Rhetorical Theory and Ethics Course Description

Instructor: Diane Davis
Meeting Time/Place: W 3:00-6:00 pm / Zoomland
Office Hours: T 1-2:30 and TH 12-1:30, and by appointment
Emailddd@utexas.edu (Links to an external site.)

Ethics can refer both to culturally transmitted standards of moral behavior and to critical reflection about what is good, what is right, and what is just. Ethical decisions, strictly speaking, become possible only when the former conflicts with the latter forcefully enough to unsettle the rhetorically constituted moral framework(s) through which one learns to see, think, and know.

What are the conditions for such a conflict? What is required, in other words, for the edges of the frame through which one sees to come into view? Where would the prescription to “be ethical” come from if not social norms? How do the conceptual schemes propagated by these very norms delimit the realm of ethical obligation? Is ethical obligation limitable? What are the socio-political implications of illimitable ethical obligation?

In this seminar, we’ll attend to enormously complex intersections of rhetoric and ethics, where decisions that are urgently required cannot be secured by any metaphysical foundation or contracted out to any authorizing agency, be it religious, political, philosophical, or scientific. We’ll examine the devastating material consequences of neglecting the rhetorical dimensions of “the good,” “the right,” and “the just,” and we’ll contemplate the implications of an ethics that derives its force from an irreducible rhetoricity.

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