A reexamination of a foundational concept in rhetoric
In The "Ethos" of Rhetoric, fourteen noted rhetorical theorists and critics answer a summons to return ethics from abstraction to the particular. They discuss and explore a meaning of ethos that predates its more familiar translation as "moral character" and "ethics." Attentive to this more primordial meaning of the term, the contributors understand the phrase "the ethos of rhetoric" to relate to the way discourse is used to transform space and time into "dwelling places" where people can deliberate about and collectively understand some matter of interest. Such dwelling places define the grounds, abodes, and habitats where a person's ethics and moral character take form and develop. Together the contributors define ethical discourse and describe what its practice looks like in particular communities.
In the volume's introduction, Michael J. Hyde maintains that the ethos of rhetoric provides a foundation for all else that can be said about the discipline. Craig R. Smith, Margaret D. Zulick, and Robert Wade Kenny explore in their essays the relationship between place and the performance of communal discourse. Barbara Warnick, in a contribution addressing how an expansion of ethos might enrich the critic's understanding of rhetoric, rounds out the theoretical grounding of the book.
The final seven essays turn to the ethos of rhetoric's manifestations in everyday existence. Case studies by Walter Jost, John Poulakos, Eric King Watts, Martin J. Medhurst, David Zarefsky, Carole Blair and Neil Michel, and Carolyn R. Miller develop the idea of ethos as genius loci of region, nation, and tribal identity. Among the phenomena these contributors examine are the rhetoric of a Black Arts movement leader, the 2000 presidential campaign, President George W. Bush's response to the September 11th terrorist attack, and the cold war computer culture.
Michael J. Hyde is the University Distinguished Professor of Communication Ethics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is the author of The Call of Conscience: Heidegger and Levinas, Rhetoric and the Euthanasia Debate (University of South Carolina Press, 2001), which received the National Communication Association's Diamond Anniversary Book Award and the Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award from the NCA's Public Address Division. Hyde is a fellow of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and a recipient of national, state, and university research grants for his work on the rhetoric of medicine. He lives in Winston–Salem.
"The Ethos of Rhetoric contributes to conversation regarding the subtleties, power, and breadth of rhetorical theory. Blasting a traditional rhetorical proof open for its philosophical complexities, cultural significance, and intellectual weight, writers in this volume provide welcome resources for many disciplines, from theology to critical sociology. The book should be widely read, and richly savored."—Wes Avram, Stephen Merrell Clement–E. William Muehl Assistant Professor of Communication, Yale University Divinity School
"The Ethos of Rhetoric is an indispensable volume for the rhetorical critic and student of contemporary public address. It is the single most important study of ethos since Eugene Garver's Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character."—John Angus Campbell, Department of Communication, University of Memphis
"These essays explicate ethos as the way that discourse shapes space and time into 'dwelling places'—the grounds where ethics and moral character take shape. The authors offer an understanding of aesthetics and argument as convergent and constitutive, a recognition of ethos as the ground of rhetorical invention, and an appreciation of rhetorical action as intrinsic to ontology."—Lenore Langsdorf, Speech Communication, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale