In addition to making a three-pronged distinction between the methods of arguing, Thank You for Arguing draws another important distinction between the different “tenses” in which an argument takes place. Aristotle hypothesized that all arguments fall into one of three categories: forensic rhetoric, which is concerned with blame, and which usually takes a past-tense view of the world; demonstrative rhetoric, which is concerned with values, and which usually takes a present-tense view; and deliberative rhetoric, which is concerned with choices and decisions, and which takes a future-tense. While Aristotle named three different kinds of arguments, Heinrichs is most interested in the latter two. He shows that many of the most frustrating elements of an argument—and, in general, the reason why so many people hate arguing—arise from confusion over the correct “tense” for the argument. Or, to put it another way, the confusion, exasperation, and ignorance of arguing in 21st century America arise from a conflict between demonstrative and deliberative rhetoric.
Early on, Thank You for Arguing points out that the vast majority of arguments are never truly won or lost. Often, this is because the two arguing parties choose to focus on demonstrative rhetoric, the rhetoric of values, when they should be moving to deliberative rhetoric, the rhetoric of choices. Most of the time, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to win a demonstrative debate. In such a debate, both sides argue on behalf of their values or moral convictions; for example, Heinrichs claims that the debate over abortion has devolved into a debate between two sets of moral values: the Judeo-Christian language of life, and the secularized language of freedom. While it’s certainly possible to have a productive demonstrative debate about values and beliefs, politicians debating abortion tend to argue past one another. Similarly, when two people argue over their tastes or opinions, there usually isn’t enough time for them to reach any kind of conclusion.
For both conceptual and practical purposes, then, it’s often a good idea to nudge a debate away from the demonstrative and toward the deliberative—in other words, away from a language of values and towards a language of choices. By changing the scope of the debate from the present to the future, a talented rhetorician can gain control over the argument and win an important tactical victory over an opponent. Even setting aside these strategic concerns, however, Thank You for Arguing suggests that switching from the demonstrative to the deliberative is the most useful, productive move: When people talk about actions and decisions, rather than eternal, unchanging values, they’re more likely to make compromises. In part, this is because talking in the future tense is inherently uncertain, meaning that people are more likely to hedge on their choices, even if they wouldn’t hedge on their values. Furthermore, talking about choices is an inherently practical matter, meaning that people are forced to discuss the implementation of their values in the real world, which often involves compromises and meeting the other side halfway. In all, deliberative argument is far more likely to reach a compromise—and, therefore, a conclusion—than demonstrative argument.
Heinrichs certainly isn’t suggesting that deliberative rhetoric is preferable to demonstrative rhetoric—in fact, he makes it clear that there can be no discussion of choices and actions without some guiding beliefs behind them. However, he emphasizes again and again that the purpose of good rhetoric should be to reach a conclusion of some kind; in order to do so, we need deliberative rhetoric. Especially in the world of politics, where debates too often get bogged down in competing sets of values, rhetoric could play a major role in moving the debate forward and, ultimately, getting things done.
Demonstrative vs. Deliberative Rhetoric ThemeTracker
Demonstrative vs. Deliberative Rhetoric Quotes in Thank You for Arguing
Suppose your Uncle Randy decides to divorce your aunt on their thirtieth anniversary so he can marry a surfing instructor he met at Club Med. You have two issues here, one moral and the other practical. The moral issue is inarguable by our definition. Your uncle is either wrong or right. You could remind him that he is breaking a wonderful woman's heart, but you would be sermonizing, not arguing.
Early in my publishing career, I worked for a small magazine that had no fact checkers. When Mount St. Helens erupted for the first time, I wrote a short news piece in which I cluelessly placed the volcano in Oregon. I didn't realize my mistake until after the magazine was published and a reader pointed it out to me. I walked into the editor's office and closed the door.
Me: (looking stricken): I've got bad news, Bill. Really bad news.
Suddenly, an intractable, emotional, values-laden issue like abortion begins to look politically arguable. Making abortions rare is to the nation's advantage, as Aristotle would say. Now, what are the most effective (and politically popular) ways to make abortions rare? The answers might give the extremes of both sides a lot to swallow; on the left, pro-choicers would have to agree that abortion is a repugnant form of contraception. On the right, pro-lifers would have to allow some abortions.
The old expression “There’s virtue in moderation” comes straight from Aristotle. Virtue is a state of character, concerned with choice, lying in a mean. When moderates face scorn from the faithful of both parties, what does that make our country? You can do your bit for democracy, and your own sanity, with this prefab reply:
I know reasonable people who hold that opinion. So who’s the extremist?
Cicero says I should be prepared to argue both sides of the case, starting with my opponent’s pitch. This means spending some time imagining what he will say. I’m guessing he will talk about values a lot—the rights and freedoms that a noise ordinance will trample upon.
There are plenty more answers where that came from, and maybe some alternatives would test better with focus groups. But any concession that changes the tense from the past (accusation) and present (tribalism) to the future (the advantageous) will win the attention of your audience.
The founders weren’t starry-eyed about their republic. [They] believed that the symptoms could be ameliorated by the combination of checks and balances and the “cool, candid” arbitration of the liberally educated professional class.
It is no coincidence that red and blue America split apart just when moral issues began to dominate campaigns—not because one side has morals and the other lacks them, but because values cannot be the sole subject of deliberative argument. Of course, demonstrative language—code grooming and values talk—works to bring an audience together and make it identify with you and your point of view. But eventually a deliberative argument has to get—well, deliberative.