Ernesto Grassi on Rhetoric

(Student produced study guide from Foss, Foss, and Trapp )

Learning objectives:

Key concepts

Scientific thought:

characterized by the use of the scientific method and based on the presumption that we (people) can know objectively and comprehend the objects around us. (146)

a priori:

forms of understanding from which reality is to be deduced. (146)

Grassi's Humanism:

refers to the philosophical movement and is not based on the problem of existence, but deals with the problem of words, and the ways of rhetorically thinking and speaking that were perfected as a way of philosophizing in the 15th Century. (147)

Descartes' Rational Philosophy:

deals with scientific objectivity, universality, and rational deduction over other ways of knowing the world. (148) Cogito ergo sum: "I think; therefore I am." This is a self- evident axiom and is based on the human power to apprehend reality by means of reason. (146)


what in essence, separates the human being from the animal. (149)

Humanization of Nature:

ability to make adjustments in nature simply because we are humans. (149)


the basic process by which humans gain control over nature; refers to a basic capacity to grasp what is common or similar in ideas or experiences. (151)


"It leads to light because it stems from the need to see: that which is not to be transferred," (154) and provides the connection between rhetorical and rational speech. (158)

First principle:

fundamental or original principle upon which philosophical arguments are based. (155)

Rhetorical language:

illuminates historical fact, making a situation concrete, relevant and understandable using metaphor and imagery. (157)

Rational speech:

deductive in nature and achieving its effect through logical demonstration. (157)


a "system" of signs whose elements receive meaning through and within this system. Morse code is an example. (159)

External rhetorical speech:

superficial and mistaken definition of rhetoric, as a technical art of persuasion, that acts on emotions to form beliefs. (159)


practice, or doing. Reality is manifested in concrete situations.


coming to terms with things by studying words individually.


choosing what perspective to take in a situation; the unveiling of an essential meaning.

New paradigm:

approaches in research which are concerned with human's role in constructing rhetorical knowledge rather than with the possibility of objective knowledge (165)

I. Origins of Interest in Rhetoric (p.145)

A. Grassi's education was the product of two opposing philosophic traditions: German Idealism and Italian Humanism.

1. Grassi's background of Italian Humanism was challenged at the University of Freiburg, where German philosophy dominated.

2. The dissonance of the two views led Grassi to examine his own beliefs more carefully, from which he determined that rhetoric constitutes the foundation of human thought.

B. Two people were especially influential in differentiating the two philosophies for Grassi.

1. Bertando Spaventa's (Italian philosopher of the late nineteenth century), following statement left an impression on Grassi. "The development of German thought is natural, free, and independent, in a word, it is critical. The development of Italian thought is unsteady, hindered, and dogmatic. This is the great difference." (p.145)

2. Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who worked with Grassi for ten years in Freiburg, held a strongly negative attitude towards Italian philosophy. Heidegger's attitude was influential in causing Grassi to seriously consider the value of both German philosophy and Italian philosophy.

II. Humanism Versus the Scientific Tradition (p.146)

A. In order to understand Grassi's approach to rhetoric, more precise definitions are needed for the Scientific Tradition and Italian Humanism.

1. Scientific Tradition is based on objective knowledge.

a. Rational deduction is at the core of the scientific method and involves starting from the premises and deriving the inferences already inherent in them.

b. Grassi lists three limitations of this scientific paradigm, which he believes constrain what is studied as philosophy.

i. The scientific method examines first principles, but not their sources.

ii. The scientific method focuses on quantification.

iii Scientific thought is concerned only with universals.

2. Grassi's Italian Humanism refers to a philosophical movement.

a. Grassi's Humanism is Platonic and Aristotelian in orientation.

b. Grassi's Humanism is concerned with "the problem of words, metaphorical thought, and rhetorical thinking."

c. Grassi's Humanists sought to understand ways in which humans respond to a set of demands from the world and, by their linguistic choices, reveal the way they view this world around them.

B. The Scientific Approach was in direct opposition to Grassi's Humanist Approach. (p.147)

1. The Scientific approach deals with objectivity while the Humanist approach deals with distinctions and contextual variations.

2. The Scientific Approach came to dominate philosophy, while the Humanists were seen as searching for and moving toward this position.

3. Grassi believed that the Scientific Method was one tool for understanding, while Humanism dealt with broader areas and combined the areas of rhetoric and philosophy.

