• Serving Zion
    163
    So I said this in passing on the weekend, while discussing scripture: "it's not just a rhetorical question, you know".

    And today I'm still thinking about it.

    I have believed that every question deserves an answer. So how can I be right if rhetorical questions demand no answer?

    I thought, the speaker doesn't want an answer to the rhetorical question. If they get an answer, it takes away their control of the statement. Yet, because it is a question, they expose themselves naturally in so doing, if it happens that the hearer finds an opportunity to disrupt their speech. (Although civilised people might be more gracious, it does happen).

    So I reckon that rhetorical questions are an invalid language construct, because it's effectiveness relies upon the breaking of a fundamental code of language: that questions are a request for a response.

    I'd like to know more about that, thanks :)
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    So I reckon that rhetorical questions are an invalid language construct, because it's effectiveness relies upon the breaking of a fundamental code of language: that questions are a request for a response.Serving Zion

    The "code of language" isn't that simple. Rhetorical questions are an example of it not being that simple.

    I say "That's not a rhetorical question" sometimes because I realize that it might be taken to be a rhetorical question, but it's something I'm actually looking for a response/an answer to.
  • 3017amen
    985


    Interesting question (no pun intended)!

    I can think of it this way. Rhetorical questions are kind of like being passive aggressive. All in a nice way off course.

    Sometimes you can't be too direct with someone for fear they may get offended about a sensitive topic. So you say the same thing passively, yet still get your point across. Then when it comes to rhetorical questions, you can always preface or qualify the question by saying..'.this is not a rhetorical question intended to insult you however my concern is that why can't you see…...' That sounds like what you did right?
  • fresco
    571

    From the pov of 'the committee nature of self', such questions are aspects of internal dialogue.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    It's quite right. But I still need to be sure that what I think is right, in fact is right. So far I do not see that there is a case where a rhetorical question is not, in truth, strictly a misuse of language for dramatic effect (iow, "slang").
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    From the pov of 'the committee nature of self', such questions are aspects of internal dialogue.fresco

    I don't know what "the committee nature of self" is, but I like your idea. Going a bit further in the same direction, I like the idea of a rhetorical question being one the speaker is suggesting listeners ask themselves.
  • Relativist
    862
    I say "That's not a rhetorical question" sometimes because I realize that it might be taken to be a rhetorical question, but it's something I'm actually looking for a response/an answer to.Terrapin Station
    Your post seems like a rhetorical declarative sentence: you asked no question, but you're expecting an answer.

    Sorry to disappoint you with that observation, but no answer.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Languge is for us and we get to use it how we collectively like and even, often, how we individually like. It's cool that it sounds like a question, but it's not. That is making the point in a different way that via statements, since it is, essentially a statemen in question form. There is no one to give us a ticket for breaking a supposed rule. We get to play with the forms we have created and it's great we do. If some guy kept trying rhetorical questions and did them clearly, but no one understood, well, that would be too bad. But we generally do understand and so it's fine. It's our language.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Your post seems like a rhetorical declarative sentence: you asked no question, but you're expecting an answer.Relativist
    Was he?
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    I reckon that rhetorical questions are an invalid language construct,Serving Zion

    ...to say nothing of apophasis!
  • Serving Zion
    163
    I don't know what "the committee nature of self" is,T Clark
    I had to Google "committee nature of self" and then I realised that he is sharing an insight into the nature of deliberations, so it immediately made better sense to read that he was referring to my question as "such questions" because I really am "thinking out loud" .. but then I saw how it could just as well be said of those who use the rhetorical question. So it made me think, I found it to be true, and I liked it too :)

    I like the idea of a rhetorical question being one the speaker is suggesting listeners ask themselves.T Clark
    That idea seems pretty accurate, but in order that the question delivers rhetoric and doesn't tempt the hearer to oppose the speaker, it relies upon the hearer agreeing with the speaker's own answer.

    So, is a rhetorical question ever not also a loaded question?

