The desire of rhetoric is always seated in attaining and preserving happiness. Corax of Syracuse (and/or Tisias) is regarded as the first theorist to devise an art of rhetoric as a means to help citizens regain their property seized under the rule of a despot. In this foremost case of Greco-Roman rhetoric, political happiness was sought by means of judicial speeches. The poly-discursive varieties of rhetorical happiness have theoretically expanded in depth and scope from the philosophical, metaphysical, ethical, religious, psychological, and aesthetic. If citizens in the 5th century BCE were happy, then there would have been no need for rhetoric; as a result, the foundational assumption of my special area exam is that happiness remains an ideological desire advancing rhetoric.
Classical philosophers and rhetoricians theorized whether eudemonia was a matter of luck (up to the daimons) or whether humans in fact had agency. They also defined happiness in relation to an ethical framework, often requiring virtue as a prerequisite. My exam area reads into these many incarnations of happiness as an idea(l) that Richard Weaver calls a “God-term” in its “inherent potency,” woven deep into the fabric of our constitution with ‘obvious’ discursive patterns and powerful institutionalized effects. Materialized through discourse, happiness is necessarily relational and socially persuasive, imbued with ethical assumptions, and embodied in knowledge and beliefs. At times this awareness is either lost or left implicit, but by bringing this critical perspective to the historical trajectory, I situate distinct rhetorics of happiness.
Content and Scope
Aristotle’s assumption that language can be expressed with “clarity, correctness, and appropriateness” (Crowley) overlooks the sophistic assertion that language is inevitably opaque and culturally biased. This refusal to acknowledge the resistant power of language is part of the greater philosophic quest to obtain universal and absolute truth, which has historically marginalized the sophistic insistence that truth cannot be obtained and/or linguistically expressed. The terministic screen of objectivity that purifies observable reality in the enlightened realm of science (central to most, if not all, of “happiness...