Response To Bitzer's Rhetorical Situation Essay

2378 words - 10 pages

In The Rhetorical Situation, Lloyd F. Bitzer argues that what makes a situation rhetorical is similar to that which constitutes a moral action as he writes that, “an act is moral because it is an act performed in a situation of a certain kind; similarly, a work is rhetorical because it is a response to a situation of a certain kind”.(3) By defining the rhetorical situation in this way, Bitzer further contends that rhetoric is a means to altering reality. (4) It is through the use of discourse that one is capable of changing reality through thought and action. (4) Bitzer then elaborates upon the nature of a rhetorical situation by explaining that rhetorical discourse enters a situation when: providing a response to its state of affairs; rhetorical discourse is given significant presence by the situation; the situation exists as a necessary condition for rhetorical discourse to have effect; a rhetorical situation or event may mature or decay over time; the rhetorical situation invites the use of discourse to alter its reality; the rhetorical response given to the situation is appropriate; and the situation controls the response of the discourse. While Bitzer notes that these are parameters for a situation to qualify as being rhetorical, he further discusses three constituents that are present in any rhetorical situation prior to the presence and manipulation of discourse. (6) Exigence, audience, and constraints are seen to be necessary elements in a rhetorical situation for Bitzer. Exegince, “is an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be undone, a thing which is other than it should be”. (6) An audience whose members may function as mediators of change is required, as rhetoric always seeks to alter reality, thus the audience cannot only be constituted by listeners or hearers. Constraints on the other hand, prescribe the boundaries for an appropriate response to the situation at hand. Although Bitzer continues in the third section of his essay, by outlining the general characteristics or features of a rhetorical situation, it is his discussion of sophistical rhetoric that is most interesting. (11) He notes that a sophistic situation is one where a contrived exigence is, “asserted to be real... alleged constituents are due to error or ignorance,... and [it derives] from fantasy in which exigence, audience, and constraints may all be imaginary objects of a mind at play”. (11) He concludes that, “rhetoric is distinguished from the mere craft of persuasion which, although it is a legitimate object of scientific investigation, lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline”. (14)
While Bitzer’s insights into how one may think about the way in which rhetorical discourse acts upon and therefore alters the reality of a situation, it is difficult to see his point in stating that the “mere craft of persuasion” lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline. The clearest reason it...

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