For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief / Edition 1

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What role does reason play in our lives? What role should it play? And are claims to rationality liberating or oppressive? For the Sake of Argument addresses questions such as these to consider the relationship between thought and character. Eugene Garver brings Aristotle's Rhetoric to bear on practical reasoning to show how the value of such thinking emerges when members of communities deliberate together, persuade each other, and are persuaded by each other. That is to say, when they argue.

Garver roots deliberation and persuasion in political friendship instead of a neutral, impersonal framework of justice. Through incisive readings of examples in modern legal and political history, from Brown v. Board of Education to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he demonstrates how acts of deliberation and persuasion foster friendship among individuals, leading to common action amid diversity. In an Aristotelian sense, there is a place for pathos and ethos in rational thought. Passion and character have as pivotal a role in practical reasoning as logic and language.

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Editorial Reviews

Speaking of justice, I have not, within the allotted space, been able to render it to this excellent book. Garver's arguments are intricate, sensitive, and frequently witty. His case is well made.

— Mark Kingwell

A mature, ambitious and at times even passionate Aristotelian meditation on topics ranging from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the problem of pluralism and incommensurable goods. Students of Aristotle's Rhet. will learn from it ways in which Aristotelian theories can address modern problems, and modern theorists will learn from it a new and plausible alternative to sterile models of instrumental practical reason.

— Thornton C. Lockwood, Jr.


"People acquainted with Garver''s previous books . . . will find in this one the same scholarly carefulness, depth of historical understanding, and philosophical acumen, in both the ethical and meta-ethical domain. Readers not acquainted with his previous work will find this book an enticing and original introduction to rhetoric, ethics, and argumentation."

— Maurice A. Finocchiaro

Ethics - Mark Kingwell
"Speaking of justice, I have not, within the allotted space, been able to render it to this excellent book. Garver's arguments are intricate, sensitive, and frequently witty. His case is well made."
Polis - Thornton C. Lockwood
"A mature, ambitious and at times even passionate Aristotelian meditation on topics ranging from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the problem of pluralism and incommensurable goods. Students of Aristotle's Rhet. will learn from it ways in which Aristotelian theories can address modern problems, and modern theorists will learn from it a new and plausible alternative to sterile models of instrumental practical reason."
Argumentation - Maurice A. Finocchiaro
"People acquainted with Garver's previous books . . . will find in this one the same scholarly carefulness, depth of historical understanding, and philosophical acumen, in both the ethical and meta-ethical domain. Readers not acquainted with his previous work will find this book an enticing and original introduction to rhetoric, ethics, and argumentation."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226283975
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Eugene Garver is a professor of philosophy at Saint John's University in Minnesota. He is the author of Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character and Machiavelli an the History of Prudence, as well as coeditor of Pluralism in Theory and Practice: Richard McKeon and American Philosophy.

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Read an Excerpt

For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief

By Eugene Garver

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2004 Eugene Garver
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226283976

Introduction : Rhetoric and Practical Reason

What role does practical reason play in our lives? What role should it play? Are claims to rationality liberating or oppressive? Not only have theories, ranging from psychoanalysis to legal realism, shown the power of irrationality, but simple historical evidence of the twentieth century gives little comfort to anyone hoping for the eventual triumph of reason. While at many crucial points in the past reasoning was seen as a powerful democratizing force, now we are often alerted to the way it stacks the deck in favor of some to the disadvantage of others. The rational is just a name for the weapons used by the powerful; its use covers the fact that persuasive power and deliberative ability are weapons too. Reason often seems either impotent or dangerous, or both.

These worries about practical rationality are nothing new, but exploring practical reason by making rhetoric its central case is. That is what I shall undertake. For all the contemporary talk about discourse ethics and deliberative democracy, as well as, in earlier generations of the twentieth century, Dewey's talk about "communication" and Arendt's emphasis on "speech," surprisingly little attempt has been made to mine the history of rhetoric for insight into practical reason. For all the revivals of Aristotle and talk about phrone¯sis or practical wisdom, few have turned to the Rhetoric to deepen what Aristotle has to offer in the Ethics. The role of practical reasoning in our lives emerges when we deliberate together, persuade each other, are persuaded by each other, and consider how we should persuade and be persuaded.

