About My Dissertation

Appeals to Reason:

Negotiating Rhetorical Propriety and Dialectical Constraints in Church-State Separation Discourse

This dissertation explores how argumentation theory can supplement models of responsible persuasion in rhetoric and writing studies. In particular, it demonstrates how reasoning as envisioned in the pragma-dialectical approach of argumentation can provide an alternative to exclusionary, unethical operations of reason. Despite longstanding work with models of argument from Aristotle to Stephen Toulmin, rhetoric and writing has paid little attention to the potential uses of dialectical argumentation theory. Such theory deserves greater consideration given its ability to meet the ethical demands voiced by rhetorical critiques of traditional ways of arguing. Critiques of reason demonstrate how the abstractions necessary for logical certainty exist in tension with the inherent ambiguity of human arguments. In attempting to strip away that ambiguity, some discussants unfairly exclude relevant details from others and may exclude entire populations who should be included in a fair deliberation. Goals of understanding and inclusion unite the variety of calls for new ways of arguing made in rhetoric and writing under titles of Rogerian, non-agonistic, listening, and invitational rhetorics. Nevertheless, as Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca describe, even as our arguments involve irresolvable ambiguities, they must also function as stable and coherent viewpoints such that our interlocutors can hold us accountable to agreement or disagreement. In this way, we responsibly argue questions of ethics, politics and law. Though no final resolution of ambiguity is possible in such questions, we can reason together for a better understanding of each other’s positions and craft pragmatic policies to deal with our disagreements. In order to explore the disciplinary questions about the relationship between rhetoric and argumentation, the dissertation examines a series of case studies drawn from judicial disputes over church-state separation in the United States. In examining problematic rhetoric of these disputes, the dissertation builds an understanding of responsible reason informed by dialectical argumentation and demonstrates its utility for both critical and pedagogical applications.

The dissertation is available at the University of Texas Digital Repository.