Pragmatics and Rhetoric for Discourse Analysis: Some
Jesus M. Larrazabal and Kepa Korta*
Institute for Logic, Cognition, Language and Information (ILCLI)
The University of the Basque Country
Avda. Jose Elosegi 275
20015 Donostia – San Sebastián
Longas são as estradas da
Galileia e curta a piedade dos
(Eça de Queiróz, O suave
This paper focuses on discourse analysis, particularly persuasive discourse, using
pragmatics and rhetoric in a new combined way, called by us Pragma-Rhetoric. It can
be said that this is a cognitive approach to both pragmatics and rhetoric. Pragmatics is
essentially Gricean, Rhetoric comes from a new reading of Aristotle’s Rhetoric,
extending his notion of discourse to meso- and micro-discourses. Two kinds of
intentions have to be considered: first, communicative intention, and, then, persuasive
intention. The fulfilment of those intentions is achieved by a successful persuasive-
communicative action. The psychological, philosophical and logical aspects derived
from the pragma-rhetorical perspective are crucial in view of its applications in several
Keywords: Discourse, pragmatics, rhetoric, communication, intention, persuasion.
Let us begin this paper with our recognition to a philosopher of action, language and
communication, Marcelo Dascal, a Leibnizian particularly interested in semantics and
pragmatics, who has contributed so much to the development of philosophy in the last
30 years. The aim of this paper is to propose a pragmatic and rhetorical view in
discourse analysis, combining both disciplines in order to explain the intentional
* This work has been partially supported by a research project of the Spanish Ministry
of Science and Technology (PB98-0250) and another one of the University of the
Basque Country (UE01/A10).
phenomena that occur in most communicative uses of language, namely, the
communicative intention and the intention of persuading. The combination of
pragmatics and rhetoric has been suggested by some scholars, including Dascal himself
(Dascal and Gross 1999), but it is quite difficult to “marry” such an ancient discipline as
rhetoric with such a new discipline as pragmatics, if we do not put both in the same
“register level”, i.e. in the level of intentionality. This clearly implies a theoretical
choice in the field of pragmatics as far as pragmatics is not conceived in a merely
semiotic way (not to say, in an impossible “semiologic” way), but in an intentional way
following the path open by Austin and, particularly, by Grice. This also implies a new
view on the ancient rhetoric, a choice in favour of a neo-Aristotelian rhetoric, where, in
the well-known triangle ethos-logos-pathos, the elaboration and realisation of discourse
is especially analysed in terms of what is inside the taxis (dispositio), that is to say, the
order of discourse, and not so much in terms of what is inside the elocution. In fact, this
is a choice in favour of a rhetoric linked to dialectics (remember the very beginning of
book I of Aristotle’s Rhetoric) and not so linked to poetics (or the current literature
theory), introducing the idea of the intention of persuading by the discourse maker.
The first section of the paper consists in a few remarks about the different
approaches taken in discourse analysis in general, from sociology to
ethnomethodological conversation analysis, in order to situate our own double
perspective combining pragmatics and rhetoric. The second section is devoted to the
way of understanding communicative intention in Gricean pragmatics. The third one
focuses on our view of a neo-Aristotelian rhetoric that can be merged with pragmatics in
a theory called pragma-rhetoric, which is the topic of the fourth section. We end with a
few concluding remarks.
