Lecture 12

Lecture 12

The reference here to hierarchy shows that being somewho implies a vertical dimension within which social place has its place. Social standing belongs to the being, i.e. the presence as self-presentation, of a person. The recognition and appraisal of each other as who is always already an estimation of how high or low our respective social standings are. This verticality consists not only in being held in high or low regard in accordance with the abilities we put on display, but also in the social rank occupied in society, such ranking being a function of wealth or power or authority.

Weighty words of authority

The words uttered by those who stand higher in social standing either by dint of wealth or political power carry more weight than those of lower social standing. For the most part in quotidian life, words are an expression of opinion. A wealthy person's carries more weight than that of a poor person because the wealthy person will generally act in accordance with the opinion he holds in spending his money, from which others may benefit. Those who hold an office in the polity wield power, and therefore their official opinions carry weight because power over others will be wielded in accordance with the official's considered opinion. It is not so much the person himself that speaks, but his office, his social rank. In holding the honour (timh/) of an office (timh/), the office itself is honoured when the office-holder speaks.

But words are not only the expression of opinion. They can also make a claim to truth, i.e. to be knowledgeable, and to carry weight by virtue of being true, i.e. disclosive of a given situation or matter in its undistorted truth. In social intercourse, utterances are made very frequently with a claim to saying what the case is. A claim to saying the truth about some particular matter can be examined by way of argument in which the differing views on a given matter have it out discursively. But for the most part, in practical social intercourse and discourse, truth claims depend not so much on what is said, but who says it. This goes beyond the speaker presenting himself convincingly from within a certain stance and displaying a certain character (like a character-mask), "in the stance of the one speaking" (e)n t%= h)/qei tou= le/gontoj Rhet. A 2 1356a2 cf. GA18:120) as Aristotle notes in the Rhetoric, but encompasses also the social standing from where a person is speaking. At first and for the most part, in social discourse it is the social standing of a person that speaks primarily for an issue and only secondarily the substantive content of what that person says. The opinion expressed by a professor or an acknowledged expert carries more weight because of the social standing which these persons enjoy. It is not so much their individual person that is speaking, but rather their social office (timh/) or social mask (persona) which in itself enjoys a certain estimation in the eye of others. Social standing engenders trust (pi/stij) in the eyes of others, who give credit (pi/stij) or credibility to a speaker's social status. Social standing is thus in itself a pi/stij in the sense of 'a means of persuasion, an argument', i.e. that which speaks in favour of a certain view.

Words spoken therefore have weight according to who says them. In speaking on a certain matter, the words said in favour of a particular view, the pi/steij, carry a weighting according to the social standing of the who that is speaking. Somewho whose opinions are weighty enjoys authority that is acknowledged by others. The weighty words of authority have more persuasive power, i.e. they can sway opinion in an audience. Such authority can be knowledgeable authority or it can be the authority of political power, which is able to exercise leadership also in the sense of leading public opinion. The weighty words of authority are taken more to heart by an audience. The coefficient of weight of words authoritatively expressed enhances the power of rhetorical e)nqumh/mata (Rhet. 1356b5), i.e. the form of arguments peculiar to and appropriate to a rhetorical situation, to sway the mood and thus the opinion of an audience.

The self-showing of someone "” as who they are of a certain social status and standing "” is therefore an argument in itself in the rhetorical situations of everyday life. In addition to the characteristics of how someone presents himself which are discussed by Aristotle as factors which speak for an issue, namely, having insight, seriousness and good will (fro/nhsij kaiÜ a)reth¯ kaiÜ eu)/noia Rhet. B 1 1278a9 cf. GA18:165ff), social standing itself lends rhetorical weight. Social standing itself must therefore have weight. This weight can only be the weight of being, which translates into height: those of higher social standing have more weight as social beings, as somewho. Consequently, what they say also has more weight, more being.

Discrepancy between social standing and ability

Seen from this vantage point, the phenomenon of philotimy, of the striving to stand in the esteem of others, reveals the face of a fixation on social standing as the measure for the ontological weight of an individual. A))pofai/nesqai no longer means merely showing oneself off in one's abilities, but putting oneself on display as a person of such-and-such a social standing. Although one would perhaps like to argue that individuals come to enjoy a given social standing by virtue of their abilities, social standing itself and its customary signs are the phenomena by which the worth of an individual is decided in social intercourse, i.e. whether the individual stands high or low in the ranking of being. The trappings of social standing therefore assume importance. As status symbols, they signal how an individual is to be held in regard by others. Social being can thus be seen as a show in which social status is apparent and visible, whereas individual ability comes to light, if at all, only indirectly through the opinions held about a given individual's reputation. The discrepancy between an individual's genuine abilities and the pretension to a social standing made by that individual is one face of the discrepancy between semblance and truth.

To be continued...

Posts: 25 | Location: Cologne, Germany | Registered: December 06, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
  Powered by Social Strata  

All posts, unless otherwise publishèd, are © their several authors.