Despite traditional viewpoints that see rhetoric as nothing more than a techné or bios, rhetoric may be viewed as being capable of instantiating basic human goods. This paper proposes that rhetoric motivates our capacities for action and brings the processes involved in action – including the bearing of practical reason on them – into accord with virtue, enabling us to exercise practical wisdom in and through prudential judgments so that when these judgments have a direct bearing on others we may say that they are just.


As they have closely followed, expanded upon or have been influenced by Aristotle's naturalism, it should come as no surprise that theories of natural law (such as Aquinas's) that are in some way Aristotelian have followed that tradition's penchant for looking upon rhetoric more as a specious practice to be ignored or dismissed than as an essential feature of human nature.1 Consider, for example, the curious absence of rhetoric in the literature: As Eugene Garver2 notes, any mention of ‘rhetoric’ is absent from Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition (1958),3 despite her emphasis on the role of ‘speech’ in political life. Likewise, Alasdair MacIntyre neglects to mention rhetoric in his exploration of Aristotelian practices and of the relation between practices and virtues in After Virtue (1984).4

While these absences might not seem noteworthy, there are others, cases in which writers have seemingly brushed aside rhetoric by demonstrating a predilection for ‘communication.’ Among such commentators is Jacques Maritain who writes: ‘by the very fact that each of us is a person and expresses himself to himself, each of us requires communication with other and the others in the order of knowledge and love.’5 Another is Lon Fuller, who strikes a similar tone when he claims: ‘if we were forced to select the principle that supports and infuses all human aspiration we would find it in the objective of maintaining communication with our fellows.’6 Still another is Columba Ryan, who articulates a more specific role for communication, claiming that the ‘good of human communication’7 is one of three important dispositions that human beings are inclined to pursue. Like Ryan, Anthony Lisska accounts for communication by aligning it with the human dispositions as he writes: ‘part of the ‘rational disposition’ is to engage in language with other persons.’8

Other writers have offered more nuanced conceptions while attempting to expand upon accounts of communication as a feature of the human person. For example, Jean Porter broadens her conception of communication while explaining what makes human communication different from animal communication. She writes: ‘other animals do communicate. However, they do not seem to employ symbols tethered to abstract ideas, which can be detached from an immediate referential context and expressed in the form of modal propositions – in other words, their communication lacks …‘referential flexibility.’’9 John Finnis makes a similar observation as he attempts to account for the importance of communication as a fundamental human characteristic. He writes: ‘Our nature as human creatures, the array of radical capacities we all have from the outset, is exemplified by how we do things with words. Certain sounds or marks, sheerly physical even when retained in imagination and memory as brain-states, convey by a kind of embodiment both understanding and intention (will to communicate this and not that or not-this).’10

For anyone who is interested in articulating a thick account of the human propensity to engage in communication (particularly a teleological account), these thin references to a mode of communication beyond that which is purely referential seem less than helpful insofar as they prompt more questions than they resolve: What kind of communication are Maritain, Fuller and Ryan referring to? What is the ‘good of human communication’ that Ryan refers to? Are we to conceive of communication in purely linguistic terms? And what are we to make of all this from a teleological perspective? If indeed ‘our nature as human creatures … is exemplified by how we do things with words’,11 then what is it about words (or what is it about how we do things with them) that exemplify our nature so well?

I propose that hidden in the aforementioned accounts (particularly those offered by Porter and Finnis) are some answers to these questions; that is, if it is possible to surmise that what Porter refers to as ‘referential flexibility’ and what Finnis purports to be the conveying of ‘both understanding and intention’ are, in effect, hallmarks of a human capacity to convey meaning. If one accepts the possibility that the capacity to detach ideas from a referential context (that is, the ability to derive different meanings from a single idea) and the capacity to laden words with different meanings (understanding and intention or, perhaps, understanding or intention) are both ostensibly rhetorical in character, then it would seem possible to reconfigure the aforementioned propositions so as to account for rhetoric (as a form of communication) as an essential feature of human nature.

If it may be said that ‘any two points form a line, and any historical line implies a trajectory–a place or set of places toward which that line is headed,’12 then I believe that the references to communication made by Maritain et al. and the later conceptions offered by Porter and Finnis are such points; points that together suggest a path not taken (or a path not fully explored). Thus, the purpose of this paper is to engage in such an exploration. In what follows I advance a set of teleological hypotheses that begin to account for the role of rhetorical discourse (as a theoretical surrogate for communication, language, or the use of words) as a characteristic of the human person. At the heart of my proposal is a rather straightforward notion: that is, that rhetoric may be understood as a natural kind; as such it possesses particular purposes and ends. Moreover, by identifying its ends and by discovering its dispositional properties, it is possible to conceive a teleological framework for rhetoric that, in turn, can be used to develop a fruitful accounting of the human propensity to engage in communication with others.


So as not to discredit the whole of natural law literature, it is understandable that writers have appeared to adopt a traditional conception of rhetoric as a techné or bios. After all it is the perspective that rhetoric is, according to Aristotle's oft-quoted phrase, nothing more than ‘the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion’13 that continues to define the Western conception of rhetorical inquiry. Unfortunately, it might also be said that in following that tradition, most writers on natural law philosophy have not investigated (or have dismissed) the contemporary recovery of rhetoric which, having been untethered from its traditional moorings, has proven to be capable of informing natural law theory.14

Classical views of rhetoric (the worldview that Garver claims continues to predominate philosophical thought including, it would seem, natural law philosopohy) see the practice as having little import. Richard McKeon writes: ‘Histories of rhetoric, which throw little light on the principles or purposes by which present methods and uses of rhetoric might be evaluated or changed, tend to be pedantic explorations of traditions of rhetoric as an art of persuasion and belief, of deception and proof, of image-making and communication, which follow through the consequences of pejorative or positive judgments posited as premises.’15 Thus, it should come as no surprise that many believe that rhetoric ‘has been practiced widely as an art of deception, public relations, alienation, and self-interest, and it has been one of the factors contributing to the degradation of knowledge, morality, and culture’.16

As it is chronicled in James Kastely's Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition (1997)17 with the rise of the ‘new’ rhetoric and the subsequent ‘death’ of the classical rhetorical tradition came a new manner of theorizing discourse that envisions the world as a place for action and that ‘marks what it means to be a creature born into language’.18 So rather than see rhetoric as a practice of identifying and implementing a set of techniques with the intent to persuade, the recovery of rhetoric conceives it as a characteristic of the human condition. As Robert Scott writes: ‘rhetoric is present and is sensed as a part of the normal experiencing of one's environment.’19 What these new proponents of rhetoric have seen that their traditional counterparts have not is that there are fundamental characteristics of human social behavior that effectively create the need for rhetorical discourse. According to Kenneth Burke, this need stems from ‘the perception of generic divisiveness which, being common to all men, is a universal fact about them, prior to any divisiveness caused by social classes’.20 Presumably, it is this notion of generic divisiveness that Kastely sees as requiring rhetorical discourse based on ‘the continual need to adjust to the demands of unity and separateness, identity and difference, persuasion and refutation.’21 According to Scott, this ‘need to adjust’ requires ‘an enlarged concept of rhetoric … if we are to comprehend the substantial and dynamic senses in which rhetoric functions to generate continuous validation of ways in which communities act together’.22


