Cyzman M.
On the non-dualizing rhetoric: Some preliminary remarks
Cite as: Cyzman M. (2017) On the non-dualizing rhetoric: Some preliminary remarks. In: Kanzian C., Kletzl S., Mitterer J. & Neges K. (eds.) Realism – relativism – constructivism. De Gruyter, Berlin: 17–29. Available at
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In the reception of Josef Mitterer’s writings up to now, there are two predominant types of motifs: the radical constructivist background of his philosophy and the ontological and epistemological foundations and consequences of non-dualism. The critics are focused rather on some problematic consequences of non-dualism, ranging from the problem of infinite regress up to the thesis assuming that Mitterer’s philosophy presupposes a world reduced to descriptions. However, these two types of readings are founded on dualizing assumptions which are not coherent with non-dualism.Thus, in the present paper I interpret non-dualism in the frame of non-dualism, based on non-dualizing assumptions. I argue that non-dualism is a rhetorical project resulting in far-reaching consequences in the field of academic and scientific debates, poetics and practice of negotiations and deliberations, as well as in ordinary discourse. Non-dualism fulfills Richard Rorty’s dream of culture as a never-ending conversation in which the argument of power is successfully replaced by the power of argument. Mitterer makes transparent the rhetorical techniques performed in the dualizing discourse (not only in situations of conflict) in order to present an alternative – the non-dualizing mode of discourse. Mitterer’s philosophy – reread in the context of Rorty’s pragmatism, Foucault’s conception of discourses, Perelman’s new rhetoric – offers the new vocabulary (in Rorty’s meaning) which may change the practice of speaking
Key words: non-dualizing mode of speaking, description “so far” / “from now on,” constructivism, rhetoric, discourse
In the reception of non-dualism so far the ontological and epistemological involvement seems to be the predominant issue. The will to know the appropriate place of Josef Mitterer’s philosophy on the philosophical map leads scholars to investigate its connections with radical constructivism, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy as well as Richard Rorty’s neopragmastism. Thus, it is helpful to divide these investigations into three main groups:
Problematizations: in which non-dualism is seen in the context of essential philosophical problems, such as: the relations between words and the world, the infinite regress; the problem of distinctions, and the semantics of the notions object and description;
Contextualizations: in which Mitterer’s conception is placed on the map of philosophy and among philosophers, such as Alfred North Whitehead, Bruno Latour or Ernst von Glasersfeld;
Implications: in which the potential consequences of the non-dualism are estimated for/ in different fields of knowledge and human activities: history, media science, education, public relation, and art performances.
In spite of the large number of articles assuming the significant implications of non-dualism, the practical value of the non-dualizing mode of speaking is still less recognized or even ignored by Mitterer’s interpreters and followers. In the present paper I will argue that the non-dualizing way of speaking is a practice oriented project which is able to replace the former mode of discourse.[Note 1]Note 1. NOTETEXT-1 My use of the word ‘discourse’ is very broad; it does not only mean the philosophical discourse which Mitterer takes as a point of departure. Furthermore, in my interpretation there is a pragmatic development of Mitterer’s theses, especially those which are assumed about the non-dualizing alternative for the situations of conflict. I argue that non-dualism should be estimated and developed further as a rhetorical, not as an ontological project. Mitterer’s view, intentionally non-ontologizing, provides nonetheless some ontological consequences – the new radical anti-essentialist conception of an object in which this traditional dualizing notion is replaced by the process (Schmidt 2011). However, non – dualism does not offer a new vision of world or reality. Mitterer does not raise traditional ontological or epistemological questions. Moreover, all of the possible ontological implications are coherent only on the condition that they are developed in the frame of the non-dualizing assumptions (Neges 2013). The problems with Mitterer’s philosophy seem to be the results of interpretations carried out in the context of dualism and by the notions of dualism. This is the ontologization of the non-dualizing mode of speaking which results in the vision of non-dualism as strange conception of reality.
While the dualists speak about the object, non-dualists speak from the object. This assumption changes the direction of the discourse which is not aimed at the object. According to non-dualism the object is considered as the description so far which is transformed into a description from now on. It goes further in the direction of change. Therefore, we have no need for the well-known two-level structure of the discourse or any meta-language. The towards-objectcognition is replaced by the from-object-cognition. As I argue this is the basic assumption which may lead to coherent non-dualizing considerations.