    The speaker has risk in a rhetorical question - that if someone doesn't agree with the conclusion he is drawing, they are compelled to retort. Whereas a simple statement would not tempt the hearer with the same compulsion (passions considered though,..!).

    I think that is the real crux of my investigation: whether the hearer has the right to respond 'out-of-turn' as it would be, and if we consider that rhetorical questions are not to be answered, then it seems to be an oppression of sorts upon a hearer (where I am being a righteous judge of the hearer's right to be heard).

    There is a unique value in your argument, that a well-presented rhetorical question can have more impact than a plain statement by virtue of the hearer drawing his own discovered comprehension, a realisation, being a knowledge that originates from internal reasoning as compared to a rote head knowledge that is painted on (if I really am right to believe that they are different.. and, I am not so sure of that, given the arguments that come to mind).

    Although it isn't the most common use of a rhetorical question (because most speakers use them out of passion to appeal for support), though when questions in scripture appear to be rhetorical such as "... you though, who are you to judge your neighbour?" (James 4:12), they mostly do have that quality to them. They invite retort, and if the reader is bold enough to challenge the writer, through processing our plea there is a conviction of the truth and we gain valuable knowledge. It is a knowledge that comes from within us (ie: John 4:14) - we own the knowledge because we discovered it, it isn't plagiarized.

    That's interesting, and though it has gone a long way to explain the value of rhetorical questions, still I have not found conclusively that a rhetorical question does not invite an answer. I have introduced a new principle though: a truly rhetorical question must lead to a single robust conclusion, and that must agree with the speaker's expectation.

    Thanks for the discussion!
  • Serving Zion
    163
    Languge is for us and we get to use it how we collectively like and even, often, how we individually like. It's cool that it sounds like a question, but it's not. That is making the point in a different way that via statements, since it is, essentially a statemen in question form. There is no one to give us a ticket for breaking a supposed rule. We get to play with the forms we have created and it's great we do. If some guy kept trying rhetorical questions and did them clearly, but no one understood, well, that would be too bad. But we generally do understand and so it's fine. It's our language.Coben
    Well, it is only a part of language that happens to be in discussion here today. There are more important considerations to functional communication, than the proper use of language.

    I am a person who, when I discover that others are wrong, I seek out what is right and then I cling to it and I share that knowledge with others. So that is what I am here to do, with regards to a finding I have, that people seem to assume a rhetorical question is not allowed to be challenged.
  • Amity
    950
    So I said this in passing on the weekend, while discussing scripture: "it's not just a rhetorical question, you know".

    And today I'm still thinking about it.

    I have believed that every question deserves an answer. So how can I be right if rhetorical questions demand no answer?
    Serving Zion

    Are you sure you said it 'in passing' ? It sounds like you had a point to make about a particular passage but didn't want to, or couldn't, spend too much time on it. Can you remember the piece ?

    About 'rhetorical questions' - as usual, wiki offers up information.

    A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked to make a point rather than to elicit an answer.[Though a rhetorical question does not require a direct answer, in many cases it may be intended to start a discussion or at least draw an acknowledgement that the listener understands the intended message.Wikipedia - Rhetorical question

    So, it is not the case that this type of question is about getting a direct answer. However...

    I am reminded of Daniel Dennet's comments on rhetorical questions in his book ' Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking', p55.

    He suggests that whenever we see one, to try to answer it in our own way, creatively. You might just surprise the questioner who has used it for their own purposes.
    It is a tactic he illustrates by use of a cartoon.

    Charlie Brown rhetorically: ' Who's to say what is right and wrong here?'
    Lucy responds: 'I will'.

    The trick, I suppose, is being able to identify a rhetorical question and how it is being used.
    Sometimes I ask a lot of questions - some might be taken as rhetorical and some are just put out there as they come to mind. Looking for an answer of sorts.

    There is always the danger of being fearful to offer an answer - just incase the other person shrugs you off, questioning your intelligence at not recognising the obvious nature of it.