So if it may be said that the absence of rhetoric in the natural law literature reflects the adoption by writers of classical conceptions of rhetoric that did not allow for any purpose for the practice beyond the pedantic (and some might say duplicitous) art of persuasion, and if one allows for the possibility that there is something to be said about the propositions advanced by those who have recovered rhetoric that the practice is in some way a necessary element of human social existence (if not human nature itself), then what are we to make of rhetoric and natural law? I believe that the answer to the question is this: If we wish to fully account for the human characteristic to communicate as a feature of human nature, then it would seem that the recovery of rhetoric would have much to say about natural law insofar as human sociability is itself a human disposition.23

To see this as a possibility, consider the view of Burke that ‘rhetoric [is] an important tool of socialization’;24 consider also the position held by Scott that rhetoric is ‘the possibility of bringing reason together with passion so that in action humans may civilize themselves’.25 Finally there is the observation of Kastely that ‘a reformed rhetoric is ultimately justified as central to the necessary human task of self-invention … that is at the heart of communal life’26 and there is the view of Christopher Johnstone that ‘since ‘the end of the state is the good life,’ the proper end of public deliberation must be to frame laws and social policies that will make such a life possible for the members of the community. And the instrument of that deliberation is rhetoric.’27 These claims take on new meaning when juxtaposed against one important feature of natural law expressed by Ralph McInerny: that ‘man's natural condition … is as a member of a community. The good for man must of necessity concern his fulfillment or perfection as a member of society. The moral dimension then is not some putative choice to live or not to live in society, but how to do this well.’28 Bringing these viewpoints together, we are left with this: If, according to McInerny, we are disposed to live with one another communally (this being but one human good, one that we are morally required to do well) and further, if according to Burke, Scott, Kastely, and Johnstone rhetoric is constitutive of human social life (ostensibly enabling us to live together well), then it would seem there is a teleological function to rhetoric that is related to the good of human sociability.

In order to visualize the ends of rhetoric with greater clarity (that is, beyond the simple proposition that rhetoric is somehow intrinsic to human sociability) it is necessary to provide rhetoric with an ontological framework from which we can proceed. As I have asserted previously,29 I believe Aristotelian essentialism to be one such foundation, a point of departure that permits a teleological analysis of rhetoric that is consonant with a Thomistic conception of human nature. However, it must be said that viewing rhetoric through the lens of essentialism was a task undertaken by Aristotle himself and resulted in his identification of three ‘species’ of rhetoric: deliberative, judicial and epideictic, all with particular ends. This application of essentialism was expanded upon by Garver, who used the approach to explore the kinds of rhetoric and their purposes in political society.30 Despite the usefulness of Garver's analysis, what follows is a more expanded application of essentialism, one that teases out the dispositional properties of rhetoric so as to see with greater clarity the ends of rhetoric as a feature of the human person beyond the polis.


In the following two parts I explicate and offer essentialism and Aquinas's theory of action as two parts of an ontological foundation for rhetoric. To begin, it might be helpful to recount the presuppositions that undergird the Aristotelian theory of natural kinds (or essentialism) that functions as an important ontological foundation in Aquinas's account of the human person.31 In simple terms, the theory of natural kinds presupposes that to understand a thing (broadly speaking, a living thing) it is necessary to understand the nature of the thing; to understand the nature of the thing it is necessary to understand what kind of thing the thing is; doing so then determines what makes a thing different from other kinds of things.

The central feature of the theory is the notion of essence, which proposes that to understand the nature of a thing one must understand its essence – what it is to be the thing, its essential features. Lisska describes this theory of natural kinds as being ‘based upon a metaphysical theory of essences, whose structure is composed of dispositional properties’.32 Put simply, an essence is made up of matter and form and a form is what differentiates one kind of a thing from another kind of thing. As Daniel Westberg writes: ‘all created beings (excluding spiritual beings) are understood as composites of matter and form. Matter, in order to exist in a being, receives its form, its organizing principle. Form is what gives definition to matter, what defines its identity and characterizes it from other beings.’33

An essence, then, is a set of properties that make up a form and are dispositional in character; by being dispositional I mean that they are disposed to apprehending a particular end. As such, Lisska writes that a disposition ‘is a potentiality directed towards a specific development or ‘end.’ A disposition is a capacity to ‘do something’ which an object possesses.’34 With this referencing of a potentiality or capacity of a property to bring about an end comes a teleological framework in which to view and assess a property and its related abilities (or inabilities). As Robert Pasnau suggests, this structure of essences and kinds is inherently teleological insofar as it is a contextualized consideration of ‘human beings from the top down, in light of their ultimate end or final cause’.35 With the end of a thing in sight, one can better discover the properties that a thing possesses that – while defining its nature and characterizing what it means to be the thing in the first place – conspire to bring about the thing's end. The upshot is that by discovering a thing's end we are able to identify particular properties and their inherent dispositional characteristics and are able to grasp precisely how it is that these properties apprehend a thing's end.

Readers who are familiar with a Thomistic view of human nature may be quick to point out Aquinas's belief that only substantial forms can possess essences. This leads us to distinguish substantial forms from accidental forms or properties. Pasnau writes that the two can be distinguished in the following way: ‘A substantial property is that which makes a thing be what it is, and without which that thing could not exist. Accidents are properties that a thing could do without, and that may come and go while the substance remains.’36 Since a substantial form (or property) is necessary in order to make a thing what it is, it can be seen as being an essential feature of a thing's nature and as such, possesses an essence. Presumably, this is what Porter had in mind by writing that ‘the outstanding character of an essence is its permanence, its immutability.’37 Since accidents are not essential to a thing's nature they do not possess essences. Further delineating an accidental form's non-essential nature is the notion that since accidental forms may come and go, they can (at some point) cease to exist. So one way to identify an accidental form is to determine if it modifies something that already exists or brings something new into existence. If it simply modifies something that already exists, then it is an accidental form.

Perhaps an example might help explain these concepts. Consider tulips and tomatoes as kinds of plants. Although tulips and tomatoes are both certainly plants, they are not the same kinds of plants. They are not the same kinds of plants because they have different essences: The essence of a tulip, it could be said, is to flower; the essence of a tomato, on the other hand, is to bear fruit. Their essences are different because their dispositions are different: The disposition of a tulip is to flower and the disposition of a tomato is to bear fruit. Although both kinds of plants have the potential or capacity to flower, only the tomato has the capacity to bear fruit. Here it is important to realize that by claiming that their dispositions, potentialities, or capacities are different, that we are claiming also that their ends are different, or that their essences are oriented toward very different ends (one that is predominantly aesthetic, as in the case of the tulip, and one that is more reproductive, as in the case of the tomato).38 Perhaps more importantly, a thing's essence, its concomitant properties and dispositions, confer upon the thing what it means to be the thing. That is, the properties of a thing's essence make intelligible all the functions and actions that make a thing what it is as a particular kind of thing. So by understanding how a tomato uses nutrients from the soil to grow a tomato, or how blossoms are pollinated, we are able to understand the dispositions of certain properties, and by coming to this understanding, we are able to grasp what a tomato plant is as a kind of plant.

