumentation. I was given a structure leading from a, to b, to c towards this krisis. The sentence underneath describes what topos are meant to accomplish when used in argumentation:

A topos (T) is a binary relation which, alone or in combination with other relations and predicates, is used to construct “if—then” statements. 13

Example: If homosexuals that study rhetorics do state that they after those studies regret their sexuality, they have become wiser. Anders (me) write that I do regret my homosexuality, therefore, to study rhetorics will make students wiser. If you think this is a little bit to much of a in-your-face-description, imagine my reaction when I began to understand the situation, the choice between a Phd-position/salary/interesting work and ”something unknown” my supervisors had created…

Lets have a look at the actual sceleton I got from my supervisor. It´s a list of headlines, she called them topos, which back then meant absolutely nothing to me as I have already stated, but, it did sound quiet fancy and rhetorically sophisticated. I mean, she had talked and written quite a lot about topos and topical thinking, saying things like ”lets take on our topical helmets”… But, without being able to associate topos to enthymemes – this, up till then had meant almost nothing to me. At the time I might even have felt a bit honored, my supervisor using a concept I didn´t really understand, it made me feel important. Here underneath is the list of headlines supposed to bring the reader (and me!) from the known into the unknown towards a krisis:

Knowledge (and learning) is perspectivistic (doxic)

Knowledge (and learning) is depending on language.

We can only understand with the help of things we already understand.

We can only convince from that which is common (doxa and common sense)

We are reared towards Doxa

Doxa gives power

Doxa restricts us

We need to see doxa, and embrace it to ashieve change

Doxa is the ground both for agreement and disagreement (doxa gives support both for and against)

Doxa is abstract and floating

Doxa and topos

Doxa and metareflection

Doxa and the relation to the oral and the written

Doxa and the relation to science

Doxa need responsability

Doxa need trust

Doxa and fear 14

So, this body of text was supposed to take my target reader, preferably a teacher eager to find solutions to problems associated with knowledge accumulation and discipline, from known territory into the unknown – rhetorical didactics. To my help I had Egans text that is 100 % adjusted to Vico´s most important rhetorical insight:

It is [a] property of the human mind that whenever men can form no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.14

Like I had judged his text from what was familiar and at hand. Threatened yes, but relaxed after the second part of the enthymeme. Not knowing about enthymemes and howw they really work I had no possibility what so ever to judge it, enthymemes was unfamiliar to me. The thing to be ”familiar and at hand” my supervisors tutored me to offer my supposed reader was my conversion to a ”normal” sexuality (there just is no other way to understand this, no alternatives). I had shown my supervisors Egans balancing between two different doxas in an essay. My teachers/supervisors just changed the disposition ”a little bit” to create this enthymeme to make the probability for my reader to come to the ”right” conclusions (I will show how this works exactly on the unconsious level later).

The headlines in the form of topos (if/then-statements), are constructed to lead the reader from the known, (knowledge and teaching), towards the unknown rhetorical didactics, and help them to come to right conclusion concerning the latter with an enthymeme making my story coherent in the end. My supervisor finished her doctoral thesis on this teaching technique some years later. She did not (of course) include anything negative like conversion therapy, or how she treated me, that would have been bad rhetorics. She do describe the thesis she tutored me towards though:

If we want to argue in a persuasive way there is two working modes to use and preferably combine according to Aristoteles. One is the paradigm and the other the enthymeme (1356b). A paradigm is when we either use something that has happened, an example or a fact, or some type of pattern as a parable or a fable to state that something ought to be done in a certain way (1393a). It´s the examples that produce persuasion, so, if we are out of enthymemic topos, we might do with examples, but the best is if we can work with enthymemes, and then let the examples illustrate.16 (my highlightning)

My ”conversion” was meant to be the example. The best Maria has ever written on enthymemes though, the article (the second quote is taken from this paper) in this text, never took part in her doctoral thesis, it´s hidden away. And, to my knowledge it has never taken part in any of her texts later. And, they definetly didn´t take any part of the litterature presented to me at the master course of rhetorics at Uppsala University, on the contrary. I´ll show how enthymemes are downplayed and hidden away later. This might seem like a rather odd way of doing science to us, and indeed it is. The way we see it normally is as a search for objective truth. This is how Egan presents this new curriculum and the paradigm shift involved in his: The Educated mind, how cognitive tools shape our understanding:

Truth is reconceived as a commendatory reference to beliefs that are widely and easily shared, not as corresponding with reality. 17

