What Would Perelman Make of Persuasive Technologies?
Blake Scott, University of Leuven, will give a talk on the Belgian philosophers Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's theory of argumentation in "Traité de l'argumentation" from 1958 (English tr. The New Rhetoric: A treatise on Argumentation, 1969) and its continued relevance.
Despite Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s well-known influence on argumentation studies, it is striking that their “new rhetoric” no longer stands out as a living project in the field. In this talk I ask why this is the case and how their work might be developed in view of one of the most pressing challenges facing contemporary argumentation theory: the increasing ubiquity of “persuasive technologies”, which calls into question the basic humanistic assumptions of traditional theories of argument. In the first part of the talk, I review Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s core concepts and general framework in The New Rhetoric (1958). As many critics take this text as their only point of reference, I then zoom out from The New Rhetoric, taking a more historical view of their work and considering a wider range of their writings. While this shift in perspective brings the broader aims of the “New Rhetoric Project” (NRP) into relief, it also highlights the extent to which it remains unfinished. In a final step, I propose how we might contribute to the NRP, exploring some of the tools Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca provide for theorizing argumentation in complex technologically mediated environments.