Of course, being oriented toward particular ends presupposes that essences have the capacity to bring about the ends to which they are oriented. So while it is important to individuate a disposition as it relates to an essence, it is equally important to consider the ‘completion’ of the end as an actualization of the disposition, or as an indication of the full development of the disposition. Lisska describes this full development as ‘the fulfillment or completion of the potency’.39 What this notion of fulfillment means is that if a potentiality or a capacity to do something is fulfilled, then in Aquinian terminology, it has been perfected. In this way, perfection describes a disposition that has been fully developed, insofar as its potency has been actualized in the apprehension of its end. The completion of a capacity or potency – its fulfillment – is made evident by the act that brings it about. In this way, a capacity and the action that results in its fulfillment are paradigmatically related to the end(s) that they are intended to bring about; the ends to which the nature of the capacity is directed. Consequently, one might regard a perfect tulip as having produced an exceptionally beautiful flower, or a perfect tomato plant as having produced an abundance of tomatoes; as Pierre-Marie Emonet writes, ‘the plant is perfected in its flower.’40

In sum what we are saying is that the disposition of the tulip (which defines its essence) has been perfected in the production of a beautiful flower and that the disposition of the tomato has been perfected in its yielding of tomatoes. It is important here to emphasize the importance of the act in bringing about perfection, for the act itself serves as the paradigmatic touchstone for the perfection of the potency. So while tulips and tomatoes gather nutrients from the soil and energy from the sun and convert these as they flower or grow tomatoes, it is the individual acts of gathering nutrients, of growing, of flowering that perfect each dispositional property. Moreover, it might be said that the leaves of both plants are substantial forms because they are necessary for tulips and tomatoes to apprehend their ends – whereas white striations in the leaves are accidental because the markings are not essential for the ends of the plants to be attained.

To apprehend an end and to complete its potency, a disposition must be developed. This leads us to consider eudaimonia, which Lisska describes as ‘the functioning well of the essential properties common to the individual in a specific natural kind’.41 For Aquinas then, dispositions are developmental in nature; as they apprehend their intended ends, dispositions reach their full development or their actualization. Since, as Lisska points out, ‘the completion of a developmental process – the natural termination point – is a good’, 42 is possible to see perfection as good. Additionally, there is good to the developmental process itself, to the development of the dispositional properties that comprise the essence. Essential properties can only function well if they are developed. Ostensibly, this is what prompts Lisska to write that ‘the end – i.e. the good – is built into the very process of development’.43

Alasdair MacIntyre links eudaimonia to virtue as he writes: ‘the virtues are precisely those qualities the possession of which will enable an individual to achieve eudaimonia and the lack of which will frustrate his movement toward that telos.’44 This leads to another way to conceive the good of development as a means to perfection: that is, perfection as virtue. In discussing Aquinas's treatment of virtuous behavior, Porter points out that the virtues are dispositions to act in accordance with reason. She writes: ‘that is in fact precisely why they can be said to be perfections of human capacities – they dispose the capacities and desires of the agent in such a way as to bring them into accord with reason, which is the distinctive human capacity and as such is the touchstone for human flourishing’.45

As capacities are perfected they demonstrate virtue. However, Porter notes that ‘a particular virtue cannot be understood simply in terms of the general idea of virtue; it must also be understood in terms of specific kinds of actions with which it is correlated’ and it must be understood as ‘a perfection of the faculty which is its subject.’46 The relationship between virtue and action as perfection is reiterated by Finnis who writes that ‘virtue simply is the perfection of the human capacities involved in action, i.e. the powers of understanding and responding to intelligible goods and of choosing and carrying out one's choices well – a perfection which involves bringing those powers of intelligence, will, and (as sharing in rational choice and action) emotion into cooperative harmony with each other and with the human goods.’47 This idea that a virtue can be understood as a perfection of a capacity (or, in Lisska's terms, a disposition or potentiality) performing well has some important implications for the properties of rhetoric, as will be explored below.


To ascertain the essence of rhetoric and to determine if it (as a capacity or as a potentiality) is capable of being perfected, we must draw on the analysis above by applying it to rhetoric. First, however, it is important to understand that while the dispositional theory of natural kinds has been applied namely to individual human beings, Lisska writes that ‘like most Aristotlean terms, there are analogical uses of disposition, ranging from a concept (an acquired disposition to understand), to a sense faculty such as the eye (a natural disposition to see), to an innate property such as growth (a natural disposition to utilize food and transform energy). Yet throughout this discussion, a disposition is always a potentiality or a capacity to undertake or to develop towards a specific end.’48 What this means is that a number of things might be thought of as having dispositions – that is, capacities or potentialities to develop towards specific ends.

Now consider the capacity that human beings have to communicate with one another. Obviously communication is not just a human capacity; but what is human is the ability to derive a dynamic form of meaning from communication. Porter points this out by writing that ‘other animals do communicate. However, they do not seem to employ symbols tethered to abstract ideas, which can be detached from an immediate referential context and expressed in the form of modal propositions – in other words, their communication lacks …‘referential flexibility.’’49 By being able to detach ideas from their referential context human beings (unlike animals) possess the capacity to – in Finnis's words –‘convey by a kind of embodiment both understanding and intention’;50 that is, the ability to convey meaning.

At this point I wish to suggest that the essence of rhetoric may be better understood by considering its three dispositional properties: apprehensive, decisive, and deliberative all of which correlate to Aquinas's theory of human action, which is itself illustrative of the functioning of practical reason. That is, insofar as I have asserted previously that ‘rhetoric would therefore seem necessary in order to instantiate the good of practical reasonableness itself’51 and given that the theory of action is representative of the functioning of practical reason, I believe that the dispositional character of rhetoric can be conceived based on the manner in which rhetoric is employed in the stages of human action.

Aquinas's theory of action is linked to reason and the dispositional properties that constitute our nature by the necessity to employ practical reason in pursuit of action. Lisska addresses the reason for this necessity as he writes: ‘a moral agent acts rationally only if the agent prescribes those actions which develop the dispositional properties common to human nature. This is the role of practical reason. To act in a contrary fashion entails acting irrationally, and hence, immorally.’52 Thus, we are required (as stipulated by the dispositional theory of human nature) to utilize practical reason in order to pursue the actions that apprehend the human goods; this is one defining element of our nature, one that is characteristic of action. As Westberg writes: ‘Practical reason is practical because it leads to action.’53 Since practical reason concerns itself with deliberating about the undertaking of actions, Aquinas offers a theory of action, which serves as a diagrammatical account of the operations of the practical reason.54 Porter succinctly defines this theory in relation to the object of practical reason in the following way:

Of course, the proper operations of a human agent – her human actions, in the full sense – represent a distinct form of operation, in accordance with the characteristic way of acting pertaining to her as a human being. More specifically, human action stems from the agent's knowing and deliberately chosen exercise of her causal powers, in pursuit of some aim that she rationally judges to be both good, and attainable through the chosen action.55

Westberg delineates the stages of action somewhat bi-laterally; that is, the stages of action carry with them implications for the intellect and the will, which interact during each stage. The importance of this harmonious interchange cannot be under-emphasized. As Johnstone writes: ‘The harmony between intellect and desire in choice fulfills man's unique function; for man is both intellect and passion, on Aristotle's view [and, one might add, on Aquinas's], and this proper function must consist in the unified activity of his whole being. The disposition or inclination to submit desire to the guidance of reason defines the ‘state of character’ in terms of which Aristotle conceives moral virtue.’56

The stages of action proposed by Westberg are: intention, decision, deliberation, and execution.57 Briefly, in the first stage (intention) the human agent grasps an object (or a particular action) as being good by ordering means to an end and by relating means to a purpose, while directing the will toward the object (action). In the second stage, the agent uses her intellect to make a judgment concerning the object (action), while the will concerns itself with making an analogous determination that the object (action) satisfies the requirement of tending toward the good. This stage exemplifies the harmonious relationship between the intellect and the will, Westberg writes, insofar as ‘free choice involves a judgment, which cannot be a matter of the will alone’.58

In the deliberative stage, which Westberg sees as being unnecessary in those cases where ‘there is one thing to be done, and one way to do it’,59 the intellect specifies and considers the means to a particular end (as indicated by the object) and identifies the particular actions as starting points, whereas the will concerns itself with a volitional acceptance of this process, the conclusion of which is consent. As Westberg writes: ‘Consent is the appetitive approval given to the means identified by deliberation; but without a decision there is still an openness about the possibilities which implies that one can consent to more than one means.’60 Thus, even though deliberation may not be required in action decision cannot be dispensed with; that is, decision is necessary in order to complete an act.