1 On the Practical Value of the Non-Dualizing Way of Speaking
Only a positive answer to the fundamental question “is non-dualism really practically useful?” may provide a foundation for the following considerations. As non- dualism is a philosophical conception expressed mostly by abstract theses, rather weakly exemplified in Mitterer’s works, one may come to the conclusion that the practical value of this project is at least difficult to imagine (see Dellwing 2013). However, doing philosophy does not mean to exclude practical considerations, on the contrary it presupposes performing discourse in practice. Mitterer starts from the abstract in order to arrive at the practice. The philosopher performs the non-dualizing mode of speaking on the edge where the old vocabulary meets a new vocabulary. What is also important, the area of application of non- dualism is not limited to philosophical investigations. Concerning the philosophical questions it reaches for different human practices, organized and created by the discourse, including the ordinary acts of speech. Therefore, non-dualism may be used in the research on the discourse in general.
Before I consider the relation between the non-dualizing philosophy and the traditional rhetoric, let me specify a few notions which I use as a basis for my analysis.
Vocabulary – a notion introduced by Richard Rorty; it means: the set of particular beliefs, assumptions, prejudices, which are discursively actualised and organised. Vocabularies are contingent, changeable, however, they are stabilised in the particular interpretative communities (Rorty 1989, 6f).
I am going to refer the notion of vocabulary primarily to the particular linguistic manifestations in the discourse, assuming their strict correlation with the foundations of the discourse.
Discourse – a notion which in semantics is defined in many different ways. There is no need to apply any particular definition. However, I argue that the general assumption that the discourse embraces written and spoken communication is not precise enough for the interpretation of the non-dualizing mode of speaking.
I assume the notion of the discourse refers to public forms of communication which construct all of our social practices within all its modalities. I follow Michel Foucault’s general vision of discourse as the specific relation between actors, objects and subjects and I apply this term in the large areas of knowledge and people’s activities (Foucault 1971). The discourse finds itself in its dynamic and practical form, so that it is the process which is not limited to performed acts of speech. It is the set of coordinated and coordinating activities which are not discursive consequences, but run along with it. This dynamic approach to the discourse is founded also on some of the radical constructivist ideas, especially in the works of Humberto Maturana (Maturana 1980).
Mitterer himself does not define the notion of discourse, however, it is the key word in his conception. He refers to its semantics once, arguing that the discourses become sensu stricto discursive in situations of conflict. He takes into consideration the etymology of the word discourse, which in Latin means running to and from. Its strict literal sense points to the situations of conflict in which two descriptions contradict each other.
Interpretative community – This term was established by Stanley Fish (Fish 1976). In spite of the high frequency of this notion in Fish’s works, a precise definition was never provided. Interpretative community refers to the set of beliefs, models for reality, interpretative strategies, and conventions which stimulate our practices. Therefore it provides particular ways of reading texts, perceiving things, values, etc. We belong simultaneously to different interpretive communities.
I will use this term in order to functionalize Mitterer’s conception of philosophy. It may be helpful in getting an answer to the question how we establish and change descriptions so far and where they are coming from.
2 The New or the Old Rhetoric?
If it is assumed that non-dualism is a rhetorical project, sooner or later several questions arise. Are the argumentative techniques, described and developed in the field of the traditional rhetoric, comparable with Mitterer’s description of how arguments work? Does the non-dualizing description of persuasive means of expression differ from those given in the course books of rhetoric? Is it the reformulation, the actualization or the deconstruction of traditional rhetoric?
In order to answer those questions let me refer to four rhetorical tricks frequently used in discourse. Mitterer describes them in the frame of the non-dualizing procedure in the Flight from the Arbitrariness (Mitterer 2011).
The notion in the nondualizing procedure
Appeal to the other side of the discourse / the beyond of discourse
In non-dualizing explication
This function may be fulfilled by many different instances, for example: reality, god, religion, text “itself,” eternal values, nature, real Christians/Muslims,
in the name of them; a function fulfilled by the group of authorised representatives or spokesmen;
this rhetorical trick is performed in order to establish the truth, my own truth, which shall be guaranteed by the unquestionable instances localised in the beyond of discourse;
as Mitterer claims, the instances given beyond the discourse take responsibility for us speaking, therefore this trick is used also to fly from responsibility.