    However, often it is used as a short cut - to cut off further exploration.
    It is good to be aware of this tool and tactic. Look at each question carefully and decide whether it is worth answering. Why not ? What's to lose ?

    Enjoying the discussion.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    Are you sure you said it 'in passing' ? It sounds like you had a point to make about a particular passage but didn't want to, or couldn't, spend too much time on it. Can you remember the piece ?Amity
    Yes, I did say it in passing, but also yes I did have a particular point to make (that was quite a bit larger). She had quoted the scripture and I said "that's not just a rhetorical question, you know" .. so I was saying that she was not handling the scripture as it is intended, by using a question that invites an answer as though it should not be "reasoned with" (Isaiah 1:18). But while I could remember the details of the conversation yesterday, today it has slipped my mind. I just trust that if it becomes necessary to explain, those details will come back to me, because it is certainly in there but there seems to be something blocking it :)

    Charlie Brown rhetorically: ' Who's to say what is right and wrong here?'
    Lucy responds: 'I will'.
    Amity

    That is precisely what I love about children! .. there really is nothing in their nature that stops them doing what is straightforward and (seemingly) right!
  • Amity
    950
    Charlie Brown rhetorically: ' Who's to say what is right and wrong here?'
    Lucy responds: 'I will'.
    — Amity

    That is precisely what I love about children! .. there really is nothing in their nature that stops them doing what is straightforward and (seemingly) right!
    Serving Zion

    Asking questions, being inquisitive, making judgements as to what is right - it is how we develop and grow.
    However, it is not always straightforward - depending on who is asked and where the answers come from.

    She had quoted the scripture and I said "that's not just a rhetorical question, you know" .. so I was saying that she was not handling the scripture as it is intended, by using a question that invites an answer as though it should not be "reasoned with" (Isaiah 1:18).Serving Zion

    Referencing scripture as a response - how helpful is that ? Sounds somewhat preachy.

    I did have a particular point to make (that was quite a bit larger).Serving Zion

    So - are you saying you can't remember the point ?

    But while I could remember the details of the conversation yesterday, today it has slipped my mind. I just trust that if it becomes necessary to explain, those details will come back to me, because it is certainly in there but there seems to be something blocking it :)Serving Zion

    While it is not necessary to explain, it might help to put your question in context.
    What were the differences between you in 'handling the scripture as intended' ?

    However, all of this is a distraction from the rest of my post.
    What did you think of the content regarding 'the rhetorical question' ?
    Did it lead to an improved understanding?
  • Serving Zion
    163
    However, it is not always straightforward - depending on who is asked and where the answers come from.Amity
    Evidently! :ok: That is why I say that rhetorical questions are risky, if the speaker's intention is to preach rather than to teach.

    Referencing scripture as a response - how helpful is that ?Amity
    Bravo! (I shall take on board to at least generate a link in future, if it cannot be quoted. I understand the internal pressures that prevent one going to that effort when they have not a natural interest).
    Sounds somewhat preachy.Amity
    Ok, nevermind what that sounds like then. Make of it what you will :)
    So - are you saying you can't remember the point ?Amity
    Yes, at this time, that is true. I only remember the topic at large.
    While it is not necessary to explain, it might help to put your question in context.
    What were the differences between you in 'handling the scripture as intended' ?
    Amity
    I am sorry, it just is not possible to furnish those details to you. It really does evade me at this time.
    However, all of this is a distraction from the rest of my post.Amity
    Rich words! .. I certainly did not intend to do that. I chose to respond only to what was necessary.
    What did you think of the content regarding 'the rhetorical question' ?Amity
    It has already been covered in prior material on this thread.
    Did it lead to an improved understanding?Amity
    Do you understand why you are asking this question?
  • Coben
    1.1k
    I don't know where you found anything in my post that says you can't challenge the use of rhetorical questions. I disagree with you on the issue. I tried to explain why I disagree, well or not being another issue. People are likely to disagree with you fairly often in philosophical forums, with anyone that is, not you in particular. Those who want to silence other people are pretty clear about that. But with the others who disagree you are adding meaning in that isn't there.
  • Amity
    950
    Referencing scripture as a response - how helpful is that ?
    — Amity
    Bravo! (I shall take on board to at least generate a link in future, if it cannot be quoted. I understand the internal pressures that prevent one going to that effort when they have not a natural interest).