The dispositional properties of rhetoric can be understood to function in the following way: The apprehensive property of rhetoric, the end of which is apprehending the intentional stage of action, is used by the individual herself as an instrument to grasp an object (action) as a good, to direct the will toward the object (to recognize that the object or action is in some way good) and to engage in the act of ordering means toward an end; or to order means toward apprehending the object. Similarly, the decisive property of rhetoric is directed toward judgment and to present the object to the will in such a way so as to enable the will to recognize that the object tends toward the good (thus being in some way attractive). Identifying and deliberating over means is the principle aim of the deliberative property, as the intellect specifies means and the will identifies them as attractive and identifies one or more means as being the most attractive.

At this juncture, I believe it important to postulate two other roles for rhetoric within the context of action: That is, the role of rhetoric in enabling the harmonious interaction between the intellect and the will, and the manner in which the dispositional properties of rhetoric are employed on individual and communal levels. First, recall Johnstone's assertion that ‘the harmony between intellect and desire in choice fulfills man's unique function;’61 to achieve this sense of ‘harmony,’ it would seem that the intellect and will must in some way engage in a deliberative operation themselves.62 As Porter writes: ‘reason and will are always in a process of dynamic interaction. As reason presents the will with possible objects for pursuit, and suggests courses of action directed toward these goods, so the will prompts reason to consider this or that alternative, to deliberate on the best way to attain this or that end, and the like.’63

The implication of this is that the communicative relationship between the intellect and will (if one can use this phrase to describe the nature of the ‘dynamic interaction’ between the two) must in some way be rhetorical in character. Johnstone supports such a notion when he writes: ‘The activity of the practical intellect, therefore, insofar as it implies the capacity to deliberate well about practical matters, is rhetorical in character. The ‘man of practical wisdom,’ when he deliberates about conduct with a view toward choosing among competing alternatives, employs a kind of internal rhetoric.’64 The implications of this form of internal dialog will be elaborated upon below.

Two examples taken from the literature help illustrate the operation of the dispositional properties of rhetoric and reveal the way that the dispositional properties of rhetoric work on individual and communal levels. Consider first the example that Brummett offers:

People have no difficulty seeing as rhetorical a speech arguing that we should try to conserve our trees. But through the more diffuse, everyday rhetoric experienced by living in a culture, the speaker and audience have been led to regard trees as a distinct category of objects (plants), worth conserving, also worth squandering, not able to help themselves, a material resource, etc., and it is through those rhetorically induced meanings that we have the tree in the first place.65

Consider next how the dispositional properties of rhetoric outlined in the foregoing would be employed in the above example. By leading the audience to ‘regard trees as a distinct category of objects (plants), worth conserving, also worth squandering, not able to help themselves, a material resource,’ the apprehensive property of rhetoric is being used to enable the individual intellect to grasp or apprehend (the good) that trees are worthy of conservation. The employment of the apprehensive property might be particularly prevalent in the phrase ‘not able to help themselves’ which would appear to carry with it the implied meaning that trees are helpless or defenseless and thus are in need of some form of help – as things that are helpless or defenseless often are, as implied by the labels ‘helpless’ and ‘defenseless.’ Such phrases could ostensibly be directed toward the will, which would seize upon the meanings as being attractive.66

Using the decisive property of rhetoric, the speaker might implore the audience to ‘join the Sierra Club today’ to ‘help save our trees from deforestation;’ the former being an example of the decisive property aimed at the intellect to precipitate judgment (implied by the meaning inculcated in the call to action), the latter being an example of the decisive property directed toward the will in order to make such a judgment attractive, as implied by the use of the word ‘deforestation’ which would seem to mean something unfortunate for trees).

Finnis offers a second example that can be used to visualize the workings of the dispositional properties of rhetoric:

Here is a group of eight students, occupying a corridor of eight rooms and a small kitchen in the college hostel. They are deciding whether or not to establish for themselves, by agreement, a curfew on cooking and kitchen conversation after 9.00 p.m. The walls are thin, the doors even thinner, voices and kitchen noises travel, some of the students find it hard to study at nights with these distractions. But they all enjoy company, and like relaxed night-time talking; and some of them get back late from libraries and would prefer to cook late. From time to time, most of them get really interested in the work, and want to read late and do the note-taking that brings comprehension. More constantly, they want to succeed in examinations, to get employment and the bundle of benefits loosely envisaged and named ‘a future’. They see the point of getting along together, and understand how in this debate that cuts both ways. As an individual student in this situation, what are the elements in one's deliberating and choosing?67

Although Finnis takes as the starting point of his analysis ‘the choosing’ (analogous to Westberg's ‘decision’ stage), I would like to start at the beginning of the process with intention. Although Finnis does not say, presumably the process begins when a particular student thinks to herself: ‘Although I like my friends, there do appear to be times when I need to have some quiet time to study. And it seems like some of my roommates might feel the same way.’ By saying this herself she is, in effect, employing the apprehensive property of rhetoric; that is, her intellect is grasping the good of ‘quiet time’ while her will is being directed to consider quiet time as a good. Being so motivated, she once again employs the apprehensive property by broaching the subject with her roommates: ‘I sometimes find myself wanting quiet time in the kitchen so that I can study. Do you find yourself wanting the same thing?’68

As she waits for an answer (or even as she hears the answer from her roommate), she recognizes the need for some form of public deliberation: ‘If I lived here by myself, this would not be a problem. But I have seven roommates whose needs I must consider; after all I simply cannot mandate a curfew all by myself.’ She engages the deliberative property of rhetoric in consideration of the means: ‘We could vote (however, some might be for it and some might be against it; are there enough in favor to weigh against those who oppose?); I could put on headphones and listen to music (but some of my roommates might think I'm isolating myself; I wish to maintain good relations with them, so having them think that I'm isolating myself is not very desirable); or I could simply go along with whatever decision is made (but then I wouldn't be able to share my input).’ She then engages the decisive property of rhetoric in making the decision that voting would be the best option to present to the group: ‘Voting is by far the most democratic way to handle things; I think our deliberations should focus on having everyone vote on a number of options for having quiet time in the kitchen.’ Presumably, she shares these deliberations (once again using the deliberative property of rhetoric) with her roommates who all agree to vote (which takes us back to Finnis's starting point in the example).

