Rhetoric Lost to Statistics

The probability figures of specialists (and their reproduction by newspapermen) have supplanted rhetoric in the public discourse, and then we think that to be rational we must produce such figures in our speech. The statistics multiply.

But rhetoric is for exactly the prudential cases in which absolute truth cannot be known by the non-specialists without an unduly large expenditure of time, the cases that involve the probable and the improbable. In these cases, what we need is a rhetoric that’s rational without being rationalistic, presenting logic without overshooting its claims, leaving room for ethos and pathos to drive ideas forward without displacing logic. Rhetoric so conceived might prevent the rationalistic mass hysteria that dazes the democratic masses.

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