Comparable explication in traditional rhetoric
None of the traditions in rhetoric makes use of the notion of the beyond the discourse, however there are some ways of expression in rhetoric which are similar to Mitterer’s notion: Appeal to Authority/Argument from Authority (in Latin: ad autoritatem);
furthermore, there are many rhetorical notions which may be pointed by the name given above, for example:
Argumentum ad verecundiam (Perelman 1977);Argument 30 = Berufung auf Autoritäten (Schopenhauer 1983);Authority of the One and the Authority of the Selected Few (Engel 1986);Ipse Dixit;
the place of the Authority may be fulfilled by personalized individuals (for example: real Christians, scientists, …), cultural clichés, values or abstract notions (for example: god, nature, science, …);
in the situations of conflict the Argument from Authority is not questioned as a stabilized rhetorical trick, only the particular type of its fulfilment may be doubted.
The notion in the nondualizing procedure
Depersonalialization of the opponent’s stanpoint
3 Two Sceptical Conjectures
Because there are those important parallels between non-dualism and rhetoric severe worries may arise, the following being one of them. Since there are means of expression in rhetoric which are more or less analogous to Mitterer’s notions, the answer to the question what difference does it make: dualism or non-dualism, becomes an issue of great importance. It points towards possible practical consequences of non-dualism which may be denied by those who claim that Mitterer’s conception is nothing but the traditional dualizing rhetoric, dressed in constructivist vocabulary. In other words it may seem as if non-dualism is not a new thing at all but the rather dangerous old thing.
In addressing this worm my point is that the non-dualizing mode of speaking makes a difference, although it is not easy to perceive at first sight Mitterer reconstructs the dualizing mode of speaking in non-dualizing language. The philosopher refers to the typical rhetorical means of expression used in situations of conflict but not in order to support them. His aim is to point to the mechanism which is the very foundation of all dualizing discourse. That is why he avoids traditional rhetorical notions in his conception. In traditional rhetoric ancient techniques of argumentation are used and adjusted to present notions and their practical application. The non-dualizing description is developed aside the frame of the traditional rhetoric. Thus, the practical aim is to weaken the dualizing rhetoric and expose its irrationalities. The vade mecum of the non-dualizing rhetoric is rather ironical than literal and serious (Mitterer 2011). Non-dualism does not provide us with rhetorical means in order for throwing conversational partners off their guard Mitterer is not the sophistic teacher of argumentative techniques. He is rather the debunker of the dualizing rhetoric and its involvement into the violence. Making the discursive tricks transparent, he strengthens our resistance to their persuasive powers. While the traditional rhetorical course books present the methods of dualizing, Mitterer focuses on the mechanism which are the basis for such dualizations. This basis is constituted by the paradogma of the distinction between an object, given beyond the discourse, and a description, given on the level of the discourse. The dualizing moves, traditionally classified as fallacies from the logical point of view and as breaches of the rule of cooperation from the pragmatic perspective, are the fruit of deeply rooted and oppressive dualizing thinking and speaking.
The second sceptical worry is this. Does the non-dualizing mode of speaking formulate a significant alternative to the usual discourse? Mitterer describes precisely the order of the dualizing mode of speaking, however an alternative seems to be less developed.
As a rejoinder let me consider the following idea: The non-dualizing mode of speaking predicts the negotiations, precisely – the continuation of the negotiations which are stopped in the dualizing stale mate situation (non-dualism predicts the negotiations to be open in the situation of conflicts).
The negotiations assume the change of these standpoints with which the two opposite sides accede to the discussion. They introduce a series of changes to the former proposals.
In negotiations in order to reach an agreement the proponent and the opponent should change their initial positions. Before the negotiations start, they have to accept the basic consensual descriptions which are also compatible with the non-dualizing mode of speaking. However, let me consider the most typical argumentative techniques used in negotiations: appeal to universal principle, appeal to a theme, appeal to authority, appeal to “status quo,” appeal to “minor standards,” appeal to “prevailing practice,” “appeal to precedents as counterexamples, appeal to self-interest, and threats and promises. (Sycara 1990) At least two of those techniques make us of the other side of the discourse; and all of them have persuasion of the opponent as central goal. They are based on the same dualizing mechanism which is abandoned by Mitterer. If one emphasizes the role of persuasion in discussions in this way it already shows a dualist predicament. Non-dualists will not focus on persuasion in this way. The aim of the negotiations is the correlate of the non-dualizing mode of speaking while the way in which it is supposed to be achieved is different from it. Negotiation in its usual form is the fruit of dualizing thinking and as such it is not embraced in non-dualism because of its implications, this is, negotiation as discursive figure implies serious rhetorical and discursive violence.
The problem is not that there is something to say in the situation of a conflict. The problem is that there is a conflict. The conflict connected with the necessity of the settlement of a dispute.
