Rhetorical Capture

“Rhetorical capture” refers to a form of discourse using conclusory labels. Forms of rhetorical capture include begging the question, capture by antithesis, capture by substitution, and capture by assimilation. Begging the “baseline” question has been especially prevalent in legal and political discourse; for example, the assertion that antidiscrimination rights “take” the property rights of owners who wish to exclude assumes a baseline that the owners had the right to discriminate in the first place. Capture by antithesis or substitution is also prevalent, as in “war is peacekeeping” and “attack is defense.” Another form of rhetorical capture, capture through assimilation, occurs when a word bearing culturally good connotations is applied to a practice that may not warrant those connotations—for example, the assumption that receiving a set of fine-print terms divesting important rights from an unknowing consumer is “freedom of contract.” When rhetoric displaces reasoning in matters important to democracy, democracy suffers.

Symposium Article | View PDF | Appears in Volume 54, Issue 2

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