I propose then to answer Anthony Kronman's question about rhetoric:

What must our condition be if the appeals that rhetoricians make to a real though contested truth and justice-appeals that transcend mere interest and power, like the arguments of mathematicians, but unlike them can never definitively be resolved-are to be possible at all? And what must the human condition be if the securing of our beliefs regarding truth and justice in the middle realm of politics and law is to depend upon an artful mobilization of the passions that is always also capable of producing the opposite result?

What must our condition be if reason can be something other than a cover for manipulation or a working out of a neutral and universal theory? When the connection between reason and character is severed, the definitive resolutions of the mathematicians and the mere battle of interest and power are the only alternatives. Practical reason has its own integrity when who we are and how we think are intimately connected. Interrelations between who we are and how we think create the situation Socrates notes in the Euthyphro when he asks about the subjects where our differences cause "anger and hatred" (7b). Thinking in such situations is an inherently ethical act. Which hypotheses, for example, I can take seriously as policy recommendations says a lot about who I am. My character shows itself in the choices of lines of argument, of examples, of alternatives to argue against.

Without such a connection between thought and character, calculation, the more unemotional the better, serves given, irrational goals. Contemporary "rational choice" theory is a perfect example. By narrowing reason and placing ends outside discussion, such a vision of practical reason makes passion irrational, indistinguishable from prejudice and compulsion. Looking at the practices of persuasion will let us broaden the rational so that pathos and ethos, the two sources of conviction that Aristotle lists alongside reason (logos)(Rhetoric I.2.1356a5-20), are not irrational.

To act successfully, we have to act together. To act together, we must deliberate together. Therefore we have to persuade each other. "On any important decision we deliberate together because we do not trust ourselves" (Nicomachean Ethics III.3.1112b10-11). Therefore the good person must be good at deliberation and persuasion. Because practical wisdom requires persuasive power, such persuasive ability is a sign of practical wisdom. Like most signs, however, it can be manipulated and exploited. Therefore rhetoric can take on a life of its own and so become an opponent of practical wisdom. If rhetoric weren't essential to practical reason, it couldn't be mistaken for it, and it couldn't be exploited.

I propose to mine Aristotle's Rhetoric for help in coming to terms with our problems with practical reason. I have the great good fortune to be captivated by the Rhetoric but not to be a native speaker of classical Greek.

Therefore it comes as a continuing surprise to me that a single word in Greek, pistis, can be rightly translated as proof, argument, reasoning, persuasion, belief, trust, faith, conviction, obligation, and confidence. These essays are a meditation on the connections among those terms. I want to exploit the fact that the connections among the terms I listed are not immediate or smooth to a speaker of English. I have been inspired by the Rhetoric, but nothing in what follows turns on whether I have interpreted the Rhetoric accurately or not, and so I have minimized explicit references to it. I believe that what I'm doing adapts Aristotle's project to current circumstances, but what matters is the project of developing the ethical dimensions of practical reason through looking at rhetorical argument, not its provenance. In the Ethics and Politics, as well as the Rhetoric, Aristotle articulates a vision of practical reason and of rhetoric that ties thought and character together. He helps us see how we don't have to rest with a forced choice between the Platonic program which will save reason by removing it from human contamination and the sophistic and skeptical resignation to reason as a slave to the passions.

Practical reason relies on the interrelation between thought and character, where the non-rhetorical alternatives make us choose between them. The distinction Richard Rorty draws between the methodical and the civilized frames my theme:

In one sense . . . to be rational is to be methodical: that is, to have criteria for success laid down in advance.. . . The other meaning is "sane" or "reasonable" rather than "methodical." It names a set of moral virtues: tolerance, respect for the opinions of those around one, willingness to listen, reliance on persuasion rather than force. These are the virtues which members of a civilized society must possess if the society is to endure. In this sense of "rational," the word means something more like "civilized" than like "methodical."
The two meanings pose a nice dilemma. Unless practical reason follows the scientific method by laying out neutral standards in advance, to call rationality a mark of civilization is simply to congratulate ourselves and look down on the opposition as irrational. But the methodical and the civil seem to have little in common. If we can't overcome that dilemma, then scientific reason and reasoning as a cover for desire will be the only alternatives.

Rhetoric shows how reason can be contingent, emotional, and interested without ceasing to be rational. I can argue rationally by appealing to your interests, prejudices, and emotions. I can be an advocate trying to win, and still engage you rationally. An ethical or an emotional argument can sometimes be more rational than an argument that tries to rely on reason alone. Therefore rhetoric allows reason to extend beyond what methodical or theoretical rationality can accomplish.

