The Scattered Rhetoric of an Aging English Major

A lesson learned from studying English in college concerns linguistic importance within American life. The objective and subjective natures of a shared language system are most indicative of the human condition. By finding the intermediary concept between these natures of diction, we can reach comprehension of all things related to the human being (subjective nature) and the human animal (objective nature).

We need to apply moderation instead of absolutism to understand how language is best used in both spoken and written discourse. Instead of promoting absolute objectivism and logical, mathematical application to every rhetorical use—instead of allowing subjective ignorance, of how much human emotion affects our laws, policies, and social norms—we need to comprehensively understand both the affective objective and effective subjective applications of rhetoric to truly understand how humans act and operate within the shared language system. We need to qualify our words with both objective proof and subjective understanding. We need to do this every day in order to successfully engage in human society.

We cannot be students. We cannot be fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. We cannot be doctors and lawyers and nurses and teachers and journalists. We cannot be laborers and carpenters and steelworkers and construction engineers and architects. We cannot be politicians and advertisers and entrepreneurs and financial engineers and judiciary officials. We cannot be friends and companions and lovers. We cannot be Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals. We cannot be mathematicians and scientists and farmers and grocers. We cannot be black and white and Hispanic and gay and straight. We cannot be Christian or Catholic or Protestant or Baptist or Orthodox or Muslim or Mormon or Scientologist or secular or agnostic or atheist. We cannot be male and female, young and old, or urban and rural.

We cannot be characters.

We cannot be any of these words, objectively and subjectively.

We cannot live as humans (animals and spiritual beings), without a shared language system.

We must acknowledge what a language system is, and how humans collaboratively endorse this system. At its base, any language system must be visually represented or aurally construed. These sensory components are necessary. It is true of all languages, but it might be easiest for American readers to understand this through modern English representation, as this is what most of us have been required to utilize successfully to function within the national community. In the English language, most every word or phrase has objective and subjective connotations. I assume other language systems share this duality, only because I am not fluent in any other language.

Concrete physicality is easy enough to describe with terms like ball, heat, and water, while subjective concept gives us spherical, hot, and wet. Easy in the previous sentence is entirely subjective because it depends on the individual interpretation to define ease, and there is no way one could define easy for every person. Objectively, defining easy requires agreement, and in this collectively competitive society, acknowledgment of ease ultimately calls for measurement against another’s efforts. To put it simply, everybody’s got difficulty. Whether difficult is a better antonym than hard is entirely debatable since hard also refers to physical rigidity, which makes perfect sense to those of us with thick heads.

If we want to focus on mentally laborious activity, a concept with little need to show physicality, there is excellent applicable value for metaphorical usage with every chosen word. Perhaps, because we always wander towards subjectivity whenever we use a shared language system, it is simply impossible to attain true objectivity, as so many logicians advocate.

The point is that we use language to create dichotomies, to create a range of understanding between universal dualities, objects or subjects that are denoted by words and phrases within the English language, placed together with emphatic method and empathic outreach in the form of sentences and clauses. Absolutism focuses our attention on the polarities of this range, while moderation allows us to create degrees, usually by applying logical rationale and emotional empathy, between rhetorical polar opposites, represented on a shared metaphorical scale.

This is a good lesson to learn from examining the Golden Mean of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. A call for moderation of language and action is an appropriate point for the Christian community, with a strong Biblical derivation guiding Aristotle’s philosophy.

Our current American political system is broken because of the dichotomy of the dual-party system. Too much absolutism has created a divisive ideology, which does not allow for the changing of one’s mind, adapting one’s thought process, or examining the degrees of rhetoric within these public arguments.

Although the idea of a third political party has been attempted (and spurned) multiple times in this country, perhaps, a wonderful idea might be to consider the formation of a Nicomachean political party in America. This party’s members would promote a consensual approach to breach the widening gap between the Republican and Democratic parties. Hopefully, the existing parties’ members would not automatically get into “fight mode” every time they engage in debate with this third party member, who might examine intermediary concepts about which the two parties battle vehemently. They might not instantly turn to insults, conjecture, and fallacy to shoot down the other members’ rhetoric. They might understand the objective success of written policy and law and address the subjective emotional gap that widens between such age-old social dichotomies as religion vs. science, rich vs. poor, youth vs. elderly, black vs. white, and man vs. woman.

