I thought this was interesting and wanted to share it with you:

A Note from Walter Fisher


In the following note, Walter Fisher is responding to two questions (I've lost the originals, but they were close to these): (1) are coherence and fidelty, which you say are criteria for judging narratives, part of the rational world paradigm, as some claim, or part of the narrative paradigm? (2) you claim that telling stories is a universal human activity, but MacIntyre claims that children who have not been read to are unscripted--how do you make these two observations work together?

From: Walter R Fisher
To: tbOxs1@corn.cso.niu.edu
Subject: My article in Enos' book

Dear Dale,
Sorry to take so long to reply to your inquiry about my theory. I have been out of town. And thanks for your interest.
The considerations of coherence and fidelity arise, I believe, out of the very nature of narratives. Coherence and fidelity are concerns of the rational world paradigm but they are considered in regard to particular standards--like consistency and logical adequacy--and not in regard to them as inherent in the very form of rhetorical messages. They are also applied there in limited fashion, ignoring the various ways in which reason can be expressed and ignoring the degree to which all discourse is value-laden. Coherence and fidelity apply to all forms of rhetorical address, including those that want to deny them.

This last statement indicates my response to Lyotard and other postmodernists. I recently wrote in a chapter, Narration, Knowledge, and the Possibility of Wisdom (Rethinking Knowledge, SUNY Press), that: Since this is a time when it is fashionable to celebrate discontinuity, fragmentation, and conceptual incommensurability, it may seem odd to stress coherence as a key aspect of rationality. But, then, it is even more strange that this or any other project to reconstruct reason exists--given the contemporary preoccupation with desire, ideology, uncertainty, power, and interdeterminancy. One can only observe that declarations of incoherence or inconsistency are made coherently and consistently. Moreover, they are made seriously as interpretations of the way the world is, as truths that should be believed and acted upon. Besides, there is reason in them. To determine how much, one must assess the degree of coherence and fidelity in each declaration."

I'm not sure exactly what MacIntyre has in mind when he wrote that children who have not had stories read to them in childhood are "unscripted." What I think he means is that they do not have a fix on a tradition by which they can understand themselves and the world in a consistent and wholesome way. I think children consume, create, criticize, stories from the beginning, if not before, through nonverbal as well as verbal experiences. The world is only meaningful in a storied context. Stories do not need to be formal structures. If you are interested, you might look up a review I did of his book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? in Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1990, pp. 242-247. Without my knowledge, a pre-publication copy was sent to him for his response. He responded by saying he didn't have one, that the piece was "excellent."

Well, I hope this helps.
Best wishes,
Walt Fisher






Review your paper in light of our reading so far:
In light of what we have read so far, as well as my experiences since this paper was written, I am critical of my own work. I thought at the time that my insight was informed and interesting. Most interesting is my lack of focus on the way in which the rhetoric works. My argument points more directly to the judgment. Fisher argues that this is the primary difference between the ordinary criticizer and the critic, knowledge of the nature and function of the phenomenon (Fisher, 1974, p. 76). While I had made judgments about the artifact, I did not have or present clear understanding of the nature and function of the language. In addition, I failed to explain or develop the artifact, the theoretical perspective or the artifact's place in rhetoric.


Was the text you examined, in fact, rhetoric? Justify your answer using what we've read so far:
I believe the text I examined in my 100B equivalent course to be rhetoric. The Starbucks Coffee Company's Corporate Social Responsibility Report (CSR report) for 2007-08 meets the criteria set forth by Hart and Daughton (1990) of having “delineations of the good, resonance for a particular audience, and clear or clearly implied policy recommendations” (p. 12). The environmental or sustainable ideology is the "good", there is resonance for specific audiences, and there is a clear advocacy. In addition, the artifact fits well into Wrage’s development of rhetoric of ideas (Wrage, 1947, p. 451). While the CSR is not a speech, as a form of mass media (available online) the artifact becomes a means of “illustrating and testing, of verifying or revising generalizations offered by other workers in social and intellectual history” (Wrange, 1947, p. 547). The Starbucks CSR attempted to test and illustrate generalizations regarding environmentalism and business. It has certainly developed and evolved throughout history and the document serves as a part of the larger discussion revising the societal contracts and construct regarding sustainability and ethical business practices.
The message is also extremely persuasive. While not an advertisement, the CSR is aimed at an audience expected to contribute action toward the desired goals of the company. That would mean continued investment or purchase of the products offered, depending on the audience, which is discussed in my description of the artifact. Upon this review, I would say that I should have spent more time on the intended audiences. I would argue that this artifact is rhetoric also because of this persuasive element as noted by Bryant (1953). Bryant argued that rhetoric is distinguished in its concern with informed opinion, its “informative and sausory discourse” (1953, p. 408). The CSR seeks to provide such information as persuasive discourse. I do find some grey area in Bryant’s discussion of propaganda and advertisement. Certainly, the information presented in the CSR leaves out that information which does not benefit the overall goal of the company. However, there is a significant focus on information and support, even if it is disguised for the benefit of the agenda. By Bryant’s standards, the CSR might be incomplete or unworthy of study based on the misuse of rhetoric (Bryant, 1953, p. 415).

What does your study teach someone about how the message studied worked as rhetoric? (If it didn't, freely admit that and explain what it did do.)

My study attempted to teach someone about the way the message worked in that the paper puts forward the persuasive nature of the language and ideology. However, on the whole, my work failed to provide adequate understanding about how the message worked. As I stated in my overview, there was an issue of focus on judgment as opposed to function and nature. While this judgment may not be blatant, I am able to reflect and see the predetermined focus. The failure could be rectified with a greater focus on the language and context of the document or an emphasis on the placement of the rhetorical work within a theoretical perspective. Because of the focus on judgment, the approach was weak and lead to less understanding or “teaching” of the way the message worked as would progress or challenge theory. My paper did not “contribute new insights into the rhetorical process” (Fisher, 1974, p. 78). A possibility I see in reflecting is more directed attention concerning the language choices within the ideology. A great place to begin this attempt would have been in the method section. I did not provide adequate framework for ideological criticism and therefore did not have the full use of the perspective in my analysis. My paper did highlight language that might be used to reveal or support an environmental or sustainable ideology. My paper also presented the document as an important artifact for rhetorical study though the potential of the document is not fully realized. There is also a lack of focus on the "sausory potential or persuasive effects, their source, nature, operation, and consequence" that Fisher argues makes a rhetorical critic as opposed to any critic (Fisher, 1974, p. 75). In some ways, my paper is a critique, just not a rhetorical one. Finally, my paper was less involved in the explanation of how the message worked because, as Hart and Daughton explain, I attempted to "translate" the message instead of explaining the way in which it worked (1990, p. 32). I translated the message of the company and hinted at the persuasive possibilities. In essence, this paper was scratching the surface of what rhetorical criticism it might have eventually been.


*I wanted to make a note that this may not have been my best paper from my 100B equivalent. Unfortunately, it was the only one that I found (I spent a lot of time looking). I took the class a very, very long time ago and have since gone through three computers.


Bryant, D. C. (1953). Rhetoric: Its functions and its scope. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 39(4), 401-424.

Fisher, W. R. (1974). Rhetorical criticism as criticism. Western Journal of Communication (includes Communication Reports), 38(2), 75-80.

Hart, R. P., & Daughton, S. M. (1990). Modern rhetorical criticism (p. i). Glenview Illinois and London: Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education.

Wrage, E. J. (1947). Public address: A study in social and intellectual history. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 33(4), 451-457.