III. Giambattista Vico: A source for Grassi's Rhetoric (p.149)

A. Grassi believed Vico represents the thought of Italian Humanism most fully.

1. Vico considered the rise of human history to be the basic problem of philosophy.

2. History is what differentiates humans from animals.

B. Grassi's support for Humanist thought is based in Vico's conception of the humanization of nature. (p.150)

1. Grassi has a term called "meeting the claims or demands of life."

a. All living beings experience the world using their senses, and inherently organize their environment to meet their basic needs.

b. Animals rely on instinct to function.

2. The human process is very complex.

a. Humans can choose and aren't limited to actions of instinct.

b. Humans can define images through language and therefore can interpret the world in different ways.

3. Humanization or historication of nature occurs when:

a. Humans become aware of these capabilities.

b. They begin to make adjustments in nature, or "direct their own destinies."

4. Humans must take sensory level meanings and translate them into an intellectual level.

5. The clearing of forests and the cultivating of land is the first unfolding of human consciousness. (p.151)

6. This feeling of control over nature wasn't a sudden change: there were three developing stages.

a. In the Cultural Age, humans felt they were a part of the cultural world.

b. In the Age of Heros, combination of heros and gods (superhuman benefactors) were seen as helping humans by introducing social institutions and laws.

c. In the Age of Humanity, humans realized that they could control nature.

C. Humans gain control over nature using the Ingenium, which is the process of humanization. (p.151)

1. Ingenium transfers meaning from the sensory world to a higher human one.

2. Ingenium frees humans by allowing them to see relationships and making connections in experience which are needed to think new thoughts.

D. There are three basic ways in which Ingenium is manifest to create the humans world. (p.152)

1. Imagination functions to grasp control of reality into two ways.

a. Imagination allows humans to realize that they are not bound to nature in the same way that animals are bound. (152)

b. Imagination allows humans to explain the world around them. It allows us to select certain interpretations of what we sense and allows us to define and order.

2. Work allows us to make and interpret connections of the sensory phenomena. Work allows us to act upon those interpretations made by our imagination. (p.153)

3. Language allows us to name and assign meanings to things in the world. By naming something we create a reality apart from the world.

E. Humanists sought to understand things in the context of practical human action.

1. Praxis is action: the application of abstract philosophical concepts into concrete situations. (p.153)

2. Grammarians examine words and interpret the abstract human condition in combination with individual action. (p.154)

IV. Metaphor: Linguistic Manifestation of Ingenium (p.154)

A. Grassi refers to Aristotle and Cicero to define the metaphor.

1. Aristotle: "[The metaphor allows us] to see the similarity between what is actually the most widely separated."

2. Cicero's definition of metaphor said it was like a "light" which gives insight into a "relationship."

B. Metaphor transfers insight on several levels. (p.154)

1. At the most basic level, the metaphor allows us to grasp similarities between two unrelated things.

a. The metaphor operationalizes ingenium by allowing the human to connect himself/herself to the world of senses.

b. We relate to nature in human terms.

2. Language works metaphorically, transferring insight.

a. Language is symbolic because it helps us relate two dissimilar things.

b. Language helps us interpret and connect to our world and experiences.

3. The process of philosophizing is metaphoric.

a. A philosophical argument cannot be made without understanding the first principle.

b. First principles are nonrational and "experienced" as an "urge."

c. Philosophical systems are constructed with a first principle as the base.

d. The similarities we make between "urges" to understand philosophical problem and the actual logical arguments we use are metaphorical.

V. Types of Speech (p.156)

A. Grassi discusses the superiority of rhetorical language over rational speech.

1. Rhetorical language adapts various uses of imagery to illuminate historical fact and make it concrete, while rational speech is deductive and achieves effect through logical demonstration.

2. Rhetorical language deals with concrete particulars of life, while rational speech is universal and abstract.

3. Rhetorical language is like dialogue because it takes the world into account, while rational speech is monologic and has no need to interact.

4. Rhetorical language concentrates in images, symbols and metaphors, while rational speech is grounded in logical events and chronology.

5. Rhetorical language goes beyond a formal system, while rational speech is set in a "code" and can only move through the use of metaphor, which is indicative of rhetorical speech.