As these examples help illustrate, the properties of rhetoric are used on both individual and collective levels. It is used first by individuals where the apprehensive, decisive and deliberative properties are employed in some way by the intellect and will. While this might immediately posit some sort of duality, as in the intellect being the rhetor and the will being the audience, and while this might characterize the reason and will as being miniature persons ‘installed’ within the human person, I do not wish to assert that the reason and will operate in isolation from one another. Rather, I contend that if the reason and will ‘are always in a process of dynamic interaction’69 then the form of their interaction is somehow discursive in nature. As Christine Korsgaard writes: ‘I must have something to say to myself about why I am [willing an end, and am committed and remain committed to it, even in the face of desires that would distract and weaknesses that would dissuade me] – something better [to say to myself], moreover, than the fact that this is what I wanted yesterday.’70 Michael Billig regards this as ‘dialogic thinking, or the conduct of internal debate’ which he sees as ‘something which is pre-eminently human’.71 If so, then I maintain that the ‘something to say to myself’ as a form of ‘internal debate’ is somehow rhetorical in nature insofar as it is a discursive form whose proximate end is to convey meaning and intent, not to a reason and will that reside in isolation from one another, but as it is instantiated in the dialogical exchange that is somehow necessary in order for the reason and will to interact in the first place, which is the hallmark of deliberative reflection. This point is punctuated well by Johnstone who writes: ‘If we can reasonably visualize deliberation as a sort of internal dialogue, then the practically wise person, when he or she deliberates, functions as both rhetor and auditor.’72

The implication of all this is this: If practical reason is itself a form of reasoned deliberation; if reasoned deliberation is characterized by a harmony between reason and will; if the harmony between reason and will is achieved by the use of some form of discursive practice; if this discursive practice is in some way rhetorical (as the intellect makes attractive to the will notions or propositions, and as the will seeks to motivate the intellect and precipitate action), then it would seem that the instantiation of practical reason (as prescribed by the theory of action) requires some notable use of rhetorical skills at every stage of reasoning or at every stage of action. And the use of rhetoric to affect the apprehension of these ends can be understood by considering the dispositional properties of rhetoric. As Johnstone writes: ‘since rhetoric aims properly at facilitating reasoned judgment about such matters, we can say that it aims at excellence in practical deliberation. In seeking to lead auditors to intelligent decision-making, rhetoric also seeks implicitly to foster the capacity to deliberate well; for intelligent judgment rests upon this ability.’73

Indeed, if we consider the role of rhetoric in fostering excellence in deliberation, then we must consider also how rhetoric accomplishes this communally. Here I maintain that the dispositional properties used at the individual level are used also at the communal level where individuals (who themselves engage the properties of rhetoric in their own practical reasoning) seek to instantiate practical reasoning among others, joining practical intellects together so that in unity, individuals can collaborate and coordinate their activities and work together to achieve sociability or to arrive at a modus vivendi. The possibility for a communally instantiated practical reason seems to be underscored by Finnis who claims that ‘we should expect the analysis [or the structure of deliberation and choice, the means-end structuring that underlies action] will apply as well to social as to purely individual choices and acts’.74

My point here is that the instantiation of practical reasoning through the active employment of the dispositional properties of rhetoric, insofar as the properties affect or precipitate action, have yet another purpose in instantiating practical reasonableness among others: that is the sharing of meaning, or by the joining of other practical intellects that are otherwise separated by time, distance or perhaps by ideology and uniting these intellects in action. Finnis seems to tacitly acknowledge the ultimate value of this sharing of meaning as he writes: ‘This communicating displays both as effect displays cause and as an exemplary analogy, how in the being, makeup and existence of their human authors, materiality or bodiliness (physical, chemical, biological and psycho-somatic) is united with that which is as immaterial as a meaning – a notion, a proposition, a question, a purpose – shareable across continents or centuries (or the dinner table or the courtroom).’75

Although one might point to instances of fruitful collaboration or cooperation as manifestations of this collective participation in action that is one principal aim of the properties of rhetoric (as it is demonstrated in familial, political or economic communities), I would assert that it is the socially instantiated identification and pursuit of the common good that is perhaps the highest manifestation of rhetorically facilitated action. Here, jurisprudence is arguably the best example of this communal instantiation of practical reasonableness and of the role of the properties of rhetoric in bringing it about. Finnis illuminates this possibility when he writes: ‘government (governing, governance) by law means, equally concretely, that these practical propositions conceived in the minds of those responsible for ruling must be assented to by the ruled, and adopted into their own minds as reasons for action.’76 Thus, individuated instances of practical reason (which is the collective object of the properties of rhetoric) engaged in by ‘those responsible for ruling’ are shared among others (by once again employing the properties of rhetoric to apprehend the act – or object, or good – to deliberate on it and to decide upon it) so as to be ‘assented to by the ruled, and adopted into their own minds as reasons for action.’ This, I believe, is precisely what Johnstone has in mind as he writes: ‘Since ‘the end of the state is the good life,’ the proper end of public deliberation must be to frame laws and social policies that will make such a life possible for the members of the community. And the instrument of that deliberation is rhetoric.’77


I now wish to return to the application of essentialism and the theory of action in order to discuss how rhetoric – as a kind of communication – might be perfected. Above I recounted the assertions of Finnis and Porter that the perfection of a capacity can be conceived as virtue in action; or as Finnis writes: ‘virtue is simply the perfection of the human capacities involved in action, i.e. the powers of understanding and responding to intelligible goods and of choosing and carrying out one's choices well.’78 This would appear to prompt the question: How are the properties of rhetoric perfected?

Put simply, they are perfected in the apprehension of prudence and justice. Insofar as the apprehensive, decisive and deliberative properties of rhetoric are disposed toward the completion of their respective stages of action, and insofar as prudence is ‘the good operation of the practical intellect, responsible for the cognitive element in the process of action,’ it is possible to state that as the decisive and deliberative properties of rhetoric permit reasoned decision and exemplify excellence of counsel, it is possible to say also that these properties demonstrate virtue (and perfection) based on Westberg's claim that ‘moral virtue requires good choice; this in turn requires the agent to accept the right means; and this is not possible unless reason is rightly deliberating, judging, and commanding.’79

However, it is necessary to elaborate on the function of prudence in the exercising of practical reason to see how rhetoric secures the good of prudence. As Porter writes: ‘prudence operates at the level of choice, and as such, it does not determine the ends for which the agent acts.’80 She clarifies: ‘prudence does not determine the ends of the virtues. Rather, it determines what counts as a consistent or appropriate expression of the virtues in particular choices – which is to say, in terms of the Aristotelian analysis [Aquinas] appropriates, that prudence determines what counts, concretely, as attaining the mean of the virtues in particular instances of choice.’81 What this means is that if the dispositional properties of rhetoric (collectively) instantiate practical reason by permitting ‘the good operation of the practical intellect’ in each stage of action, then we may say that the resulting judgment is practically wise, or that the decision is prudent. But to say it is a prudential judgment is to say that prudence has determined ‘what would count as a virtuous action in a specific situation; that is what it means to say that prudence determines the concrete content of the mean of the virtue, in specific instances of choice’.82