1. Forms of discourse analysis
Sure, the most important conceptual problem of discourse analysis is the delimitation of
the very idea of discourse. Depending on the different theoretical views adopted for that
analysis, discourse is conceptualised in quite different ways. For some scholars what is
important in discourse is just its structure, for others its functionality, for many others
its social role, and for some others its communicative features in terms of context,
cultural interaction, and so on (Schiffrin 1994). For a long time linguistics forgot the
analysis of discourse, even in semantics and pragmatics. Semantics was mainly lexical
and sometimes sentential, in the modern post-Fregean sense. Pragmatics, before the
analysis of indexicality, was the ‘waste-basket’ of linguistics (Bar-Hillel 1971), and it
seems that general references to context were enough for calling pragmatics to any
Our main reason for not being interested in sociological approaches to discourse
analysis is that the standard sociology of discourse takes it, at the same time, as an
indicator of social practices, basically of social order/disorder, and as a factor of the
construction of social reality. This approach can be seen in so different authors as
Goffman (1981), Bourdieu (1984), or Berger and Luckmann (1966). What is lacking in
this approach is a socio-psychological conception of the discourse-maker, more
precisely, a cognitive conception of the individuals involved in a discourse, alternatively
taking the roles of speaker and audience. The sociological analysis of discourse can
contribute to a taxonomy of different social groups, and then to an explanation of the
interactions among those groups in terms of their contribution to discourse production
and reproduction, but it forgets all cognitive aspects (psychological and linguistic) of
discourse-making and understanding. Foucault’s (1966) philosophical approach to
discourse, especially focused on the relationships between discourse and power (the
order of discourse is given by the discourse of order), is not very far from sociological
approaches and lacks those same aspects.
It happens quite the same with some anthropologists, ethnographers of
communication, and ethnomethodologists. Their analysis of discourse has to do with a
more general cultural analysis and the defence of specific cultural identities and
worldviews. These approaches go from ethnography to ethnolinguistics through some
major trends in anthropology. What is remarkable here is that they collect a huge
number of empirical data (discourses), but at the end there is no theoretical analysis
–explanation- of them (Garfinkel 1967, Sacks et al 1974, Sacks 1992), because meaning
in communication is always something negotiated in the framework of the structure and
norms of the group.
The critique can be particularly extended to the cultural analysis approach of the
Palo Alto School in what is called “cultural pragmatics” (Bateson, Watzlawick and
Hall), given the fact that methodologically they take the global cultural system as the
departure point for studying communicative acts by individuals. This is why they give
an extraordinary relevance to the analysis of different kinds and levels of context,
situating there the study of general interaction, considered as an open system where,
particularly, communication takes place. Taking into account the effects of interaction
on the individuals, they distinguish between digital communication and analogical
communication, and they focus on what they call “pragmatic paradoxes” (Watzlawick et
al. 1972) as the way of reaching the core of their theory on cultural pragmatics.
In contrast with these approaches, we take into account the development of
pragmatics from Austin and Grice on. That means that the pragmatic approach we take
for discourse analysis is an intentional one and not a behaviourist one, as it is the case of
the semiotic pragmatics done in Morris’ (1938) framework.
Pragmatics: Intentions in communication
Since the work by Austin and Grice, linguistic pragmatics has been mainly focused on
the communicative use of language conceived as intentional human action. The study of
the agent’s beliefs, desires and, particularly, intentions is crucial for understanding what
she has done. Naturally, then, the analysis of beliefs, desires, and, particularly,
intentions is at the center of pragmatic studies. Grice’s study on meaning intentions (M-
intentions, Grice 1957, 1969) opened a long debate on the exact definition of the now
so-called communicative intentions. Most approaches construe intention as a primitive
mental state, i.e., non-definable in terms of other mental states such as beliefs and
desires. Communicative intentions share, of course, the characteristics of intentions in
general, for instance:
- They are the mental causes of actions, that is, they are what together with
some bodily movements constitute an action, as distinct from a mere
- They have conditions of consistency. You can desire p and desire not-p
at the same time, but you cannot intend p and intend not-p at the same
- Their object is presupposed to be attainable by the agent. You can desire
to go to the moon this afternoon, but you cannot intend to go to the moon
this afternoon (unless you are a multimillionaire who has made an
arrangement with some spatial agency).
- Their object represents their conditions of satisfaction.
Communicative intentions have also some features of their own:
- They are usually intentions-in-action and not prior intentions (see Searle
1983 for the distinction).
- They are social, in the Weberian sense of social action, i.e. they are
always oriented towards some other agent –the addressee.
- They are overt, that is, they are to be recognized by the addressee.
- Their satisfaction consists precisely in that recognition by the addressee.
The last three characteristics are already pointed out in the first version of M-intentions
““A meant something by x” is (roughly) equivalent to “A intended
the utterance of x to produce some effect in an audience by means
of the recognition of this intention””. (Grice 1957/1989, p. 220.)
