[KB] Burke, Rhetoric of Neutrality

wessr at onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Fri Apr 17 13:55:01 EDT 2015

Hi Pierre, good to hear your project is progressing. I remember our  
talk in Ghent.

Here are a few Burke texts that come to mind:

(1) "Our Attempt to Avoid Mere Relativism," the final section of  
"Terministic Screens."

(2) RHETORIC OF MOTIVES, p. 201 (juxtapose with Bentham)


Of these, (3) might be most useful for creating, as you put it, an  
"atmosphere of neutrality in specific contexts."

I think Burke would oppose any theorizing of neutrality that  
eliminated motive on the ground that that is a kind of dramatistic  
self-contradiction (such theorizing is itself an act, so must have a  
motive). But there is an alternative: (3) suggests the possibility of  
"a level of motivation which even wholly rival doctrines of motives  
must share in common." A motive shared by all is in a sense neutral to  

Good luck with your project.


Quoting Pierre Smolarski <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de>:

> Dear Greg,
> sorry I didn't express myself good enough: Of course there is no  
> such thing as neutrality. pure neutrality would be unperceivable or  
> at least totally boring. But of course there is the phenomenon, or  
> better: the effect of neutrality. To call a house a house seems to  
> be very neutral. Scienctific maps look as if they where neutral,  
> etc. So do you mean by saying "there cannot be a rhetoric of  
> neutrality" that there cannot be a strategical, rhetoical use of  
> neutrality (as effect)? That there cannot be an attempt to create  
> images or find words that will (in the eye/ear of the audience) have  
> an effect of neutrality? Being a mediator, for example, is only  
> possible if both side trust in your neutrality. Being a successful  
> mediator so means, to create an atmosphere of neutrality. This  
> creation would imply (I guess) some strategies: How to appear as  
> neutral as I can? This understanding of neutrality does not  
> contradict the idea of terminsitic screens. Moreover: Maybe  
> neutrality has its own terministic screen?
> Burke is - by discussing Bentham in his Rhetoric of Motives -  
> talking about neutrality: There he points out: "Where inducement to  
> action is concerned, a genuinely neutral vocabulary would defeat its  
> own ends: for there is no act in it. It would give full instructions  
> for conditioning - but it could not say to what one should  
> condition." Thats a great and right statement so far it reaches. But  
> how far is that? Asking a designer of timetables and plans for  
> train-stations, he said: "We just deliver (neutral) information for  
> the persons, who want to travel by train. We give them what they  
> should know." Nearly the same answer you can get from almost every  
> information-designer. But is information neutral? For Burke, there  
> is no 'should' in neutrality and therefore no direction, no act. In  
> the answer of the designer you see: there is a 'should' even in the  
> claim of neutrality. It is the Information you should know! At least  
> the product (timetable, plan, map, whatever) has to persuade of its  
> own value.
> My kind of thinking is maybe to confus and to of course not  
> elaborated enough, yet. That's exactly the reason for me to contact  
> you. A 'rhetroic of neurality' should be an enquiry about the  
> strategies used to create an atmosphere of neutrality in specific  
> contexts. Even if neutrality does not exist, it can be a powerful  
> motive, or not?
> Best Regards,
> Pierre
> Am 17.04.15 16:53 schrieb Gregory Desilet  <info at gregorydesilet.com>:
>> It strikes me that Burke would be a theorist providing the paradigm  
>> rationale for why there cannot be a ?rhetoric of neutrality.? Burke  
>> shows why every use of language is necessarily partisan. See his  
>> essay ?Terministic Screens.?
>> Greg
>> On Apr 16, 2015, at 5:58 PM, Pierre Smolarski  
>> <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de> wrote:
>> > Dear Burkeans,
>> >
>> > while writing my PhD Thesis on 'Rhetoric of Design', I'm now at  
>> the point discussing rhetorical dimensions in information-desgin  
>> (especially in map-design, timetables at busstops, etc.) Long story  
>> short: This chapter is (or should be) embedded in a 'Rhetoric of  
>> Neutrality'. My question is: Is Burke writing somewhere about this  
>> topic?
>> > The simple baseline goes that:
>> > neutrum = neither of both
>> > Since rhetoric is based on 'one of both' (metaphorically: 'both'  
>> means the possibility of choice, the Agon; 'one' means the  
>> attitude, the partisanship, the aim of persuasion) it is contrary  
>> to the neutral 'neither of both'. Neutrality negates the rhetorical  
>> usefulness and/or meaningfulness of the Agon. Not in the way of  
>> 'neither of both, but a third' (this wouldn't break the logic of  
>> the agon), but in the way 'neither of both as third' (this might be  
>> the kind of neutrality of switzerland) This kind of neutrality is  
>> obviously. It is the disputatious position of having no position.  
>> (The use- and meaningfulness of the rhetorical agon is only negated  
>> on the first level. On the meta-level, concerning the motives of  
>> neutrality, there are still rhetorical strategies at work.)
>> > From there we come to other forms of neutrality: the (sorry or my  
>> english) 'one of one' (going with terms like: the truth, the  
>> causal, the logical necessary, the natural, the antipersuasive  
>> (close to the sense of Kierkegaard) and, maybe: denotation) The  
>> neutrality is here not obvious, everything seems to be as it is: It  
>> is what it is. So is it. (Thats maybe the point, where scientific  
>> maps claim there objectivity and neutrality)
>> > Another form of neutrality might be the 'both of both' (going  
>> with terms like: mediation, diplomatic, etc.)
>> > Mayber everything is confusing: So my question is just: Is there  
>> any rhetorical theory of neutrality? (Kinross is not very helpful)
>> >
>> > Thank you much and greatings from Bern in Switzerland
>> > Pierre Smolarski
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > KB mailing list
>> > KB at kbjournal.org
>> > http://kbjournal.org/mailman/listinfo/kb_kbjournal.org

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