It might be a step in the right direction. Certainly, we could use that in this country right now. If Nicomachean is too hard to spell, then maybe we can call it the Rogerian party in honor of Carl Rogers’ comparable theories.

We can further utilize applicable, practical English study to our society with Stephen Toulmin’s essays from The Uses of Argument. His examination of how rhetoric is actually used, mostly in legal argumentation, has been especially fruitful for designating the degrees of language utilized specifically within the dichotomy created between objective and subjective uses of the English language.

Toulmin called for the necessity of qualifiers in authentic, valid language use (138). Absolutes are easily proven as invalid statements; some medium degree must be utilized for valid, logical construction. If someone uses the “all or nothing” approach, then sometimes, it indicates a speaker attempts to emphasize illegitimately. To put it subjectively, persuasion is about 50 percent crossing one’s fingers and hoping the recipient doesn’t call bullshit. If I am not to be believed, then please flip the television onto CSPAN, MSNBC, or FoxNews. Please measure the amount of times statements include words such as only, never, always, nobody, all, need, and must.

I admit having an obsession for watching Sunday morning news programs, especially NBC’s Meet the Press. I think John Boehner is currently the reigning champion of overusing absolutes and lacking qualification, specifically for his appearance on Meet the Press on March 3rd, 2013.

Rhetorical qualification might be the saving grace of America’s political system, if only American politicians consider how best to cure it.

Admittedly, I’ve noticed quite a few leans towards absolutism in this very essay. I’m attempting to mediate appropriately, but there’s probably and possibly going to be quite a few rhetorical statements that are inserted for emphatic persuasion.

It’s a difficult endeavor to speak or write without using absolutes, but it is possible to use qualifiers appropriately. I attempt to qualify most things I say and write, but usually a few invalid, absolute-laden claims become interspersed within my own rhetoric.

In fact, it happens more than a few times; I usually reexamine my conversations of the day and find a statement or five I would like to correct, as most people do. Especially with speaking, it is difficult to generate language and meaning frequently that is well-managed for qualification. I attempt to be cognizant of it, and I will retract most absolutes I have used if one of my students, listeners, or readers does catch me. I hate to admit I’m ever wrong, like most people.

So, I endorse criticism of my own rhetoric.

I can be wrong.

It’s possible, and at times, probable.

If only our country’s political rhetoricians would occasionally utter such words every now and then.

Toulmin also gives us the oft-challenged concept of inferential warrant, which might also be synonymous with the phrase common sense, as it is used in our American lexicon (4-5). Toulmin’s introduction of warrant as a necessary component of rhetoric is sometimes considered a threat to objective logic by academics. Aristotle’s logic promotes inductive/deductive rationale, needing a clear claim and valid support to interpret linguistic process. Toulmin persuades us to understand warrant as practical application of how language is used by individuals within a collective. Toulmin acknowledges that objective, scientific, and logical warrant are most easily accepted by a community, but subjective rhetoric often relies on communal belief, social mores, and legal consensus. It is possible for a community to commonly agree upon what is right, subjectively.

Language-users need to warrant a statement with common understanding and inferential, subjective comprehension. We sense each other’s commonality by hearing the words out of each other’s mouths and reading published words. We infer what is appropriate and right; this is sometimes how we falsely endorse concepts together that are actually inappropriate and wrong. Reviewing recent American history, inferential warrant has allowed for the segregation of minorities in schools, women’s inability to participate in a national vote, and laws that disallow two individuals of the same gender from participating in a national institution (or classifying them as “mentally diseased” as recently as the 1970s).

