Natural Law as an Ethic for Postmodern Rhetoric
This paper is based on the thesis that traditional and contemporary explications of natural law and rhetoric have not properly accounted for the human propensity to fashion persuasive discourse, thereby promulgating the basic goods of sociability and justice. It is my contention that the use of rhetoric occurs with such frequency in the service of justice as a basic human good that its sublimation as a "techne" or a "bios" makes transparent its intrinsic morality as a beneficial feature of human nature. This interdisciplinary re-examination of rhetoric is therefore intended to explicate its phenomenology as a precipitant of basic human goods. I begin by contextualizing the analysis as a modernist-postmodernist redaction, a departure from classical rhetoric, to demonstrate that although the phenomenology of rhetoric has clearly evolved and although this feature of human nature is better understood, its central and defining role as negotiator of human goods has yet to be explored. Situating rhetoric thusly, I make clear that this recovered rhetoric no longer attempts to develop a practical discourse for civic life (as maintained by classical rhetoric), but rather marks what it means to be a creature born into language. I then link this recovered conception of rhetoric with Thomistic natural-law theory. In doing so, I advance the thesis that inasmuch as individuals do not become individuals unless situated in communities, rhetoric binds individuals together in the common pursuit of the basic human good of justice. Throughout, I maintain that if justice is a form that must be observed in the pursuit of every human good and further, if indeed rhetoric and community are essentially related, then justice is a constitutive concern for rhetoric. From this perspective, I propose that rhetoric's postmodern condition is best understood by examining it through the lens of natural law.
Keywords: Natural Law, Rhetoric
Dr. Jeffrey Maciejewski
Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Creighton University