In the preface to Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian describes the aspiration that inspires his course of study:
For the perfection of eloquence is assuredly something, nor does the nature of the human mind forbid us to reach it; but if to reach it be not granted us, yet those who shall strive to gain the summit will make higher advances than those who, prematurely conceiving a despair of attaining the point at which they aim, shall at once sink down at the foot of the ascent. (Trans. John Selby Watson and James J. Murphy. Southern Illinois University Press. 1987.)
Quintilian was talking about rhetorical training, but I think the same sentiment applies to our goals for rhetorical practice as well. We don’t deliberate as well as we should or could, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to improve our deliberations.
I don’t believe that rhetorical practice is perfectible, as Quintilian hoped, but questions of how to define rhetorical good practices and how to implement those practices are a driving force in both my teaching and research. I also address these questions in occasional blog posts about civic discourse, starting with “Why ‘From the Rostra’?”