B. A third form of speech identified by Grassi is "external rhetorical speech."

1. This is the superficial and mistaken definition of rhetoric as a technical art of persuasion.

2. This is "false speech" because images do not stem directly from metaphors or nature, but a limited understanding of nature and its images.

VI. The Significance of Rhetoric (p.160)

A. Many feel that rhetoric is only the form of a message, while philosophy supplies factual content.

B. Humanists see rhetoric in a positive light, as a way to make logical reasoning palatable to an audience.

C. Grassi sees no separation of passion from logic.

1. The power of a message derives from its starting point in images that inspire wonder, admiration, engagement and passion.

2. Rhetoric, rather than logical deduction, is the true philosophy since it undertakes questions about the process by which "humans know, interpret, and create their world."

D. The emphasis on science in the Western world has resulted in this separation of content from form, and contrasts with the World View of the humanists. (p.161)

1. Without scientific proof, an idea will not be believed.

2. We have forgotten that we need to study the insights upon which these calculations are based.

E. There are many consequences for society that over-values the rational paradigm.

1. Those who believe in the "primacy of logic" and the ability for technology to deal with all problems tend to have an attitude of superiority.

a. Humans see their rationality as giving them a dominance over all things.

b. This actually limits humans' capability to fully interpret all things.

2. This affects our relationships with other cultures who do not share this attitude.

a. We see these cultures as being underdeveloped.

b. This view makes it impossible to fully understand them and constricts our interactions with them.

3. Logical thought has become synonymous with the domination of humans. (p.162)

4. The dawning of the atomic age is the ultimate example of humans' need to dominate nature.

F. The rational approach which has dominated Western culture has been detrimental to philosophy.

VII. Folly (p.162)

A. Renaissance Humanism defined folly as speaking irrationally without reason.

B. Grassi studied literature for examples of folly, defining it instead as the ability, using language, to choose the perspective to take on a situation to unveil something's essence. (p.163)

1. Folly is an engagement of ingenium

2. Folly is the fundamental process by which humans move from the nonhuman to the human realm.

3. Folly, as an extension of ingenium, allows humans to imagine themselves in new situation and to deal with these situations effectively.

VIII. Responses to Grassi (p.164)

A. Grassi's ideas of rhetoric are not well known among communication scholars.

1. Grassi has published in English only in Philosophy and Rhetoric and there are few essays or discussions on his work.

2. Grassi asserts the contributions of Italian Humanism to rhetoric and philosophy rather than with fully developing the contemporary implications of the philosophic perspective.

B. Grassi made several important contributions to rhetoric from the Humanistic perspective.

1. Grassi asserts that rhetoric and philosophy are necessarily connected, since rhetoric is the starting point of philosophy.

2. Grassi preference of thought, speech, and action made from connections with nature (ingenium) rather than from logical reasoning is similar to the "new paradigm."

3. Grassi's notion of folly allows humans choices in how they perceive the world they live in.

4. Grassi's work generated renewed interest in Renaissance Humanism.

5. Grassi gives new significance to rhetorical speech and asks us to reconceptualize our definition of rhetoric.

IX. Annotated Readings

Grassi, Ernesto "Italian Humanism and Heidegger's Thesis of the End of Philosophy," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 13 (Spring 1980), 83. In this article, Grassi points to the parallelism between Heidegger's German Idealistic thought and the Italian Humanist tradition in order to create a historical framework in which to make evident the problems of Humanism in relation to present day. This article, separated into ten major ideas, begins with the End of Metaphysics and ends with Heidegger's Theory of the Brutality of the Being. In between these two major points, as Grassi explains Heidegger's Twofold thesis, the Traditional Model of Scientific Thought, the basic problem of Italian Humanism, The Question of the Veil of the Poetic Word, and the "clearing" of the Primordial Forest.

Grassi, Ernesto Die Macht des Bildes, 221, cited in Walter Veit, "The Potency of Imagery - the Impotence of Rational Language: Ernesto Grassi's Contribution to Modern Epistemology," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 17 (1984), 235. Veit gives analysis to some of Grassi's theories in this article. Grassi once again confronts the separation of logical reasoning and rhetoric. Many of Grassi's ideas have literally reconstructed the philosophical dimension of rhetoric in the eyes of contemporary Italian Humanists. Much of this article is similar to the subjects covered in FFT, and it even helps in the understanding since it gives different explanations and examples to similar material. Emphasis is placed on some of the ideals of eighteenth century philosopher Giambattista Vico, who Grassi found as a source for some of his rhetorical ideas. Once again, it is stated that Grassi believed that the philosophical revolution began with the Italian Humanists, who showed that philosophy gains insight into the principles "through the creativity of the image."