    Sounds somewhat preachy.
    — Amity
    Ok, nevermind what that sounds like then. Make of it what you will :)
    Serving Zion

    You make wrong assumptions. Bravo !

    Have done. Judgement made.
    This reminds me of another preacher-type in another forum.
    Still interesting sport for some...
  • Serving Zion
    163
    I don't know where you found anything in my post that says you can't challenge the use of rhetorical questions.Coben
    It is when you say "It's cool that it sounds like a question, but it's not.", that you appear to be saying that though being framed as a question, the expectation is that it does not invite the hearer to respond. That is a most common use of rhetorical questions.

    If you think disagreement means you the other person thinks you can't challenge a belief or opinion they have, you are going to feel that people are trying to control you all the time.Coben
    Yes, that is the problem, essentially. A civilised dialogue provides turns for each party to speak. A question is, by nature, an invitation for the other party to speak. But a rhetorical question does not intend to provide that invitation, because as you have said, it is not a question, it is a statement.

    Therefore, it is natural that if a speaker uses a rhetorical question and does not expect to receive an answer (as Charlie Brown did above), then he will believe that the hearer has spoken out of turn (because the hearer interjected against a statement, he was not invited by the speaker to speak).

    That is what the essential problem is, in what I have found.

    The example I gave from James 4:12 explains that although the question is rhetorical, it is not confounded by a hearer interjecting to answer it, because the fundamental principle of the rhetorical question, is that it "must lead to a single robust conclusion, and that must agree with the speaker's expectation" - and the example from Charlie Brown did not do that, so therefore it confounded the speaker. Therefore, the rhetorical question in the Charlie Brown cartoon is not truly valid as a rhetorical question, because there is a valid answer to it that the speaker did not expect. He fell victim to that "risk" I have mentioned.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    You make wrong assumptions. Bravo !Amity
    That is exactly why I said Bravo!

    Your rhetorical question "how helpful is that ?" was a perfect case in point :up:

    I agree, in all seriousness, that it would have been more helpful if you had seen the scripture. That I merely referenced it, is not sufficient for the purpose.
  • S
    11.8k
    Well, on the scale of stupidity, from Kanye to Einstein, I would give it a stupidity rating of... oh, wait, that was a rhetorical question. I see what you did there.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    Well, on the scale of stupidity, from Kanye to Einstein, I would give it a stupidity rating of... oh, wait, that was a rhetorical question. I see what you did there.S
    Yes, I have a subtle sense of humour ;)
  • Coben
    1.1k
    It is when you say "It's cool that it sounds like a question, but it's not.", that you appear to be saying that though being framed as a question, the expectation is that it does not invite the hearer to respond. That is a most common use of rhetorical questions.Serving Zion

    I guess to me it's similar to a trope. Like my husband is a lion. Well we know he's not actually a lion. We could look at the grammar and the verb and decide this is a misuse of language. It has the exact same structure as sentences we use all the time literally - my husband is a butcher - but here it is wrong. But the person is not lying.

    IOW we had a base function for this kind of assertion, a literal one, but we extended it to, in context, perform other functions.

    I think rhetorical questions are a bit like this. It is in question form but it is not calling for an answer because the answer is obvious. It does not indicate a lack of knowledge. Its function is to elicit something the speaker considers true and uses the question form to get the person to call up the answer for themselves.
    Yes, that is the problem, essentially. A civilised dialogue provides turns for each party to speak. A question is, by nature, an invitation for the other party to speak. But a rhetorical question does not intend to provide that invitation, because as you have said, it is not a question, it is a statement.Serving Zion
    But that doesn't mean you don't get to speak. It just means that the person is not using the question to have to answer it. But of course you can speak in response. If you think what they think is a rhetorical question actually has an answer that is not the one they consider so obvious. Or you could disagree with its application. Or you could jump back into the previous parts of the issue and comment there.