And their exact formulation seems to constitute the reason for the main critiques and
subsequent reformulations by Grice himself (1969):
““U meant something by uttering x” is true iff, for some audience
A, U uttered x intending:
A to produce a particular response r
A to think (recognize) that U intends (1)
A to fulfill (1) on the basis of his fulfilment of (2).”
(Grice 1969/1989, p. 92.)
First, communicative intentions are intentions to produce some response on the
part of the addressee. The issue has been to define what such a response should exactly
be. It seems that what the speaker usually intends by her communicative action is to
change the mental states of the addressee. But what change should it be for the
communicative intention to be successful? The intention of the speaker when she says,
for instance, ‘It is raining’ could be to induce the addressee to believe that it is raining
or, maybe, to believe that the speaker believes that it is raining. But is any of these
beliefs on the part of the addressee necessary for the communicative action to be
successful qua communicative action? The most common answer has been negative.
Perlocutionary aspects of that sort have been excluded from the content of
communicative intentions. It seems that the addressee’s only new mental state needed is
his recognition of the speaker’s communicative intention; his understanding of the
speaker’s utterance. This is what has been called ‘illocutionary uptake’:
“In the case of illocutionary acts we succeed in doing what we are trying
to do by getting our audience to recognize what we are trying to do. But
the ‘effect’ on the hearer is not a belief or a response, it consists simply
in the hearer understanding the utterance of the speaker.” (Searle 1969, p.
Second, communicative intentions have to be wholly overt:
“The understanding of the force of an utterance in all cases involves
recognizing what may be called broadly an audience-directed intention
and recognizing it as wholly overt, as intended to be recognized.”
(Strawson 1964, p. 459)
The exact formulation of this overt nature of communicative intentions has been a
subject of hot debate, some arguing for a reflexive (self-referential) definition, others for
a potentially infinite but practically finite number of clauses in the definition, with
conceptual, logical or psychological arguments. What seems to be a matter of consensus
is that every covert or even neutral (with respect to its intended recognition by the
addressee) aspect of the speaker’s intention is left out of the definition of
communicative intentions. One way of summing this up is, finally, to say that the
fulfilment of communicative intentions consists precisely in being recognized by the
Much of the work in current Pragmatics views linguistic understanding as the
process of recognition of the speaker’s communicative intentions. The addressee relies
on linguistic and extralinguistic information for reaching that recognition. The ulterior
perlocutionary effects on the audience, intended or not intended by the speaker, are
usually ignored by pragmatic studies. This is where Rhetoric can make its contribution.
Persuasive as well as convincing and other kinds of perlocutionary intentions seem to
constitute the basis of rhetorical studies of linguistic use.
Rhetoric: A new vision of an old art
One of the worst things that happened to rhetoric was its inclusion as a part of literature
theory and practice, thus forgetting its original status in the works, for example, of
Isocrates and Aristotle. Isocrates’ Against the Sophists, which in fact is the opening
declaration of his School of Rhetoric, is a good precedent of Book I of Aristotle’s
Rhetoric. It is clear that Aristotle lacks a definition of rhetoric and that the beginning of
Book I is an attempt to situate it in relation with dialectics:
“It is further evident that it belongs to Rhetoric to discover the real and apparent
means of persuasion, just as it belongs to Dialectic to discover the real and
apparent syllogism… Rhetoric then may be defined as the faculty of discovering
the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever. This is
the function of no other of the arts, each of which is able to instruct and persuade
in its own special subject; thus, medicine deals with health and sickness,
geometry with the properties of magnitudes, arithmetic with number, and
similarly with all the other arts and sciences.” (Rhetoric I, 1355b15-20 and 25-
It has been a very common view to emphasise the relevance of pathos in
classical rhetoric, contrary to the insistence by Aristotle on all the three components
“ethos, logos, pathos,” and particularly on logos. Remember Aristotle’s words in the
sense that the best rhetorician is that who is expert in syllogisms. It is noteworthy that in
the composition of a discourse Aristotle gives an especial importance to the taxis, that
is, to the configuration and ordering of the elements of the discourse. Book III of his
Rhetoric is not simply a book on style. It is also a book on the parts of speech, which
means a book on the internal ordering of discourse.