In other words, we justify discrimination. Common sense does not always qualify as good, right, valid, or even sensorial, yet it is referred to consistently when we communicate with one another. We insist on inferential warrant when we engage in a shared language system, yet common sense, or “sensing the norms of commonality,” is not always for the best. We often use the term common sense to imply a valuable line of thinking, when the warrant has not been fully plumbed for validity.

I know I’m guilty most days of using the term common sense to help persuade others that I what I say should be acceptable, if not accepted. Even a superb rhetorician as Barack Obama uses the term common sense for emphasis and emotional appeal often. Perhaps that is why he is much maligned.

Communication is most important in day-to-day life. This is understood, through commonality and inferential warrant, by how we raise our children together, with a social understanding that education is the best communal institution for them. We insist on good grades in reading and mathematics, and we place value together on the communal environment in which children grow and mature. These American children communicate in the shared language system of English at the earliest possible age, with students of the same age within the direct community and teachers whose implied, ethical goal is to foster those communications.

But, we have to regard that many human beings have engaged in other shared language systems, especially outside the boundaries of the United States of America.

We’ve become so damn full of ourselves in this country.

The American culture, steeped in the shared language system of English, seems to have a problem acknowledging and respecting the world’s different languages and cultures. The factor that is perhaps most to blame for discrimination and condescension of others might be rooted in the inability to understand other language systems. Indeed, it might also be rooted in Americans’ lack of skill and understanding within our own adopted language system!

We could also acknowledge that language systems do evolve. As human civilizations evolve, the use of language practically changes for the needs of the human animal and human being within these systems. It’s easy enough to identify with today’s hypertext dialects and technological textual constructions (e.g., Twitter, blogs, emoticons, etc.).

Consider that Charles Darwin, in his Origin of Species, was mostly successful explaining the concept of evolution using a subjective metaphor based on sensory image: the sustainable structure of a tree, growing outward across branches and producing variant strains and possibilities depending on the biological culmination of an organism within a physical environment. Darwin was well aware of the literary tradition of tree as symbol in literature, religion, and philosophy. Good writers have read and understood enough text to claim authority, and Darwin was an exceptional writer. Consider how Darwin admitted frustration on how those who claimed spiritual understanding could not endorse the theory of evolution, which seems to be a continuing trend even in 2015.

Subjective understanding is necessary to comprehend both the concepts of evolution and God. Perhaps, a shared language system is simultaneously humanity’s greatest evolutionary trait and God’s most wonderful gift. Evolution, as a word that emotes and denotes, can best be understood by humans within the constraints of objectivity and subjectivity, as Darwin most eloquently succeeded through rhetorical means, integrating objectivity and subjectivity of language to prove the concept of evolution scientifically and religiously.

The concept of a shared language system is simple enough to comprehend. Every language system has a visual and auditory component. We construe symbols, letters, and numbers to understand; these are represented through visual process. We read published text (print and virtual), and we write using the system of language that will most effectively reach an audience. We make audible representation of consonants and vowels using our tongues, throats, jaws, and vocal chords to correspond with the written word, and we attempt to hear these utterances from others to comprehend. With written language, it requires more patience and consumption. With the spoken language, it requires more immediacy and improvisation. Language is a human construction, joining humans together in society through reading, writing, speaking, and listening, necessitating the state of being human to participate. It is a sensory process, reliant on our sight and hearing, that takes place primarily within the marvelous human computer we objectively dub the brain.

The human brain is a language processor. In addition to signaling sensory information, it is within this brain that language is comprehended, using any shared language system. The brain acquires this language system from the environment via sensory information, but the phenomenon of communication is objectively specified to occur within the natural design of the human brain. With all of our medical understanding of the human body, it remains the brain that is most difficult to objectively map and calculate. We have been able to map small areas of the brain—mostly by studying the language of those who have suffered aphasia of the brain—but the comprehensive structure of the human brain is still lacking to most scholars, mostly because it is comprehensively a language generator.