    Shakespeare uses non-rhetorical questions in his poems. Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye

    That thou consumest thyself in single life? It is not doing something immoral to people listening to the poem if he starts with that question that he does not expect and answer to from you. yes, if I read this someone in the audience might try to answer. But now we know that rhetorical and other uses of question formats exist and we can undertand that we are not always being asked a question with the purpose of getting an answer.

    A question, you say, is by nautre and invitation for the other person to speak. Well, not always. We humans have expanded our uses of the question. Just as we have expanded literal use to metaphorical.

    We also developed irony, which can mean that what is said, in context, actually implies the opposite.

    We have introduced parody. Where it seems like we are asserting what the person we are making fun of is asserting, but actually we are making fun of their ideas.

    We have expanded our use of our language. Of course sometimes this leads to confusion. But language cannot be a perfect tool The question is, for me, has expanding the uses of language been useful. I think so.
    That is what the essential problem is, in what I have found.

    The example I gave from James 4:12 explains that although the question is rhetorical, it is not confounded by a hearer interjecting to answer it, because the fundamental principle of the rhetorical question, is that it "must lead to a single robust conclusion, and that must agree with the speaker's expectation" - and the example from Charlie Brown did not do that, so therefore it confounded the speaker. Therefore, the rhetorical question in the Charlie Brown cartoon is not truly valid as a rhetorical question, because there is a valid answer to it that the speaker did not expect. He fell victim to that "risk" I have mentioned.
    Serving Zion
    Of course there can be poor uses of any rhetorical tool. I don't think that means the tool is invalid in general.

    Analogies are often quite misleading. But sometimes they are very useful and they match the way we sometimes thing and further help to generate ideas and understanding.

    It is certainly good if we use language well. And if the choices we make reflect good thinking.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    A question, you say, is by nautre and invitation for the other person to speak. Well, not always.Coben
    I'd rephrase that then, to be more generally accurate. A question is, by nature, asking for assistance to find an answer. In the example you gave of Shakespeare, "How do I love thee?", he is searching to understand something, and though not inviting the response of the one whom he is addressing, it fits well with observations about @fresco's idea:
    From the pov of 'the committee nature of self', such questions are aspects of internal dialogue.fresco
    he is sharing an insight into the nature of deliberationsServing Zion

    The risk of a poorly formed (ie: fake) rhetorical question, is that the hearer who does not arrive at the same conclusion as the speaker, is compelled (and entitled) to interject and detract from the speaker's statement (and, subsequent authority to speak).
  • Amity
    950
    I agree, in all seriousness, that it would have been more helpful if you had seen the scripture. That I merely referenced it, is not sufficient for the purpose.Serving Zion

    OK. So, back into the conversation for a little bit longer.
    I shall take on board to at least generate a link in future, if it cannot be quoted. I understand the internal pressures that prevent one going to that effort when they have not a natural interest).Serving Zion

    You wrongly assumed I did not Google the reference. It takes no real effort, even if there is not a natural interest. Or perhaps this was a 'wrong assumption' which was intentionally placed and carefully played.

    What 'internal pressures' did you think you understood as being a block to any effort ?