What is presented above is a total scientific paradigm shift. We are able to see this paradigm shift not just in science, it has been described many times before and it is political reality nowadays, ”fake news” and the shifts in power associated whit them is just a part of it. And, this shift seem to be necessary. I observe some quiet nasty (my opinion) features in Kieran Egans message, but, without his book I couldn´t write anything at all, I owe him my intellectual development really. This is what he writes about our search for truth, and the contemporary status of ”truth” today:

The story so far has concerned the development of language. Early attempts to express the nature of the world disclosed by human senses were oral, using vocabularies of at most a thousand words. Literacy entailed a further development of language and increased vocabulary. The english grapholect now has available more than a million and a half (Ong 1977). Literacy promised more precision, complexity, security and rationality in capturing experience and the world in words. In communities supportive of theoretical thinking, further linguistic developments promised a more systematic, comprehensive and true account of reality. But the decay of belief that theoretic systems, expressed in however refined a language is supposed to represent rality accurately has created problems about how language is supposed to represent reality at all. And if language doesn´t represent reality, what does it do? And if properly representing reality in language was what was meant by truth, then what is truth? Well, these are questions that have been asked before. In the twentieth century, Western intellectual history has grappled with the recognition that language could not do what had previously been expected of it. Quiet suddenly, and very widely in the late nineteenth century our most intricate tool for grasping reality and truth began to seem inadequate for the job, and, worse, it began to seem like a self-generating labyrinthine prison that offered no way out to reality. Egan Kieran, 1998, p 138.

So, where are we (where am I, to be correct)? We have Egan selling the idea of rhetorics as a solution to save our educational systems. Part of this solution is the promise, thought of classical rhetorics as a non-systematic theory, no crystallized knowledge, where rhetoric is supposed to be open to every challenge humanity might meet. Well, this keeping the enthymemes enigmatic is a system, sorry. And, it´s based on exclusion. And, this is the connection to Auschwitz…

The American rhetors/professors/writers/teachers, Victor J Vitanza, Cynthia Haynes and Diane Davies and all the contributors to Writing histories of Rhetoric gave me a chance to finally understand ”what happened?” They do connect rhetorics to powershifts in authoritarian directions. Underneath is a description of rhetorics you never meet in the classical rhetorical didactics of today:

The synonymy of rhetoric and magic… /…/ The possibility that eros is the force that connects magic and rhetoric. Consider Coulianos definition of magic as a definition of rhetoric as well: Magic as a means of control over the individual and the masses based on a deep knowledge of personal and collective erotic impulses. This is the definition of rhetoric that is implicit, for instance, in Plato´s Phaedrus, when Socrates is unable to dissociate his appeal to Phaedrus´s soul and mind from sex appeal. What happens when we think of tropes as spells, or when we rename processes such as ”revision” as, for instance, ”exorcism?” (my highlightning). Covino a William, 2013 [1994], (red Vitanza), ”Alchemizing the History of Rhetoric,” Writing histories of Rhetorics, p 54.

But, enthymemes are not evil in themselves, a girl I admire beyond words also use them to gather support to accomplish action, I don´t know if she is aware of it though?

Outside the Swedish Parliament.
Sailing a message: ”unite behind the science” accross the Atlantic ocean (actio).

Enthymemes are abundant everwhere, not the least in the way we think (today), oral cultures do not think in this way (I promise to write more about this later, link). But back to the problem I´m adressing, authoritarian political shifts in power, keep this thing with eros in mind while I present an example of Putin using an enthymeme just before the winter olympics 2014. This is taken from the online magazine MIC.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, when asked about attitudes toward gays in light of the upcoming Olympics said: ”One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please.”

He then went on to clarify Russia´s anti-gay laws. ”We have no ban on the non-traditional forms of sexual intercourse among people. We have the ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia. I want to stress this: propaganda among minors. These are two absolutely different things: a ban on certain relations or the propaganda of such relations.”

And this is the great problems with enthymemes. I will try to explain by using another quote from a researcher of enthymemes:

The missing premise must be a common notion widely shared by the audience, or else the enthymeme will not make sense. Lanigan, critical of Bitzer, insists that the missing assumptions are suggested to, not asked of, the audience. Aune E. David, 2003, The use and Abuse of the Entymeme in New Testament Scholarship, Cambridge, University Press, p 304.