Rorty's question about the relation between the rational as civilized and as methodical would sound familiar to Aristotle, who positions practical wisdom and rhetorical ability, in both the Ethics and the Rhetoric, between Rorty's pair. Practical wisdom thinks about what lies beyond rules (Ethics VI.5.1140a28-30, II.2.1104a7-10). The Rhetoric begins: "Rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic, since both are concerned with things that fall within the knowledge of everyone and belong to no separately defined science" (I.1.1354a1-3; see 1354b7-8). Rhetoric and dialectic are faculties that everyone-everyone civilized enough to count-possesses and exercises. Thus far both practical wisdom and rhetoric seem rational in the sense of civilized, but the Rhetoric then goes on to present itself as an enthechnos methodos. and the discussion of deliberation takes geometrical constructions as its model (Ethics VI.5.1140a28-30, Rhetoric I.1.154a11).

Because of its ties to the rational as civilized, practical rationality can never be the self-contained enterprise that science can be. But Aristotle doesn't draw the moral that therefore practical reason is inferior to scientific rationality. What it lacks by not being methodical, it compensates by connecting reason and character. When tied to character, practical reason rises above the instrumental. Newman's Grammar of Assent captures this Aristotelian picture of practical wisdom:

In concrete reasonings we are in great measure thrown back into that condition, from which logic proposed to rescue us. We judge for ourselves, by our own lights, and on our own principles.. . . It is this distinction between ratiocination as the exercise of a living faculty in the individual intellect, and mere skill in argumentative science, which is the true interpretation of the prejudice which exists against logic in the popular mind, and of the animadversions which are leveled against it, as that its formulas make a pedant and a doctrinaire, that it never makes converts, that it leads to rationalism, that Englishmen are too practical to be logical, that an ounce of common-sense goes farther than many cartloads of logic, that Laputa is the land of logicians, and the like.
Understanding practical reasoning as "the exercise of a living faculty in the individual intellect" is the purpose of this book. Reasoning as the exercise of a living faculty is ethical reasoning. We shouldn't infer that when method fails us, reason fails us too. Like eros, praxis is a great leveler.

I propose to make sense out of the relation between thought and character, logos and ethos, by adopting as a proof-texts Aristotle's remark in the Ethics:

Friendship would seem to hold cities together, and legislators would seem to be more concerned about it than about justice. For concord would seem to be similar to friendship and legislators aim at concord above all, while they try above all to expel civil conflict, which is enmity. Further, if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition; and the justice that is most just seems to belong to friendship. (VIII.1.1155a22-29)
Starting in the first chapter, I will take issue with the modern view that bargaining between strangers should be the model for practical reason, and instead take deliberation between friends for my paradigm. Like friendship and unlike justice, practical reason is not rule-governed, not, in Rorty's term, methodical. Justice might make claims of universality, but practical reason, like friendship, is context-sensitive without becoming irrational. The Platonic hope of replacing ethical reasoning by the certainties of science aspires to substitute the neutrality and objectivity of justice for the informal and negotiable bonds of friendship. Aristotle's pair, justice and friendship, relate to each other as Rorty's methodical relates to the civilized. Practical reason and rhetoric can flourish when the civilized has enough power to resist reduction to the methodical.

Broadening the rational beyond the instrumental requires us to find practical resources within our own lives, not in high theory. I want to display an attractive and live alternative to reducing practical reason to instrumental reason. At issue is how to speak, to listen, and to create conditions in which rationality is thickened from the instrumental to the ethical. What ethical qualities are engendered by the practice of reasoning, and especially by the practice of reasoning with others and trying to persuade them? What are the conditions in which thought and character support each other?

Thought and character support each other and practical rationality functions well where friendship flourishes. Although philosophers from Hume through Rawls have explored the circumstances of justice, the circumstances of friendship need equal attention. Political friendship enables the ethical virtues of practical reasoning to develop and succeed.

It is a great failing of Aristotle that he does not consider the circumstances of friendship. The Rhetoric looks at how speakers do and should persuade but says almost nothing about the conditions under which the better argument wins and reason prevails. He doesn't match his advice to speakers with corresponding advice to how to listen. If everything is as it ought to be, the Rhetoric will work. But we need to know how everything ought to be, and how to recognize good rhetoric when we see it.