Perhaps, the function of the human brain as a language processor is best understood through analogous means: the human heart, as a muscle, rhythmically pumps blood through the human body, causing movement and physical function, while the human brain, as an electrical generator, rhythmically pumps chemical signals across the areas of the human brain, causing words, sentences, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet, we attribute what we have dubbed the soul to reside within the heart. The subjective understanding of the human spirit can be summed up rhetorically as “one who has a good heart.” Objective scientists, doctors, and mathematicians have very little success finding evidence of a soul or spirit within the physiology of a human animal, but we, as human beings, understand that we have a subjective spirit or soul somewhere in our corporeal bodies. Whether or not we care to admit it, we can objectively state that our subjective understanding of goodness, happiness, and spirituality are best comprehended within the physicality of the human brain.

I might better present the dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity of human beings using the term character, rather than attempting to separate the concepts of soul and brain, especially as the Aristotelian concept of human character is dependent on subject as much as object.

It is within Aristotle’s Rhetoric—specifically the age-old, traditionally-tested Aristotelian appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos—where we find what I deem exciting applications of objective and subjective comprehension of rhetoric.

Ethics, identified as a necessary nuance of a shared language system, apply intermediary linguistic function of objective logic and subjective emotion. This necessary union of objectivity and subjectivity within a language system allows greater understanding of the human animal, human being, and human culture: the ABC’s of humanities study.

The use of logic is the most objective appeal we can make using a shared language system. We attempt to break things down mathematically, proving validity, structure, and synchronicity. We use science to identify the physicality of our environment, designate functions of biological organisms, and analyze human behavior. The scientific process, theorizing and proving through experimentation for all possibilities, must still rely on a communicative system of symbols and numbers to operate successfully. Theory, formula, and syntax require objective language application, pragmatically.

Linguists attempt to validate claims of language in multiple language systems. Hearing morphemes and phonemes uttered together in coordinated sequence and unique appliqué creates rationality in the human world. Logicians will inductively and deductively reason.

Logic has proven to be most utilitarian. We can easily observe its necessary application within human interaction because it is primarily based on the objective, physical world. Einstein’s translated, theoretical take on the structure of the hydrogen atom, best shared by the brief, infamous formula of E=MC², gives us an excellent symbolic lesson on how matter, energy, and physicality operate at the atomic level, particles of an atom that are excited beyond our ability to comprehend (the numeric squaring of the speed of light, which perhaps requires subjective understanding along with objective rationality). However, greater understanding of Einstein requires careful attention of his spoken and written rhetoric, designating quantum physics and relativity with careful inductive and deductive process of symbol and meaning.

In order to communicate best using objective means, we must use logical appeal. We might define a universally-understood shared language system that emphasizes objectivity as mathematics. Using Arabic numeral systems and symbolic representation (+, -, %,$….), we can communicate within most any word/utterance /syntactical language system, currently or historically. Mathematic representation is best utilized to prove physical energy and scientific rationality.

Emoting, the human condition of emotion, is our most subjective appeal, using a shared language system. Literary writers specialize in emotive writing: story, poetry, memoir, expression, belief, and existence. Emotions remain the mystery of the human condition. Love, family, death, war, poverty…there is little that objective reasoning or rational application can do to properly define the emotional roles of men and women. Anger, frustration, happiness, fright, depression, joy, grief, elation, companionship, security, panic, passion, trust, authority, intimidation, lazy, prideful, confidence, and hatred are all extremely subjective concepts, yet all human beings understand these words wholly. Most people cannot help but immerse themselves in many of these subjective concepts a few times every day.

The best adjective to convey feelings I have difficulty expressing, or hold to the highest degree of sacred, communal understanding, is ineffable.

A shared language system is inadequate to globally define humanity.

We cannot create a comprehensive system of effective language because every word has some subjective connotation. We cannot escape subjectivity when creating syntax. Many lean towards abandoning emotion in argument because it is inefficient. Perhaps the most efficient use of language, the ability to communicate with other human beings, is to acknowledge the effectiveness of subjective empathizing.

Politicians utilize subjectivity in most speeches and publications, on both sides of the American political aisle. Objective-minded doctors fail where a doctor’s bed-side manner might better assess the subjective concept of pain. Lawyers and judges operate within the objective letter of the law and the subjective spirit of the law. Colleges continue to award degrees in the objective sciences or subjective arts.

