The Role of Rhetoric in a Dialogical Approach to Thinking

18 November 2010, 12:00 - 13:30

CRASSH seminar room

Dr Antonia Larrain (Faculty of Education and Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile) presents her work at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

A light buffet lunch will be provided. Please contact Dr Anne Alexander to reserve a place. Reading materials will be available before the seminar.


The central idea of the presentation is that human thinking consists in a movement through which every person socially interacts with herself.  Consequently, thinking does not offer the experience of a private refuge in the intimacy of the individual thinker’s self-knowing, but a field where multiple points of view interact by contesting, distancing, approaching, agreeing or disagreeing, one to another.

Classical (Isocrates, 1929/1968) and contemporary (Billig, 1987) rhetorical approaches to thinking stress that both ‘inner’ and ‘social’ discourse are addressed to someone else, are determined by the anticipation of this audience, and both are interested in persuading it. In doing so, the discursive, rhetorical, and dialogic aspects of thinking become tied to argumentation.

The presentation tries to show that, since every act of thinking addresses another point of view oriented by a particular interest, thinking is a rhetorical process of discourse. In fact narrative, explicative, descriptive, and argumentative thinking, among others, may be distinguished according to its rhetorical characteristics. Thus, the particular discursive activity in which thinking unfolds depends on the kind of social interaction that different points of view establish in a given situation. The rhetorical nature of thinking is discussed in relation and in contradistinction with its argumentative character.