Why should we take bargaining with strangers as the paradigm for practical reason, and to think that we must live with justice and not with friendship? The rational as methodical, like bargaining with strangers, has an important place in our practical lives, but not at the center. Even in a large, diverse, and bureaucratic community such as the United States, we can find ethical and friendly argument at work. I will argue that the desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, is a profound act of friendship among the citizens of the United States. In chapter 1 I look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where I find ethical argument and friendship in an even more unlikely place than in race relations in the United States. Political friendship does not replace justice with the friendship of intimates: we all know the bitterness of civil war and of enmities within families, and all have the experience that honesty and productive discussion is sometimes more possible with strangers than with intimates. The conception of friendship and its place in practical reasoning should not be read as idealizing the parochial or the traditional.

For present purposes, I want to reduce the Rhetoric to three simple theses. First, the heart of the art of persuasion is reasoning:

Those who have composed arts of speech have worked on only a small part of the subject; for only pisteis [proofs] are artistic (other things are supplementary), and these writers say nothing about enthymemes, which is the "body" of persuasion (so¯ma te¯s piste¯us), while they give most of their attention to matters external to the subject, for verbal attack and pity and anger and such emotions do not relate to fact but are appeals to the juryman. (I.1.1354a11-17)
If I get you to do what I want by tainting your water supply, I haven't persuaded you of anything. If my manipulations of your emotions make your assent involuntary, then you aren't persuaded either. There is no community between us, no rationality in our interchange, and so no civility.

Second, while reasoning is the essence of persuasion, ethos, character, is the most authoritative source of belief. When Aristotle says that ethos is the most authoritative source of belief he means that it both is and ought to be the most persuasive. A commitment to rationality commits us to trust in and to be persuaded by character:

[There is persuasion] through character (ethos) whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker worthy of credence (axiopiston); for we believe (pisteuomen) fair-minded people to a greater extent and more quickly [than we do others] on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge (akribes) but room for doubt.. . . Character is almost the controlling factor in persuasion. (I.2.1356a5-13)
Third, however, ethos derives its authority from reasoning. The ethos of preexistent reputation, of tradition or charisma, might be persuasive, but an ethos created by the speech rationally integrates is and ought. Having a trustworthy and credible character emerges through the practice of reasoned argument. The more rational and ethical a speaker, the friendlier the relations between speaker and hearer. Conversely, the friendlier we are, the more we understand emotional appeals as rational. Aristotle's relation between friendship and justice is a model for the relation between character and thought. Friendship exceeds justice, especially legal justice, but is never unjust. Ethos exceeds reason but is never irrational. The road to political friendship is through justice, and the road to rhetorical ethos is through reasoning:

Butthis confidence must be due to the speech (logos) itself, not to any preconceived idea of the speaker's character. For it is not the case, as some writers of rhetorical treatises lay down in their "art," that the worth of the orator in no way contributes to his powers of persuasion; on the contrary, ethos constitutes the most authoritative means of proof (pistis). (I.2.1356a8-13; emphasis mine)
I propose to present examples of practical reasoning as the exercise of a living faculty, and to look for the enabling and destroying conditions of ethical argument. I draw many of my examples from legal argument because law is such a rich field for the interactions of the rational and the ethical. In law, at least the appearance of rationality is obligatory. We can ask how superficial that appearance is, as I will do in chapter 2. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and Phillip Bobbitt's pluralism of constitutional interpretation are a series of moments in which legal reasoning becomes ethical by concerning itself not only with what the law says but with how the law represents justice. We abandon the certainties of method for the ethical gains of friendship, and so we find out what the law is by determining what the law should be. Legalism, aiming at agreement, and seeking a modus vivendi or law without friendship require ethical virtues of self-restraint. Aiming at truth and friendly justice require virtues of commitment that are more fully rational and ethical than the virtues of self-restraint.


Excerpted from For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief by Eugene Garver Copyright © 2004 by Eugene Garver. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Rhetoric and Practical Reason
1. Truth in Politics: Ethical Argument, Ethical Knowledge, and Ethical Truth
2. Confronting the Sophist
3. Brown v. Board of Education as a Paradigm of Practical Reason
4. The Ethical Criticism of Reasoning
5. Rhetorical Argument and Ethical Authority
6. The Will To Be Believed
7. Taking Reasoning Seriously: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Practical Reason in the Interpretation of the Constitution
8. Rhetoric and the Unity of Practical Reason

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