Ornamental fallacy?

The contrast between a rhetoric of figures and a rhetoric of arguments is a remainder and an exacerbation of the classical distinction between the two fundamental production stages of rhetorical discourse, the research of arguments and their verbal expression. The rupture between inventio and elocutio is generally attributed to Ramus (Ong, 1958). Only the elocutio and the actio would fall within the realm of rhetoric, the inventio, the dispositio and the memoria being independently re-assigned to thought (cognition). This opposition, which quickly became popular, between, on the one hand, an ornate, figurative, rhetorical discourse, and, on the other hand, an argumentative discourse ideally free from subjectivity or figuration, has been strongly reasserted by Locke in the modern perspective of a discourse aimed at the development of scientific thought. This antagonism has been pushed to the confrontation and mutual rejection of a discourse of pleasure and emotion and an austere discourse of reason.

1. Fallacious rhetoric?

The whole enterprise of rhetoric, as the art of constructing a persuasive discourse, has been rejected in the name of a transcendental truth, by Socrates, as staged by Plato in the Gorgias and the Phaedrus, S. Argumentation (1); Persuasion; Probable. In the modern age, this age-old criticism was strengthened by a new wave of criticism developed on behalf of scientific discourse. Rhetorical discourse is now routinely belittled as substituting the search for pleasure for the search for truth. Rhetoric is seen to fulfill a perverse desire for ornament, and, to root out this evil, ornament, and therefore figures, should be eliminated.

Persuasive rhetoric is therefore reconstructed as an ornate discourse, a discourse of passion, perverse and magical. The figures and the tropes are defined within the framework of the ornatus, then, by synecdoche, the elocutio is assimilated to the ornatus, and finally rhetoric itself is reduced to the elocutio. It is this ornamental vision of a “makeup rhetoric” that has been opposed to the natural, healthy discourse of reasonable argument, S. Verbiage. The following extract from Locke serves as an authoritative reference in discourses attacking ornate language.

[34] Seventhly, language is often abused by figurative speech. Since wit and fancy find easier entertainment in the world than dry truth and real knowledge, figurative speeches and allusion in language will hardly be admitted as an imperfection or abuse of it. I confess, in discourses where we seek rather pleasure and delight than information and improvement, such ornaments as are borrowed from them can scarce pass for faults. But yet if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that all the art of rhetoric, besides order and clearness; all the artificial and figurative application of words eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead the judgment; and so indeed are perfect cheats: and therefore, however laudable or allowable oratory may render them in harangues and popular addresses, they are certainly, in all discourses that pretend to inform or instruct, wholly to be avoided; and where truth and knowledge are concerned, cannot but be thought a great fault, either of the language or person that makes use of them. What and how various they are, will be superfluous here to take notice; the books of rhetoric which abound in the world, will instruct those who want to be informed: only I cannot but observe how little the preservation and improvement of truth and knowledge is the care and concern of mankind; since the arts of fallacy are endowed and preferred. It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, is publicly taught, and has always been had in great reputation: and I doubt not but it will be thought great boldness, if not brutality, in me to have said thus much against it. Eloquence, like the fair sex, has too prevailing beauties in it to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. And it is in vain to find fault with those arts of deceiving, wherein men find pleasure to be deceived. (Locke, Essay, III, X; Fraser, p. 146-147)

De Man has shown that the issue here is the status of natural language in science and philosophy, “at times, it seems as if Locke would have liked nothing better than to be allowed to forget about language altogether, difficult as this may be in an essay having to do with understanding” (1972, p. 12). But this observation does not directly invalidate Locke’s thesis, for it is possible to consider that this thesis deals with ordinary language and its capacity to carry the new mathematical forms of scientific knowledge. In fact, in the modern age, the language in which “we preserve and develop truth and knowledge” is no longer natural language, but the languages ​​of calculation. Nevertheless, de Man rightly emphasizes the contradictory nature of an undertaking that would engage in an analysis of reasoning in natural language by first condemning natural language.

2. Against ornate discourse

The following are the main argumentative topoi of the discourse which condemns figures as fallacious ornaments.

2.1 Fallacy of irrelevance and inconsistency

In an unfolding argumentative discourse, all decoration is a form of entertainment, that is to say a distractor. As a result, the figures show a lack of relevance, they are fallacious by virtue of the ignorance of the question, permanently serving as red herrings ».

The figures knowingly flout three Gricean principles, the maxims of quality, quality and relevance. To use Klinkenberg’s French term, figures are impertinences, that is, they are both “irrelevant” and “brazen” (Klinkenberg 2000; Klinkenberg 1990, p. 129-130). Moreover, they do not respect the non-contradiction principle. The metaphor is true and false, guilty of ambiguity and category mistake.

2.2 Fallacies of verbiage and emotion

The classical concept of figurative discourse is based on the possibility of choosing between two chains of signifiers to express the same idea, to refer to the same being, to the same state of the world or the same semantic content. This presupposes a superabundance of words compared with the strict requirements of the objective discourse. The coexistence of different signifiers to express the same thing or the same truth is at the root of the fallacy of verbiage, a kind of meta-fallacy that opens the way to all others S. Connective.

Furthermore, the figurative form systematically favors the intricate and the rare, the exact opposite of the ordinary, simple and direct manner of speaking. And when an apparently plain form appears in such elaborate discourse, it only seems plain due to a double subtlety. The unsophisticated addressee anticipates a simple expression; the sophisticated addressee knows that this expectation will be frustrated and thus anticipates the figuration. This second-level expectation is then itself frustrated by the simplicity of the expression. The ornamental figure is offbeat, and thus produces a surprise, the prodrom to emotion, opening the way for numerous ad passiones fallacies; aesthetic emotions are banned as any other passion. This link is explicit in Locke’s quotation.

2.3 The language transparency fallacy

Taking scientific language as the norm, in order to guarantee a direct access to objects and their natural connections, the language of argument should be regulated, unambiguous, without defect or excess, exactly proportioned to the nature of things, in other words, transparent, ad judicium. The figures, which pretend to glorify the truth, in fact veil it. Ornaments are worse than fallacies; they are their source and mask.

The problem is that figures are the bones and flesh of everyday expression; to get rid of them one would have to renounce natural language and argumentation in human affairs as a whole.

3. An etymological argument against the decorative view of the ornatus

Are the figures ornaments? The word ornament is a copy of the Latin ornamentum (adj. ornatus, verb ornare). The primary meaning of ornamentum is: “1. Apparatus, tackle, equipment […] harness, collar […] armor” (Gaffiot [1934], Ornamentum). The past participle adjective ornatus shares this fundamental meaning. The phrase: “naves omni genere armorum ornatissimae” (C. Julius Caesar [The Gallic Wars] 3, 14, 2) translates as “boats with ample equipment [weapons and tackles]” (ibid.). Thus, an ornatus speech is a speech well equipped to fulfill its function. When dealing with a choice to be made in public affairs, a well-equipped rhetorical discourse is a well-argued discourse. The arguments are indeed part of the ornamenta, the equipment of the discourse.

Considered to be part of the discourse equipment, figures can be integrated into argument analysis, for example as instruments for the construction of objects of discourse and schematizations. In any case, they should not be seen as constituting an extraneous “level” disfiguring the pure cognitive level, but as part and parcel of all the operations constructing the argumentative discourse.