Stanley Fish is not a Sophist: The Difference between Skeptical and Prudential Versions of Rhetorical Pragmatism
Abstract: The essay argues that no substantial connection exists between Stanley Fish’s work and the tradition of sophistic rhetoric. The purpose of this argument is to show that Fish’s work undermines and weakens the development of a rhetorical pedagogy that focuses on the role of language in the formation of beliefs. I contend that Fish’s book, Doing What Comes Naturally, is actually hostile to most forms of a classical rhetorical education and can only issue from theoretical grounds that misunderstand the rhetorical tradition. Thus this essay seeks to critically examine one of the foremost defenders of rhetoric over the last twenty years by contextualizing his work in classical rhetorical theory. Fish produces a thin account of rhetoric that disassociates the language arts from citizenship in contemporary democracies. Such a move shapes his highly disciplinary and epistemological understanding of the function of higher education.