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The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs

Gary C. Woodward

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The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs is an insightful account of the rhetorical and psychological habits we exhibit when we must explain the reasons others act. The assumption that we can know what motivates another person is fed by more hope than certainty, and yet it is evidence of a very human impulse. Beginning with a clear template for defining various tiers of motives-talk, this innovative and accessible study moves through a series of chapters exploring the unique demands imposed by different circumstances. These sections cut a wide swath of analysis across a diverse range of human actors including: conspiracy theorists who find the designs of coordinated agents behind random events, theater performers creating “backstories” for their characters, journalists grasping to name the motives of newsmakers, prosecutors who must establish another’s intent in order to prove a criminal act, and the devout who grapple with what divine intervention can mean in a cruel world. Readers will recognize themselves in these pages, gaining an appreciation for the rhetorical analysis of human behavior. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 180Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7391-7904-8 • Hardback • September 2013 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4985-1615-0 • Paperback • March 2015 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
978-0-7391-7905-5 • eBook • September 2013 • $37.99 • (£24.95)
Gary C. Woodward is a professor, rhetorician, and former chairperson of the Department of Communication Studies at The College of New Jersey.
Chapter 1: How We Know What We Can’t
Chapter 2: Them: Conspiracies, Disasters and Presumed Culpability
Chapter 3: Theater, Acting, and the Sources of Motivation
Chapter 4: The Telepathic Journalist
Chapter 5: Legal Benchmarks for Establishing Intent
Chapter 6: God’s Plan: Agency, and the Quandary of Divine Intention
Timely and important, this book focuses on the rhetorical and psychological habits of intention—an approach rarely taken. More often the subject of philosophy, intention is analyzed here as rhetoric and as part of lived experience offering an immediacy and a self-revelatory dimension that is outside the purview of a philosophical analysis. Woodward also elucidates the enigmas, paradoxes, and fantasies that expressing intention—one's own, others', and 'representations of intentions'—create about what one can and cannot know. Woodward draws on a wide variety of disciplines, scrutinizing their discourse in light of intention: e.g., motivation in theater, attribution in journalism, liability and culpability in law, and 'reading' God in religion. He proposes that 'intention talk is frequently anchored by discourse referencing internal states, external states, a role template, and a model of moral worth.' He demonstrates that rhetorical acts concerning human intention perpetrate follies as well as truths, but he argues that it is human nature that leads one to grapple with intention. This is a fine resource for those interested in rhetoric, communication, law, politics, or psychology. . . .Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.
CHOICE


Woodward's work is most useful in broaching the subject and providing varied and interesting approaches to the implications of intention in human affairs…. Generally, The Rhetoric of Intention is a ‘broad map’ for the various categories of naming intentions that so easily drift across narrow boundaries. Particularly, using a wide variety of examples from fiction, popular journalism, film, theatre, painting, political rhetoric, television, cultural analysis, and personal experience, Woodward makes a valuable contribution to beginning a broader conversation about motive…. Structurally, I found The Rhetoric of Intention to be accessible and concise, modest in length (at 144 pages) while also being thorough and clear. Woodward's rendering of the mercurial nature of the human impulse to know why—a human propensity that we are inundated with but perhaps think very little about—makes Intention both a worthwhile and meaningful contribution to the subject of intention and various realms of disciplinary and critical thought…. Overall, The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs offers a versatile and accessible account of the habits that we possess and exhibit in the quest to understand the versatility of human action.
KB Journal


Finally! A work that takes a sophisticated approach to the problem of intention in rhetoric, which, except for Burke’s pentad, is largely ignored by rhetorical scholars. Woodward’s location of the rhetorical act of the assignment of intentionality in the interpreter is brilliant and supplies a much-needed explication of how intention works in rhetorical contexts ranging from the theatre to law to journalism to religion.
Sonja K. Foss, University of Colorado Denver


This is a richly textured analysis of the myriad ways in which we establish and explain our understanding of both our intentions and the intentions of others. Naming our intentions, and deciphering our motives for belief and action, as well as naming and at times critiquing those of others is explored through various everyday contexts. The stories that are recounted give eloquent testimony to the brilliance or folly of our attributions as we engage others rhetorically.
Raymie E. McKerrow


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