It is crucial for our purpose to take this idea of ordering, not only for the macro-
discourses of the three rhetorical kinds of discourse (deliberative, forensic, epideictic)
taken into account by the Greek tradition, but also for the micro- and meso-discourses,
in which we are interested when analysing everyday communication. This is particularly
applicable to argumentative discourses, where the aim of persuading takes the form of
that of convincing by ways of argumentation. In fact, its is very well-known that even in
the case of proofs (in mathematics and logic) the order giving the structure of a
demonstration can change without altering the result, making easier or more difficult the
understanding of the proof of a theorem. A fortiori with everyday argumentations. This
idea was noted, among others, by Apostel (1971), when he presented an assertion logic
for a theory of argumentation following Rescher’s (1968) way, and spoke about
“internal democracy” in Greek geometry, and, by extension, in any axiomatics.
One of the most interesting recent approaches in argumentation theory is
“pragma-dialectics”, which was open by van Eemeren and Grootendorst (1984),
inspired by the Aristotelian dialectics and rhetoric, linking speech act theory with the
dialectical theory of “critical rationalists”. The analysis of argumentative discourse,
taken as “verbal, social and rational activity aimed at convincing a reasonable critic of
the acceptability of a standpoint by advancing a constellation of propositions justifying
or refuting the proposition expressed in the standpoint” (van Eemeren 2001), is done by
the study of the points of view, unexpressed premises, argument schemes,
argumentation structures and, particularly, fallacies. Arguments are interpreted and
reconstructed in that way, in order to get a clear view of the process of argumentation.
In our viewpoint, what is lacking in that approach is a cognitive vision of
argumentation, and it must be said that, at the same time, they take a biased perspective
on rhetoric, as far as they view rhetoric basically as a pathos-oriented rhetoric,
minimising the importance of the ethos and especially of the logos, and, consequently,
that they do not take rhetoric into consideration. At the end, the output is that
pragmatics collapses into semantics.
Rhetoric is obviously not only important for argumentation theorists, but for the
production, analysis and evaluation of any kind of persuasive discourse. The study of
audiences by the new rhetorics takes an especial importance today, because of the new
kinds of audiences derived from new forms and modes of communication, in a time
where information technologies applied to communication systems are evolving fast.
Particular interest deserves the study of complex (media) audiences and very diffuse
ones. It has to be noted that the interest of rhetoric for audiences is not a sociological
one. Rhetoric is interested in the way of shaping audiences by means of the realisation
To return to Aristotle’s Rhetoric means basically to take into account the role
played by the logos (and the ethos) jointly with the pathos. The ethos and the pathos are
constructed by the discourse itself, they are not external to it, on the contrary, they are
shaped in terms of the evolution of the discourse. This is the main reason for giving so
much importance to the logos, as Aristotle did (Conley 1990). Consequently this is also
the main reason for emphasising the relevance of the structure of discourse as it is fixed
in the taxis phase of its composition (Reboul 1991). This old idea was renewed by
Enlightenment rhetorical theorists such as Campbell (1776) and Whately (1828), and
more recently by Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca (1958). From another side, people
interested in argumentative communication studies gave also a particular importance to
the logos of that kind of discourse, and that lead to an abundant literature in “informal
logic” (Walton 1989).
The basis of Pragma-Rhetoric
In our own pragma-rhetoric approach, the rhetoric aspect is essentially devoted to a
study of order, i.e. to the planning of discourse, which means the production of the
structure of discourse in a dynamic perspective, given the fact that real discourse is what
is finally performed as discourse with all the moves made in the process. What is
important to point out is that the determination of that dynamic order responds to the
intention of persuading by the discourse-maker. Pragma-rhetoric is not isolated from
logic, on the contrary, it takes logic at the very ground in discourse construction, but the
crucial notion of the intention to persuade links rhetoric with pragmatics in a global
intentional architecture of individuals, distinguishing and combining at the same time
communicative intention and persuasive intention. It is very clear that these two
intentions are in different levels. We need first the fulfilment of communicative
intention, in order to make possible then the fulfilment of persuasive intention
(particularly, the intention to convince in argumentative discourse). Both in
monological discourse and in dialogical (or multilogical) discourse –in what we are
more interested- the unit of analysis is a unique speech act, where by means of the
satisfaction of the communicative intention one can get the satisfaction of a persuasive
intention (we are speaking, of course, of persuasive communication).
