On Stubbornness and Cognitive Stability in Rhetoric Systems

Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 56)


This phenomenon of stubbornness—refusing to reconsider one’s belief or point of view in spite of contrary evidence—is a useful illustration of the way that in any situation, there are multiple ways to view the “facts” of an issue. As this paper argues, a study of rhetoric reveals that this phenomenon is a result of the existence of radically different but coexisting logical structures and value systems, which often clash when individuals interact. This point leads to a central claim of this paper: that these divergent structures of argument are actually divergent rhetoric systems that profoundly impact our cognition about the world. Specifically, a rhetoric system is a set of interconnected rhetorical elements (beliefs, arguments, commonplaces [loci communes], meanings, and texts) that cohere into a self-organized system. The borders of this system are stabilized such that, to a person caught up in a particular rhetoric system, (1) his or her cognition pertaining to specific events, texts, and words will seem static, (2) the total holistic understanding of those static meanings will be internally coherent, and (3) the system will be constrained by the other rhetorical, social, biological, and physical systems with which it is in relation. In this sense, a rhetoric system is a “body” that is thoroughly “about” its contexts, and that helps shape cognitive processes. To illustrate these points, the paper examines a particular belief that seems strongly resistant to change: the belief that the “founders” of the United States were devout Christians. As the paper argues, what are often considered stubborn beliefs, rather than exclusive features of an ideology or political party, are actually an integral and complex part of the way all cognition (and knowledge) is created and sustained in a rhetoric system.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NevadaRenoUSA

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