Finnis characterizes prudence as the concomitant recognition and pursuit of the ‘common good:’‘So the good which prudentia seeks to instantiate – by its reasonable adjudications about what the first practical principles, taken all together, direct – is the ‘common end of the whole of human life’ or ‘the whole of living-in-a-good-way’’83 which can and practically is directed toward ‘the common good’ as it relates to states, churches, cities, trade associations, and families. Of course, one touchstone for the common good, the virtue which in some way instantiates the common good, is justice. As Westberg writes: ‘a prudent decision and action must be governed by justice (with due regard for relationships with others).’84

This leads us to consider how it is that rhetoric apprehends justice. Kastely writes that it is ‘rhetoric's essential commitment to cooperation and public interest that opens the possibility of exploring why rhetoric might be a crucial art for a community’.85 One way that rhetoric reveals this commitment and finds the object of its perfection is by democratizing discourse, liberating it from the confines of a purely linguistic enterprise and re-characterizing it as a mechanism by which members of communities establish meaning and in so doing, work with one another to remediate injustice. According to Barry Brummett, rhetoric finds itself at the center of the creation of meaning: ‘Reality is what experience means. This meaning is taken from personal experience and communication about it with others, the sharing of meaning.’86 Moreover, ‘since meanings are formed and changed socially through rhetorical dialogue with others, the reality which is grounded in meaning is also formed and changed rhetorically.’87 Thus, Brummett holds that ‘participation in shared meanings are requisites for participation in society.’88

One reason this exchange of meanings is necessary is that society requires its participants to negotiate competing meanings or competing claims, particularly if individuals aspire to societas. Illustrating this state of affairs, Scott notes that we live in a world of competing claims where, with some regularity, individuals either contradict one another or encounter claims that are dissonant or perhaps both. Facing this sort of uncertainty, Scott asserts that, ‘one must either withdraw from the conflicts of life or find some way to act in the face of these conflicts.’89 The aim of this exchanging of meanings and negotiating of claims is to rectify injustice. Burke writes that the basis of rhetoric stems from ‘the perception of generic divisiveness which, being common to all men, is a universal fact about them, prior to any divisiveness caused by social classes’.90 Much as Burke sees the matter of estrangement as an inescapable element of human social life, Kastely observes that ‘injustice is rooted in the very nature of language and [in] the way past and present operations of power effectively preclude a genuine public discussion that might advance the cause of justice.’91 So although the meaning(s) alluded to by Brummett and Scott can certainly be shared, problems that inhere in social interactions (which can and often do involve some form of domination or oppression) manifest themselves in discourse. Iris Young claims this to be a problem of ‘privileging argument’ whereby shared, linguistically driven premises and discursive frameworks, situated in the heterogeneity of human life, are used as instruments to affect domination or oppression. In this way, ‘the effort to shape arguments according to shared premises within shared discursive frameworks sometimes excludes the expression of some needs, interests, and suffering of injustice, because these cannot be voiced with the operative premises and frameworks’92 employed by certain groups.

If rhetoric has the ability to bridge the different affections and affiliations, interests and identities that result from the formation of human social groups it is due to its ability to coordinate the imparting of meaning with the intent to establish both inter- and intra-group understanding with the objective of apprehending justice. Young conceives such an imparting of meaning as a ‘translation:’‘Insofar as the many sub-publics in a large and free society themselves must communicate with one another to solve problems or resolve conflict … rhetoric aims to help translate across them.’93 By imparting meaning through ‘translation,’ Young believes that rhetoric de-privileges expression, revealing the social and historical contexts that inhere in assertion, deliberation, disputation, and refutation. As such, ‘rhetoric is an important means by which people situated in particular social positions can adjust their claims to be heard by those in differing social situations.’94 This, I believe, follows Scott's observation that ‘rhetoric lies with the contingencies of life; rhetoric is at least part of the social negotiation necessary for living together.’95


It is my hope that the foregoing has begun the process of articulating a teleological account of the human propensity to engage in (a form of) communicative discursive practice as a distinct feature of the human person. Although I believe that this essay is merely a starting point for a thick account of communication within the context of natural law, I believe also that one important implication of the foregoing is this: Based on what I have proposed, it would seem plausible to characterize rhetoric in decidedly naturalistic terms, particularly in light of the ends to which it is naturally disposed. Although I will concede – as Howard Kainz points out – that ‘’natural’ has multiple connotations, many of which are obviously not moral’,96 I suggest that ‘it might best characterize the moral status of rhetoric within the context of natural law: For to conceive rhetoric as having some potential to perform a natural function is to imbue rhetoric with a morality related to its function.’97 As I have attempted to illustrate, rhetoric motivates our capacities for action and brings the processes involved in action – including the bearing of practical reason upon them – into accord with virtue, enabling us to exercise practical wisdom in and through prudential judgments so that when these judgments have a direct bearing on others we may say that they are just. As such it may be conceived as being ‘natural’ for its ability to bring about the basic goods of prudence, justice and sociability.98 If so, then I believe it possible to characterize such a rhetoric in teleological terms as natural rhetoric.

However, along with the recognition of natural rhetoric comes a concomitant recognition of obligations concerning its use that are fundamental to essentialism. Among these are hindrances and frustrations of natural processes. As Lisska writes: ‘The hindering of any developing process frustrates that process; to frustrate a natural process in a human being denies the possibility of attaining human well-being.’99 The upshot of this is that any hindrance or frustration of a natural process might be considered immoral. Lisska continues:

On this scheme of meta-ethical naturalism, it follows that an immoral action is the hindering of the natural developmental process based upon the dispositional properties common to human beings. Morality has its foundation in human nature. An act is morally wrong, not because God commands that ‘A is wrong,’ but rather because the act prevents the completion – the self-actualization, as it were – of the dispositional properties which determine the content of human nature. While it is true that God has commanded that some acts are wrong, none the less the act is wrong structurally because an immoral act prevents the self-actualization of human beings. An act is wrong, not on account of God's command, but because the act hinders the development of the human dispositions. This is the fundamental normative position based upon a metaphysical theory of essence which is central to Aquinas's moral theory.100

This being the case, it would seem possible to characterize any acts that hinder or frustrate the effective operation of the dispositional properties of rhetoric (or, more broadly, natural rhetoric) as being immoral precisely because the acts prevent the properties (as dispositions) from actualizing themselves in the attainment of their ends.

One act that could be considered immoral is lying, which Aquinas defines in the following way: ‘One lies if and only if one asserts a proposition as true, believing it to be false, and thus communicating something about oneself –‘I believe this to be the case’– which is false even if the proposition asserted happens, contrary to one's belief, to be true.’101 While it might seem self-evident, lying can hinder or frustrate the dispositional properties of rhetoric by preventing them from apprehending their ends. Besides the duplicitous nature of such acts as indicators of defective choice, there is the simple matter – as Finnis claims – that generally, lies ‘are more or less incompatible with love of neighbor as oneself and indeed with the very substance of human association, and so are injustices and seriously wrongful’.102

This is not to say that lying is the only moral impediment to the functioning of the dispositional properties or to the functioning of natural rhetoric; rather, the salient point is that if this application of essentialism allows for the possibility of natural rhetoric, then it must address the morality of such a construct by considering what acts serve as hindrances or frustrations. For example, as Robert Sokolowski103 suggests, a number of occlusions could conceivably impede the proper use of natural rhetoric. For example, individuals who are impulsive, obtuse (including those who are morally obtuse), immature or vicious may not possess the ability to distinguish ends from purposes, rendering them incapable of employing natural rhetoric in such a way as to service practical reason, thereby demonstrating prudence and promulgating justice.