4 The Settlement of a Dispute
What does exactly mean to settle a dispute, to clinch the deal, to reach an accord? A settlement assumes a prior disagreement between x and y. It leads to the classification in the categories of true and false. To clinch the dispute refers to a situation in which the dispute is settled decisively. Such a settlement means that the thesis x wins and thesis y loses. Thus, the situation in which the settlement should be achieved is the final effect of the process of the argumentation founded on dualizing premises. The idea of a settlement of a dispute between opponent and proponent assumes that there is one possible, potentially common, result when the two opposite sides use persuasion. This solution of finding the one true result is suspended by the non-dualizing procedure as it is not aimed at agreement between two contradict sides. The problem is Mitterer himself uses the term of Entscheidung which is involved in the dualizing connotations. However, almost every notion in the non-dualizing procedure is taken from the dualizing vocabulary. As Mitterer claims, it is very difficult to find appropriate words in order to introduce the new way of thinking. However, inventing the new ones may lead to the misunderstanding of the conception. Therefore, it is an issue of a great importance to accurately carve out the vocabulary used by Mitterer. In regard to their function in the non-dualizing procedure, words do not mean the same.
5 The Compromise
Is there any possibility of the working around the settlement of this type? In the deliberations and democratized communication the compromise agreement is assumed as the way in which an accord may be reached. Two opposite sides focus on those elements in their standpoints which may be accommodate to each other. Does non-dualism predict the compromise in the situation of conflicts? My answer is negative as I claim that the compromise does not resolve this matter in a satisfactory way. Mostly a compromise does not lead to a solution which is satisfying for both sides.
What is also important, a compromise is based on the universalization of the rule of rationality which is not the same for the particular interpretative communities. Here are essential output and input problems, such as: how to arrange the discussion, in which institutional frame, how to assess the losses and profits, how to use the practical consequences of the compromise. It is still based upon the dualizing premises and as such it cannot be functionalised in the non-dualizing mode of speaking.
6 To Fit, Not to Match, and Some of the Non-Dualizing Consequences
In the non-dualizing mode of speaking the procedure of fitting – not matching – descriptions to one another is taken seriously. The research done together by opponent and proponent are aimed at searching fitting descriptions which are acceptable for both of them. The description is evaluated on the basis of other descriptions, not on basis of the object which is taken as a description so far transformed into the description from now on. In such a procedure the difference between two English verbs, to fit and to match, seem to be crucial. As Ernst von Glasersfeld claims, match refers to “an equivalence of relations, sequence, or characteristic structure – something, in other words that he [the realist, M.C.] can consider the same, because only then could he say that his knowledge is of the world.” In contrary, fit does not assume any kind of “homomorphism” of this type (see von Glasersfeld 1984).
We can successfully relocate the epistemological distinction between to fit and to match in order to allocate it to the field of the discourse. If one does not claim that our descriptions have to match the world as it really is, we will not expect the settlements in contradictory terms. One will not expect the agreement to be established or reached as the aim of the research of this type as well. The questions how to reach an agreement, how to win against my rival, or how to reach a compromise, are not only unnecessary, they do not arise at all.
Moreover, the process of fitting the descriptions in non-dualizing research may also lead to the conclusion that two descriptions do not fit to one another. It results with the – let me say – the protocol of discrepancies. It means that at present it may not be possible to find common descriptions, however as it is only the contemporary state of affairs, this may change during further research. The whole reason of using the non-dualizing procedure is to forestall the situation of a dispute to be settled. The settlement, although this is not the adequate word in the non-dualizing context, is achieved by conjoined research and mutual open minded exchange of descriptions. Of course, Mitterer prefers mutual agreement, not conflict; however there is no non-dualizing recipe of what to do in a case of disagreement, no algorithmic method of how to solve disputes. We should listen to each other, be ready to retreat our descriptions, be open and generous as listeners. The non-dualizing discourse is not a discourse of obviousness in which no argumentation is needed. Non-dualism is not the project of ideal transparent discourse which may be based on obvious intuitions, a constant and unchangeable foundation which is very far from the anti-essentialist thinking. The discourse then, also philosophical discourse, is the space of exchanging opinions, without the oppressive techniques performed in the dualizing mode of speaking, but argumentation is still in use. In the light of the non-dualizing procedure it is performed in order to convince the opponent to the proponent’s strategy of interpretation.