Parents tell stories, and teachers use literature to better educate. Each progressive generation learns about the immediate culture from the massive amount of radio, television, film, and internet we consume; all of this mass media necessitates, and propagates, a shared language system. Storytellers will analogize, utilize metaphor, create fictional characters, or even create subjective worlds. We might acknowledge how we fashion our own character and culture because of these crafted stories.

As human beings, we inherently know that the most persuasive arguments come from the subjective heart rather than the objective head. As rhetoricians, we find that the best representation for emotion is as aesthetic proof. We appreciate beauty, art, nature, God, love for each other, life, liberty, and happiness subjectively; in fact, it is most difficult to analyze these concepts objectively. We might acknowledge that emoting is just as necessary as rationalization. We emote with each other to convey significance in our individual experiences using a shared language system.

I identify music as the best expressive, universally-understood linguistic auditory/written system. If math can be used across nations as a universal system of logic, then music is easily identified as a communicative method to understand emotion. I can hear a Spanish aria or Latin opera, without understanding the lyrics, and I will understand the sadness, happiness, regret, or delight that is expressed aurally. The most influential instrumentalists in history have been those who have successfully emoted without words. We sing hymns in church, rise together for the national anthem at social events, and listen to the radio frequently…hell, the subjective cliché of “everyone loves music” doesn’t really need qualification.

Most every person enjoys a list of musical favorites. Some of my favorite conversations involve trading favorite bands, or why the electric guitar changed popular music for the better. It’s so very easy to identify music as the perfect universally-understood communal medium.

The intermediary concept of ethics attempts to identify a universally-understood language system. We reach a dilemma as a human race because there is no universal system, by auditory or written means, that we can use to communicate human character. A shared language system is necessary to identify ethical proof.

Just as we recognize that mathematics can generate subjective understanding, we also recognize that musical composition requires objective construction. With language systems, every utterance or written word conveys objectivity and subjectivity. We comprehend, within context, the degree of objectivity or subjectivity necessary to promote personal understanding.

There is no universal method of communication to identify ethical character; we need to share a language with others in order to endorse Aristotle’s most difficult proof. Ethics are best placed between logos and pathos. We can better represent ethos as an intermediary function of language, utterances equating polar opposites—shared understanding of degrees of absolutism creating intermediary interpretation—using objectivity and subjectivity, or logical rationalization and emotional expression. Understanding ethics requires an intermediary approach within the shared language system. Character and characteristics require a union of objectivity and subjectivity that logic or emotion, singly, cannot represent.

Ethical proof becomes a most practical product of a shared language system. We should emphasize it in our teachings, no matter what discipline we might ascribe to as professors and administrators.

The study of English has fruitful lessons to share with modern America. Please stop dismissing my degree as useless towards the purpose of education, or earning an honest living, if we’re going to be subjective about it.

It gets so very old, when you’re beating it on down the line.

-The Maniacal Professor
Works Cited
Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 1220-1225. Print.

Cooper, Lane. The Rhetoric of Aristotle. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960. Print.

Meet the Press. NBC. WNDU, South Bend, IN. 3 Mar. 2013. Television.

Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.



  1. Lots of insightful stuff here.

    Nearing the end of my undergraduate philosophy degree, I can agree with the following: “Ethics are best placed between logos and pathos.” Studies in ethical theory to me have revealed the inadequacy of pure logic for creating or identifying a foolproof moral system. I am also of the mind that, more generally, “facts are nothing compared to the opinions that are formed of them.”

    I’ve noticed your cause of recognizing (re-cognizing?) the significance of subjectivity in communication since taking one of your classes some years ago–interesting to see the cause yet remains and has such far-reaching implications. :]

    1. I appreciate your response, and revel in the recognition of my modus operandi. I especially congratulate you upon the impending baccalaureate, and I anticipate this to be only the ascension point of a most relevant life’s study. Thank you, lover of wisdom.

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