Identifying occlusions or specific hindrances to the employment of natural rhetoric is but one course for future research. Another is exploring a typology of discursive forms that adhere to the foregoing conception of natural rhetoric. Above I suggested that jurisprudence and governance might yield appropriate exemplars of the dispositional properties of rhetoric as they are used to instantiate the good of practical reasonableness among members of communities. Insofar as the prudential ordering of things towards ends – as Westberg writes –‘holds true whether we speak of a person who orders his own actions, or those of others, as in a household, city or kingdom’104 it is necessary to begin the task of identifying how natural rhetoric is manifested and negotiated in discourse as it is constituted in the inter-related network of communities and ‘sub-communities’ that make up modern political, economic, social, and religious life. One fruitful way to begin this task is to individuate particular instances of rhetorical discourse and to determine in what way and in what context they employ the dispositional properties suggested above.

I would like to conclude by making an observation: In discussing natural law as a ‘doctrine of public reasons’ Robert George writes: ‘Respect for these reasons as reasons accounts for the honored place of dialectic in the tradition of natural law theory and the emphasis of contemporary natural law theorists on full and fair debate in the forums of democracy on such issues as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and marriage.’105 While it is commendable that the value of ‘reasons as reasons’ is recognized, it is perhaps ironic that theorists such as George, while lauding dialectic and debate, have not yet accounted for the form of discourse that is the object of their praise. This essay should function as an important first step in doing so.


  1. 1 Thomas Farrell captures this point well in Norms of Rhetorical Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 2 when he writes: ‘As a theory, if this term is even applicable, [rhetoric] is seen as either an archaic longing for an original, lost ideal or reason's evil twin, the carnivalesque sideshow of figurative relativism. This latter view has justifiably provoked suspicion from what remains of philosophy. But neither of these views does us much good when it comes to empowering, engaging, and trying to ameliorate the collaborative practices of civic life.’

  2. 2 Eugene Garver, Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 5.

  3. 3 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

  4. 4 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).

  5. 5Jacques Maritain, The Person and the Common Good (South Bend: Notre Dame University Press, 1966), pp. 41–2, emphases in original.

  6. 6 Lon Fuller, The Morality of Law (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), p. 185.

  7. 7 Columba Ryan, ‘The Traditional Concept of Natural Law: An Interpretation’ in Iltud Evans (ed.) Light on the Natural Law (London: Compass Books, 1965), p. 28.

  8. 8 Anthony Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 105.

  9. 9 Jean Porter, Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), n. 77 at p. 212.

  10. 10 John Finnis, ‘Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited’, American Journal of Jurisprudence 50 (2005), p. 12, emphases in original.

  11. 11 Ibid.

  12. 12 Richard Tucker, ‘Figure, Ground and Presence: A Phenomenology of Meaning in Rhetoric’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 87 (2001), p. 396.

  13. 13 Rhetoric I. 2.

  14. 14 I have discussed the intersection of natural law and rhetoric in ‘Justice as a Nexus of Natural Law and Rhetoric,’Philosophy & Rhetoric (In Press); ‘Natural Law, Natural Rhetoric and Rhetorical Perversions,’Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 79 (2006), pp. 173–88; ‘Natural Law as an Ethic for Postmodern Rhetoric,’International Journal of the Humanities 3 (2006), pp. 103–10; and ‘Reason as a Nexus of Natural Law and Rhetoric,’Journal of Business Ethics 59 (2005), pp. 247–57.

  15. 15 Richard McKeon, ‘The Uses of Rhetoric in a Technological Age: Architectonic Productive Arts’ in Marc Backman (ed.) Rhetoric: Essays in Invention and Discovery (Woodbridge: Ox Bow Press, 1987), p. 1.

  16. 16 Ibid., p. 2.

  17. 17 James Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition: From Plato to Postmodernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

  18. 18 Ibid., 1.

  19. 18 Ibid., 1.

  20. 20 Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 169.

  21. 21 Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition, p. 236.

  22. 22 Scott, ‘On Not Defining Rhetoric,’ p. 94.

  23. 23 I refer here to Aquinas's proposition that human nature is characterized by three dispositions: towards living, towards sensory apprehensions, and towards rational cognitivity (Summa Theologiae II q. 94 a. 2), the third of which Lisska has described as the disposition ‘to understand and to live together in social communities’ (Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 101).

  24. 24 Karen Watson, ‘A Rhetorical and Sociolinguistic Model for the Analysis of Narrative’, American Anthropologist 75 (1973), p. 75.

  25. 25 Robert Scott, ‘The Forum: Between Silence and Certainty: A Codicil to ‘Dialectical Tensions of Speaking and Silence’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 86 (2000), p. 109.

  26. 26 Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition, p. 13.

  27. 27 Christoper Johnstone, ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy: Ethics, Rhetoric, Politics, and the Search for Moral Truth’, Philosophy and Rhetoric 13 (1980), p. 15.

  28. 28 Ralph McInerny, ‘A Bracelet of Bright Hair About the Bone’ in Alice Ramos (ed.) Beauty, Art, and the Polis (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 4, emphasis added.

  29. 29 ‘Justice as a Nexus of Natural Law and Rhetoric.’

  30. 30 Garver, Aristotle's Rhetoric, pp. 45–65. By rendering the value of rhetoric in purely political terms Garver fails to place enough emphasis on the purpose of rhetoric in bringing about human sociability, political or otherwise. Although Garver's predisposition toward the political uses of rhetoric might well reflect Aristotle's own preoccupation with the politics of the city-state (and that of Plato's), the political orientation of Garver's approach limits his analysis of the essential features of rhetoric. He appears to in some way acknowledge this on p. 55 when he writes: ‘Aristotle's isolation of the three kinds of rhetoric and his making them central to the art [of the polis] and his lack of interest in the more universal aspects of the art will be a further sign of the distance between his world and ours.’ Unfortunately, Garver seems to perpetuate this ‘lack of interest’ by failing to address this shortcoming. It should be noted also that Johnstone treats rhetoric in political terms in ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy.’

  31. 31 That Aquinas's adoption of essentialism is controversial is not to be denied. Consequently, the interlocutors I have chosen to engage with in this essay might all appear (on some level) to espouse essentialism; see generally, Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law; Porter, Nature as Reason; and Daniel Westberg, Right Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). One notable exception is Finnis, who in Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980) famously rejects essentialism. In light of the differences between interlocutors, the reader should observe that I have chosen to relegate my engagement of Finnis in a way that comports with the thesis I offer in this essay; that is, Finnis as interlocutor in Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) and, to a lesser extent, in ‘Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited.’

  32. 32 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 96.

  33. 33 Westberg, Right Practical Reason, pp. 44–5.

  34. 34 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, pp. 86–7, emphasis added.

  35. 35 Robert Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 21.

  36. 36 Ibid., p. 83.

  37. 37 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 91.

  38. 38 Readers may argue that both tulips and tomatoes possess essences that are oriented toward reproduction; that tulips reproduce by division and that tomatoes reproduce using seeds. Moreover, it goes without saying that a tulip is in reality a flower while a tomato is a fruit. While these are perhaps important distinctions to make if we are to be botanically correct, I believe that the analogy nonetheless remains useful in describing Aquinas's ontology.

  39. 39 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 14.

  40. 40 Pierre-Marie Emonet, The Greatest Marvel of Nature: An Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2000), p. 8.

