Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



Gene Garver's recent book, "For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character and the Ethics of Belief" (U. Chicago Press, 2004), responds to the dilemma at the core of contemporary legal theory. Garver incisively describes why legal reasoning is viewed either as impotent or dangerous. Reason appears impotent in the legal context to the extent that we maintain its rigor by limiting its scope to dialectical demonstration; it appears dangerous to the extent that we free reason from having to provide definitive answers. Garver looks to Aristotle for a solution. To deal with the inadequacies of the accounts of practical reasoning that draw only from the Nicomachean Ethics, he anchors his account equally in the Rhetoric. He concludes that Aristotle's Rhetoric shows how reason can be contingent, emotional and interested without ceasing to be rational, and that, in concert with his insistence on the distinct integrity of practical reasoning, Aristotle provides the resources for recuperating legal reasoning.

There is much to commend in Garver's account, and I begin by describing his approach favorably. I then undertake a (friendly) critical analysis and suggest an account of rhetorical knowledge that supplements and expands Garver's insights. I suggest that a theory of rhetorical knowledge illuminates the hermeneutical character of the active audience in rhetorical exchanges. I conclude that Garver's Aristotelian approach to rhetoric preserves the integrity of the practice against the age-old challenge of the sophists, but he does not go far enough to investigate the social and institutional conditions for fostering the rhetorical-hermeneutical practices that generate rhetorical knowledge.

This review essay will appear in a small symposium on Garver's book that will be published by the Penn State Law Review in Spring 2006, with other contributions by Paul Kahn, Gene Garver, Eileen Scallen, and Richard Sherwin.

Publication Citation

110 Penn State L. Rev. 907 (2006)