(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Discourse as Play vs. Discourse as Game

Some in their discourse desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgment, in discerning what is true; as if it were a praise to know what might be said, and not what should be thought.

Sir Francis Bacon, “Of Discourse” (1625)

A possible paraphrase(?): Rather than arguing for the sake of coming to some truth in a matter among interlocutors, some people in their discussions really just want to be seen as able to spar with the tools of logic and then hold their own, having claimed the high ground, as if the object lay in the discussion itself rather than in its substance: that is, to clearly know how to argue, not how to discern.

In my experience, such people seem constantly to be proclaiming to the group “the way things are,” often inviting dissent and then throwing it down, or else swiftly correcting those who may err in their own unprovoked assertions or references. What Bacon is getting at, I think, is the issue of discursive performance, in which case, if the current object of discourse be to “discern what is true,” that is, keeping language use primarily in the realm of its referential functionality, the problem comes when the “some” to which Bacon refers may be unconsciously striving to index the language’s phatic and metalinguistic functions (though he admits that varying the talk is preferred as opposed to “jad[ing] anything too far”). Bacon gives the following advice in response: “The honorablest part of talk is to give the occasion; and again to moderate, and pass to somewhat else; for then a man leads the dance.”


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This entry was posted on July 28, 2015 by and tagged , .
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