  41. 41 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 105.

  42. 42 Ibid., p. 102.

  43. 43 Ibid.

  44. 44 MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 148.

  45. 45 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 187.

  46. 46 Ibid., p. 191.

  47. 47 Finnis, Aquinas, pp. 107–8.

  48. 48 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 87.

  49. 49 Porter, Nature as Reason, note 77 at p. 212.

  50. 50 Finnis, Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited, p. 125, emphases added.

  51. 51 ‘Natural Law, Natural Rhetoric and Rhetorical Perversions,’ p. 183. This claim is shared by Johnstone, among others, who writes: ‘The activity of the practical intellect, therefore, insofar as it implies the capacity to deliberate well about practical matters, is rhetorical in character’ (‘An Aristotelian Trilogy,’ p. 12). See also Farrell, Norms of Rhetorical Culture, especially pp. 72–6.

  52. 52 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 121.

  53. 53 Westberg, Right Practical Reason, p. 214.

  54. 54 There are conflicting accounts of the precise character of, and the inter-relationship between, the speculative reason and the practical reason; cf. Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, pp. 212–17.

  55. 55 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 297. The reader should be aware that this explication overlooks some of the deeper issues involved in addressing action as it relates to a metaphysics of finality and related obligation, for which there are somewhat different conceptions; cf. Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 295; Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, pp. 108–9.

  56. 56 Johnstone, ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy,’ p. 4.

  57. 57 Westberg arrives at these after a lengthy discussion of the 12 steps initially offered by Aquinas. See Right Practical Reason, pp. 119–35.

  58. 58 Ibid., p. 151.

  59. 59 Ibid., p. 166.

  60. 60 Ibid., p. 170.

  61. 61 This view is expressed also by Porter, among others, who writes: ‘will and reason do not operate in isolation from one another. Just as the will depends on reason to present it with its objects, so reason (together with every other human power) is only activated through the will, which moves other powers to action’ (Nature as Reason, p. 259). See also Finnis, Aquinas, pp. 62, 65.

  62. 62 See Terence Irwin, ‘The Scope of Deliberation: A Conflict in Aquinas’, Review of Metaphysics 44 (1990), pp. 2142, in which Irwin discusses Aquinas's view ‘that the intellect moves the will as final cause, but the will moves the intellect as efficient cause.’ By stating that the way in which the intellect and will interact may be in some way rhetorical, I do not wish to argue that ‘they could be movers of the same sort.’ Rather, I wish to make the point that the manner in which this movement takes place is rhetorical in nature.

  63. 63 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 259.

  64. 64 Johnstone, ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy,’ p. 12, emphasis added.

  65. 65 Barry Brummett, ‘The Forum: On to Rhetorical Relativism’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 68 (1982), p. 426.

  66. 66 Conversely the will could ‘see’ the meanings as being unattractive, in which case the good is not apprehended and the individual is left ambivalent or the individual is left with the salient belief that trees have no such value.

  67. 67 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 63.

  68. 68 Ibid. I think it probable here that the language used by Finnis [‘The walls are thin, the doors even thinner, voices and kitchen noises travel, some of the students find it hard to study at nights with these distractions.’] could in itself stand as an example of the apprehensive property of rhetoric insofar as it seems intended for the reader to grasp (apprehend) the good implied by the agreed upon ‘quiet time.’

  69. 69 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 259.

  70. 70 Christine Korsgaard, ‘The Normativity of Instrumental Reason’ in G. Cullity and B. Gaut (eds.) Ethics and Practical Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 250, emphasis in original.

  71. 71 Michael Billig, ‘Rhetoric and the Unconscious’, Argumentation 12 (1998), p. 203.

  72. 72 Johnstone, ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy,’ p. 12.

  73. 73 Ibid., pp. 11–12.

  74. 74 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 63.

  75. 75 Finnis, ‘Foundations of Practical Reason Revisited,’ p. 126.

  76. 76 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 256.

  77. 77 Johnstone, ‘An Aristotelian Trilogy,’ p. 15.

  78. 78 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 107.

  79. 79 Ibid., p. 192. It should be noted that this claim is consonant with views expressed by Lisska: ‘Prudence is the virtue which assists the virtuous person to determine the proper action to be undertaken here and now’ (Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 216) and Porter: ‘prudence or practical wisdom, strictly speaking a virtue of the practical intellect but considered together with the moral virtues properly so called, enables the agent to apply her knowledge of the moral good to specific acts’ (Nature as Reason, pp. 169–70). It should be noted also that Irwin does not think that ‘commanding’ is involved here; see ‘The Scope of Deliberation,’ p. 24. That commanding is not involved in the interaction between the intellect and will implies that something else other than commanding is involved; that is, some mechanism that is capable of manifesting a sort of ‘cooperation’ or ‘collaboration’ between intellect and will, which I assert is somehow rhetorical in character.

  80. 80 Porter, Nature as Reason, p. 312.

  81. 81 Ibid., p. 250.

  82. 82 Ibid., p. 313.

  83. 83 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 122.

  84. 84 Ibid., p. 223. To underscore Westberg's point, I would like to add that it is the interactive relationship between practical reason, prudence and justice that presumably leads Chiam Perelman to write that ‘justice is the principal aim of all practical reasoning’ (as quoted in Farrell, Norms of Rhetorical Culture, p. 205).

  85. 85 Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition, p. 35.

  86. 86 Barry Brummett, ‘Some Implications of ‘Process’ or ‘Intersubjectivity: Postmodern Rhetoric’, Philosophy and Rhetoric 9 (1976), p. 29.

  87. 87 Brummett, ‘The Forum: On to Rhetorical Relativism,’ p. 425.

  88. 88 Brummett, ‘Some Implications of ‘Process’ or ‘Intersubjectivity,’’ p. 31.

  89. 89 Robert Scott, ‘On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic’, Central States Speech Journal 18 (1967), p. 16.

  90. 90 Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 146.

  91. 91 Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition, p. 3.

  92. 92 Iris Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 37.

  93. 93 Ibid., p. 69.

  94. 94 Ibid., p. 120.

  95. 95 Scott, ‘The Forum: Between Silence and Certainty,’ p. 109.

  96. 96 Howard Kainz, Natural Law: An Introduction and Re-examination (Chicago: Open Court, 2004), p. 59.

  97. 97 ‘Reason as a Nexus of Natural Law and Rhetoric,’ p. 254.

  98. 98 ‘Natural’ is a term that is often used to describe the ability of some activity to apprehend a disposition or basic good. For example, Kainz speaks of the ‘natural’ function of sexual intercourse in the procreation of the species and the ‘natural’ function of eating in sustaining life (Natural Law, p. 59). My premise is that if rhetoric has the ability to bring about a human disposition or basic good (like procreation or preserving life, but in this case prudence, justice or human sociability), then it too might be thought of as being ‘natural.’

  99. 99 Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law, p. 103.

  100. 100 Ibid., p. 104.

  101. 101 Finnis, Aquinas, p. 157.

  102. 102 Ibid., p. 162.

  103. 103 Robert Sokolowski, ‘What is Natural Law? Human Purposes and Natural Ends’, The Thomist 68 (2004), pp. 50729.

  104. 104 Westberg, Right Practical Reason, p. 231.

  105. 105 Robert George, ‘Public Morality, Public Reason’, First Things, (2006), p. 26, emphasis in original.