Grassi, Ernesto "Humanistic Rhetorical Philosophizing: Giovanni Pontano's Theory of the Unity of Poetry, Rhetoric, and History," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 17 (1984), 146. This article is simply Grassi's analysis and reaction to Potano's theories. It gives the reader some idea of the process of critical thinking that Grassi goes through in regards to the ideas of others. It is standard to differentiate between logic and rhetoric. The premises resulting from a rational process as exemplified by traditional metaphysics are necessary and universally valued. Rhetoric is bound by time and place, and it must use metaphor and images in order to be effective. In order for metaphor to be effective, there must be a common viewpoint shared between source and receiver which permits the audience to see the relationship of the metaphor. The unity of poetry, rhetoric, and history has a philosophical significance. All three are rooted in directive language. Potano's ideas are that the traditional thoughts need to be revised. A new kind of philosophy starts with the Humanists and the turn to rhetoric, away from rational argument.

Grassi, Ernesto "Remarks on German Idealism, Humanism and the Philosophical Function of Rhetoric," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 19 (1986), 125. Grassi discusses his blending of Vico's Italian Humanism and German Idealism. The entire system of thoughts is summarized as follows: "The faculty that is crucial to the making of metaphors is ingenium, which allows us to see the world. The power of language is beyond logic and rational thinking. To think rationally involves assuming some presuppositions and drawing inferences from them." This text is simply and expansion of the work in Foss, et al. and provides a historical context for Grassi's work.

Grassi, Ernesto "The Ordinary Quality of the Poetic and Rhetorical Word: Heidegger, Ungaretti, and Neruda," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 20 (1987), 248. This article is divided into three sections. The first section concentrates on making clear the philosophical function of poetical and rhetorical language, by looking at statements of philosopher Martin Heidegger and of two poets Ungaretti and Neruda. The poetic world, according to Heidegger, receives not only priority over the rational world, but also has a philosophical function comparing it to the ideas of philosopher Giambattista Vico. Second, it deals with the idea that reality cannot be revealed through a rational process. Next it deals with the philosophical function of poetry, showing that every beginning of a historical era is announced with a poetic expression, showing connection of poetry, rhetoric and history. Imagery is poetry. The third part shows what can happen when rational word becomes superior to rhetorical word, using the stories of Prometheus and Ulyssses. The fire Prometheus brought is considered metaphoric, but the fact that his liver is being destroyed keeps him historical and not eternal. Dante condemns Ulysses when he wishes to go beyond Hercules' pillars.

Grassi, Ernesto "Why Rhetoric is Philosophy," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 20 (1987), 75. Traditional philosophy arrives at an important admission: rational language cannot reach "passions." What is "true" language? The model provided by German romantic thought recognizes an essentially literary character. In Monologne, Noralis, language is a game; language does not occur for the determination of beings. Tongue speaks for itself alone. An object has its own destiny and at the same time it doesn't in that each appears in its merry through the code which is revealed in the history. Rhetorical, historical language is shown to be the true philosophical language because it is by means of it that we "uncover" the various world by "playing" with our "orders" at stake.

Verene, Donald Phillip, rev. of Die Macht der Phantasie and Rhetoric as Philosophy, by Ernesto Grassi, Philosophy and Rhetoric, 13 (Fall 1980), 281. This article summarizes Grassi's ideas in Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition and in Die Macht der Phantasie. Zur Geschitchte abenlandischen Denkens. According to Verene, these books are "treasure houses of an understanding of the nature of rhetoric and its relationship to philosophy that is absent in contemporary thought." Grassi's thesis is that rhetoric is at the basis of philosophy. Considering this relationship, Grassi asks his readers to understand the power of language by choosing Humanism over science.

Verene, Donald Phillip, "Response to Grassi," Philosophy and Rhetoric, 19 (1986), 135. Verene is delighted to be discussing Grassi's work. He admits skepticism to the blending of Italian Humanism and German Idealism. The most important element of Grassi's thought is the metaphor because metaphors embody the starting pints for thought. It is essentially a recovery of ancient ideas that Verene feels is long overdue.

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