What is the content of persuasive intentions? We are basically speaking about a
very stable kind of intention, persistent through all the process of elaboration and
performance of a discourse, oriented to a particular type of behaviour on the part of the
hearers (as communicative intentions, persuasive intentions lead to a particular kind of
individual social actions), namely, their persuasion in terms of the acceptance of beliefs
and goals expressed by the speaker (or, at least, a significant reduction in the distance
between the mental states manifested by the speaker and those of the hearers, naturally
intending to lead hearers to action). Let us quote Book I of Aristotle’s Rhetoric:
“Lastly, persuasion is produced by the speech itself, when we
establish the true or apparently true from the means of persuasion
applicable to each individual subject. Now, since proofs are effected by
these means, it is evident that, to be able to grasp them, a man must be
capable of logical reasoning, of studying characters and the virtues, and
thirdly the emotions –the nature and character of each, its origin, and the
manner in which it is produced. Thus it appears that Rhetoric is as it were
an offshoot of Dialectic and of the science of Ethics, which may be
reasonably called Politics.” (Rhetoric I, 1356a15-30)
It is evident that in our pragma-rhetorical approach to the analysis of persuasive
discourse we are putting in place, so to speak, a cognitive rhetoric, where basic
intentional components have to be considered in relationship with emotive components
and any other psychological aspect of speakers and hearers, changing alternatively their
roles in the production of discourses. It is noteworthy that, unlike communicative
intention, persuasive intention in general is not an overt intention. It can be an overt
intention as in the case of the intention to convince (by arguments) or as in particular
kinds of persuasive intentions in especial discourse contexts. But it clearly can also be a
covert intention: think, for example, about a situation where the speaker intends to
persuade the hearers hiding the real persuasive intention behind her discourse
behaviour, because this is just the way of getting her goal in that particular situation. In
any case, it is worth saying that persuasive intention leads the speaker to the
determination of the structure of discourse in the taxis phase. No doubt, when we speak
about the structure of discourse, we are speaking in a broader sense than Aristotle did,
when he studied the division of the parts of speech in Book III of his Rhetoric, taking
into account precisely our broader notion of discourse, applicable, as we noted above, to
micro- and meso-discourses.
One of the consequences of this cognitive approach to rhetoric in our pragma-
rhetorical view is that we can aim at a psychological (and socio-psychological) and
philosophical (philosophy of language, mind and action) combined study of the
intentions involved in persuasive communication. A next step can probably be reached
if we are interested in the formalisation of those intentions. Some proposals have been
made for communicative intention and we are trying to do some new ones for
persuasive intention, having in mind the idea of applying them to the elaboration of
communication schemes (in natural language processing and in systems of agency), to
the production and analysis of discourse by automatic means, to argumentation theory,
to discourse polemology (discussions, disputes …) in the way open by Dascal’s
Let us make a few concluding remarks. First, we propose a pragma-rhetorical analysis
of persuasive discourse, in terms of the study of two especial intentions, situated in
different intentional levels: communicative intentions first, and then persuasive
intentions. Second, we claim that a new reading of the Aristotelian rhetoric is crucial for
that purpose, because of the importance given by Aristotle to the logos, in connection
with the ethos and the pathos. Of course, a new reading is required if we enlarge the
notion of discourse from the classical Greek tradition to current everyday discourses in
extensively information-technology based communications. Third, the pragmatic
component of our approach is essentially the one developed after Grice’s foundation of
pragmatics. And fourth, the psychological, philosophical and logical aspects of our
pragma-rhetorical study of persuasive communication have to be seriously and urgently
developed, given their applicability in very different and crucial domains.
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