    It is easy to find Isaiah 1:18 or any scriptural reference. Not so easy to see the relevance here.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I think that is the real crux of my investigation: whether the hearer has the right to respond 'out-of-turn' as it would be, and if we consider that rhetorical questions are not to be answered, then it seems to be an oppression of sorts upon a hearer (where I am being a righteous judge of the hearer's right to be heard).Serving Zion

    I think you're making too much out of this, although we could probably say that about 95% of the threads on the forum. A rhetorical question is just that, rhetorical. It's intended to persuade. If they didn't work, they wouldn't be around. I use them and like them. They seem effective to me in appropriate situations. I don't think that listeners are being treated unfairly. They generally know how these things work.
  • Amity
    950
    I think you're making too much out of this, although we could probably say that about 95% of the threads on the forum.T Clark

    Ah but this one is 'Serving Zion'...a tasty, flavoursome dish, no ?

    Just a bit of a mess around.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    The risk of a poorly formed (ie: fake) rhetorical question, is that the hearer who does not arrive at the same conclusion as the speaker, is compelled (and entitled) to interject and detract from the speaker's statement (and, subsequent authority to speak).Serving Zion
    I did address this and other issues, not just the Shakespeare, in the previous post. (It was actually Browning and I fixed that error).

    It seems like you are saying that there is this risk of interruption and this outweighs any benefit of using rhetorical questions. How did you weigh the risks/benefits? What do you think about the potential problems of metaphors and other tropes? People might interrupt a speaker who uses a metaphor: but you're husband could not have been a lion, they are another species, someone might call out. But we take that risk because we want to have a diversity of rhetorical tools. Do you really find the risk something we just have to avoid? On what grounds?
  • Serving Zion
    163
    I think you're making too much out of this,T Clark

    Well, I don't know what good that might do for you, but for me I am pleased to have investigated thus far. I know much more already.

    It is clear though, that right use of language is paramount to communication, and that invalid (fake) rhetorical questions do not produce good.

    A valid rhetorical question reinforces the speaker's authority, and increases the value of the statement in the hearer. So, it actually is not very stupid.

    Invalid rhetorical questions either tempt a hearer to break the communication protocol in order to correct the speaker's error, or degrades the speaker's authority if the hearer doesn’t retort, or if the hearer doesn't perceive the error, misleads the hearer to assume that the speaker's conclusion is absolutely right (that closes their mind and they are prone to resisting contending ideas).

    Of those three outcomes, the latter is most harmful, and is precisely the wrong that I had objected to on Sunday.

    I have found your comments fair and agreeable. Let me know if that surprises you and I will see if I can clarify. Thank you for your contributions.
  • TheMadFool
    4.4k
    So I reckon that rhetorical questions are an invalid language construct, because it's effectiveness relies upon the breaking of a fundamental code of language: that questions are a request for a response.Serving Zion

    A point lost for breaking the rules and causing confusion and a point given for creativity.
  • Serving Zion
    163
    You wrongly assumed I did not Google the reference.Amity
    I don't believe I was wrong to assume so. It was the obvious explanation for why you would object to the action of referencing rather than asking for an explanation.
    It takes no real effort, even if there is not a natural interest.Amity
    True enough, yet I do understand the internal pressures that impede us from going where others desire to lead us. I have years of experience in these matters. Even when I provide links, there are some people who, being prejudiced against the value of scripture, will simply not click it. For your information, I once was a person who, despite others copy/pasting right into the page for me, would not even look at it - with as much skill as I am able to read a newspaper without seeing the advertisements. So it equips me with experience to understand how such behaviours, regrettable though they may be, in fact can and do occur.
    Or perhaps this was a 'wrong assumption' which was intentionally placed and carefully played.Amity
    Speculative reasoning. Let me know if you need more information to help with that.
    What 'internal pressures' did you think you understood as being a block to any effort ?Amity
    You have a predisposition to oppose the use of scripture, because you think it is "preachy" and that appears to be a despicable practice in your opinion.
    It is easy to find Isaiah 1:18 or any scriptural reference. Not so easy to see the relevance here.Amity
    Alright. Well, as I said, make of it what you will. I had remembered that scripture because it shows God invites reasoning and that is contrary to the spirit that produces views such as what I was addressing on Sunday, and that interprets questions as having rhetorical value without first answering the question. I thought you might rather benefit by that perspective.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.