Non-dualism underlines the necessity of never ending dialogs. This way it fulfils Rorty’s dream about the culture as the never ending conversation in which the argument of power is replaced by the power of the argument. In the non-dualizing context I do not ask: how to win the argument, how to judge who is right. I would rather ask: which descriptions we can find together. I do not raise the question which description matches the object, rather I ask which descriptions fit to one other.
Therefore, the non-dualizing mode of speaking does not demand the aim of the discourse to be universal agreement. In dualist approaches it is often reached by means of the discursive violence, this is symbolic violence. We can stabilise the current states of affairs, although it still implies readiness to change. Do not fundamentalize your descriptions but instead search for the biggest possible agreement between them – this is the only non-dualizing advice.
To summarize, my final theses are as follows:
The non-dualizing mode of speaking does not assume the necessity of a settlement of disputes in a strict sense. Non-dualism forestalls the situation of the dispute to be settled, the contradicting descriptions to be eliminated, the description A to win against the description B.
Therefore, non-dualism does not provide us with any of the usual, dualist methods of achieving a settlement of agreement.
In the non-dualizing way of speaking the consensus, compromise, or agreement are not assumed as the aim of the process of exchanging and fitting the descriptions to one another.
It predicts the process of fitting the descriptions to one another which may lead (or not) to the acceptance of the common descriptional basis.
The final thesis is that the non-dualizing mode of speaking is nothing but a new vocabulary, an alternative for the socially stabilised practice of thinking and speaking. If one shares its premises, one automatically uses the different linguistic manifestations on the level of the discourse. If we move in the space determined by the horizon of the classical or less classical rhetoric, we find ourselves beyond non-dualism. It results with the dualizing interpretation of the non-dualism which leads to the contradictions and aberrations. In so far as we share dualizing premises of discourse, we are not able to perform non-dualizing discourse. So far it is difficult to estimate its consequences, however the vision of the politics as the art of conversation based on the non-dualizing procedure may be promising. Therefore, these general assumptions should be lead further in the field of the philosophy of politics.
At present we observe the crisis in the democratic communication as it does not fulfil the expected pragmatic function and becomes more or less oppressive. It can be argued that all dualizing types of deliberation have their weaknesses. Thus, it is even more urgent to try to perform a non-dualizing procedure. I am convinced that so far there is nothing to lose. And from now on there is much to achieve.
Cyzman, Marzenna (2015): Nieznogna plynnoge rzeczy. Dyskurs, retoryka, interpretacja w nie-dualizujacym sposobie mawienia. Torun: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Mikolaja Kopernika.
Dellwing, Michael (2013): Josef Mitterer and the Philosopher’s Stone (Around His Neck). In: Constructivist Foundations 8 (2), 253-258.
Engel, Morris S. (1986): With Good Reason. An Introduction to Informal Fallacies. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Fish, Stanley (1976): “Interpreting the ‘Variorum.” In: Critical Inquiry 2 (3), 465-485.
Foucault, Michel (1971): L’ordre du Discours. Paris: Flammarion.
von Glasersfeld, Ernst (1984): “An Introduction to Radical Constructivism.” In: Watzlawick, Paul (ed.): The Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? New York: Norton, 17-40.
Maturana, Umberto; Varela, Francisco (1980): Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living. Dordrecht: Reidel.
Mitterer, Josef (2011): Die Flucht aus der Beliebigkeit. Weilerswist: VelbrUck Wissenschaft.
Neges, Katharina (2013): “Non-dualism and World. Ontological Questions in the
Non-dualizing Mode of Discourse.” In: Constructivist Foundations 8 (2), 158-165.
Perelman, Chaim (1977): L’Empire Rhëtorique: Rhëtorique et Argumentation. Paris: Vrin.
Rorty, Richard (1989): Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, Siegfried (2011): From Objects to Processes. A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism. In: Constructivist Foundations 7 (1), 1-9.
Schopenhauer, Arthur (1983): Eristische Dialektik oder Die Kunst Recht zu behalten. Zurich: Haffmans Verlag.
Sycara, Katia (1990): “Persuasive Argumentation in Negotiation.” In: Theory and Decision 28, 203-242.
1. The first part of my monography of the non-dualizing philosophy is connected with the rhetorical context, see (Cyzman 2015). (the book is in Polish, the original title Nieznogna plynnoge rzeczy. Dyskurs, retoryka, interpretacja w nie-dualizukcym sposobie mdwienia translates into English as: The Unbearable Fluidity of Things. Discourse, Rhetoric, Interpretation in the Non-dualizing Mode of Speaking).