Again, where are we? We have researchers in rethorics that suggest that eros connects rhetorics and magic, ”Magic as a means of control over the individual and the masses based on a deep knowledge of personal and collective erotic impulses.”. And we have Mr Putin suggesting that gays and pedophiles are the like, defending his actions, making these false accusations even worse. And the public in this is case is, the russian people (a means of control over the individual and the masses). Now, it´s time to finish this first part on enthymemes. I will finish it off with an enthymeme created by myself. I just (23-09-19) discovered that Kieran Egans book, The Educated mind, how cognitive tools shape our understanding, (project) was financed by the Exxon Foundation. It´s written in the first pages.

To be continued, this is a work-in-progress 😉

1 Walker Jeffrey, 2011, The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity, The University of South Carolina Press, p 151

2 Wolrath-Söderberg, Maria, 2010, Enthymeme, slutledningsformer eller meningsskapande processer? (Enthymemes, forms of conclusion or meaning making processes?) Retorikförlaget.

3 Egan Kieran, 1997, The Educated mind, how cognitive tools shape our understanding. The University of Chicago Press. p 12. E-book:

* Egan, 1997, p 1

** Beslut Högskoleverket anmälan mot Södertörns Högskola.

4 Egan, 1997, p 152.

5 Egan, 1997, p 154.

6  Egan, 1997, p 154.

7  Vico Giambattista, 1965, On the study methods of our time (De nostri temporis studiorum ratione), Elio Gianturco, Indianapolis, The library of liberal arts. P 13

*** Egan, 1997, p 232.

8 Goetch, James Robert Jr, 1995, Vicos axioms, the geometry of the human world. New Haven:Yale University Press, p 126

9  Goetch, 1995, 127.

10 Goetch, 1995, p 128

11  Illeris Knud, 2007, Lärande (Learning), Lund, Studentlitteratur, p 55 (Authors translation from Swedish).

12 Wolrath – Söderberg, 2012, Topos som meningsskapare, retorikens topiska perspektiv på tänkande och lärande genom argumentation, Retorikförlaget, p 55 (”Topos as creator of meaning, the topical perspective on thinking and learning through argumentation”).

13 Dyck Ed, 2002, Topos and entymem, Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 105-117, Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, p 109.

14  Appendices: Anders Morbergs D-uppsats 020510, letter with instructions from my supervisor.

15 Goetch, James Robert Jr, 1995, Vicos axioms, the geometry of the human world. New Haven:Yale University Press. p 20.

16 Wolrath-Söderberg, Maria, 2017, Aristoteles retoriska toposlära, en verktygslåda för fronesis, p 74.

17 Egan, 1997, 1

18 Covino A William, 2013 [1994], (red Vitanza), ”Alchemizing the History of Rhetoric,” Writing histories of Rhetorics, p 54.

Topos: The Alphabet

Lets go back to the enthymemic structure and Egans message, while keeping Isocrates ”embellish the whole speech with fitting enthymemes” in mind. I´m picking another enthymeme from Egans book, this one, less devious, in fact, pedagogically enlightning in the most impressive way. Imagine that you are creating a message and you want to explain the possibilities offered by rhetorics as a bridge between oral and written culture , and have Vico´s thoughts of ”topical heads” in mind:

So argument in the Scienza Nuova is not ”the disposition of a proof” but is ”that third term that one finds in order to unify the two arguments of a proposed problem…[and] more than this…is the art by which truth is apprehended, because it is the art of seeing under all the topical heads whatever there is in the matter at issue, which will enable us to distuingish well  and have an adequate concept of it (R 178/162). These ”topical heads” become in the new science Vico´s axioms, which like the alphabete in a book, allow us to discern patterns which contribute to the comprehension of the whole. (Goetch, James Robert Jr, 1995, Vicos axioms, the geometry of the human world. New Haven:Yale University Press, p 126)

Now, you are trying to write a book that is presenting something that is uncommon to the reader, and you want to convince the reader that rhetorics could be the solution to several important issues concerning education. You have when you come to this particular enthymeme in your book already pushed hard on the circumstance that most children, when they arrive to school exist in an oral culture (of course). You want to write something powerful where the reader can fill in a lot of things you already have given them earlier in your story on pedagogical development. This is Kieran Egan giving an example of a story on written language possible to present in the classroom:


I can´t think of any better way to present the possibilities offered using rhetorics as a bridge between hearing and seeing language. The argument above is a means to make the reader draw this conclusions of the possibilities on rhetoric on her own.

But, Kieran Egans mission is to spread the gospel in a book, this is due to the reach of written language. Me myself I would have liked to have read this much earlier in life. It would have made my writing easier. Conclusion: enthymemes could revolutionize education (it´s already happening, but how?), it´s not reserved for propaganda (even if you see it everyday in commercials).

To be continued…


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