Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Balancing the concrete and abstract in public intellectual reasoning: A study of Hannah Arendt
by Selemeneva, L. V., Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University, 2007, 401; 3286684
Abstract (Summary)

Rhetorical theory has traditionally used "persuasion" as its key concept. Theorists have tended to overlook other goals of rhetorical practice. In this dissertation I focus on a goal central to serious journalism and in-depth political commentary. Texts of these genres aim at the understanding of political reality through sustained reflection on concrete details. Such understanding is a prerequisite for responsible public action. To address these genres, rhetoric requires adequate theoretical concepts. I build up a set of such concepts through a study of Arendt's political and historical writings.

I examine how Arendt expresses knowledge of the social world and identify patterns of reasoning from concrete data to conclusions. I analyze a chapter of Eichmann in Jerusalem, portions of The Origins of Totalitarianism, and "Bertolt Brecht: 1898-1956," which exemplify the genres of trial report, social history, and intellectual biography. My analysis leads to the identification of salient features of Arendt's style of reasoning and use of the concrete.

Arendt reasons on the mid-level, connecting detailed knowledge of the social world to social and political theory. She develops grounded theory that is neither bogged down in detail nor floating in abstraction. Mid-level reasoning, as employed by Arendt, exhibits ten important characteristics. (1) Concrete data are referenced in extenso. (2) Conclusions explain sociopolitical particulars but possess broader implications. (3) Mid-level reasoning is both inductive and deductive. (4) Mid-level reasoning is systemic and identifies relations between particulars. (5) Historical and social details are a special kind of sign. (6) Interpretation of such signs involves two methods: correlation of concrete details and reasoning from particulars. (7) Norms are derived from facts: ethical ends emerge through analysis of the concrete. (8) Evaluation performs an analytical and ethical role in reasoning. (9) The clear demarcation of description, explanation, and evaluation in discourse leads to argument that can be effectively evaluated. (10) Literary/poetic aspects of reasoning may hinder the goal of understanding.

These characteristics suggest normative criteria for social and political writing that combines humanistic reflection and rigorous research. Grounded theory and conceptual precision require the responsible use of abstraction, which must involve reasoning about the concrete.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor:
Commitee:
School: Carnegie Mellon University
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 68/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Journalism, Cognitive therapy, Rhetoric, Composition
Keywords: Abstract reasoning, Arendt, Hannah, Concrete reasoning, Intellectual reasoning, Public intellectuals, Reasoning
Publication Number: 3286684
ISBN: 9780549298670
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