Rhetoric

Graham Hartman on sneering:

Sneering is a way of distinguishing yourself from that at which you sneer. And normally, a sneer is a last resort, since a clear argument or presentation of facts is generally a more satisfying triumph than a sneer. Namely, the sneer comes when you start to worry that there isn’t too much difference between your position and the one you wish to critique. Having run out of healthy and convincing options, you sneer.And let there be no mistake, it is a universal human risk. The authors you like probably do it as much as the ones you don’t like. In fact, going through any author and looking for the sneers is a good way to find their weak spots. (Dennett has a nice variant on this when he tells his students to look for rhetorical questions as the weak spots in an argument. A commenter on Leiter’s blog said to look for places where authors say “obviously” and then challenge those very points. And of course, anything in scare quotes can always be challenged pretty effectively: remember that “sneer quotes” is one of the older terms for scare quotes. In like manner, “obviously” can function as a sneer at the ignorant and inferior, and rhetorical questions are also sneers.)

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