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The particular vs. the universal in P &O-T

Last week we began a discussion about the relationship between the universal and particular audience according to P & O-T. It does seem that at times they oscillate between privileging one over the other at different points in the book. In my opinion, however, I read P & O-T as putting more emphasis on the particular audience in regard to argumentation. Indeed there is a universal standard of some sort, but is more important to work off of that standard to urge the particular audience members into adherence. In their discussion of notions, which seems to be a type of universally held “system of reference,� P & O-T state that any notion needs to make “suitable adjustments� in order to adapt to particular ideologies of audiences (134). Similarly, they state, “The status of the audience varies with the concepts one has of it� (34). The end product, as such, is to construct arguments in a way as to create adherence in the minds of audience the speaker is addressing – which will differ depending on the situation and the particular audience.

The best reading I can come up with is that P & O-T see the particular and universal audiences as being in a constant dynamic relationship with one another – they cannot exist without one another. Although they state that “argumentation is a totality intended for some definite audience� (508), I do not think it unfair to read the expert as suggesting that while there might be a universal audience, different particular audiences need to be taken into consideration because they will react differently to arguments. P & O-T state that “a theory of argumentation which fails to give consideration to all these elements in conjunction will never succeed in its object� (508). In the conclusion, P & O-T make it clear that they reject both pure objectivity and pure subjectivity: “[R]ealism and nominalism are simply two diametrically opposed attempts at justification, both linked to philosophies of language that are equally inadequate� (513). Hence, they seem to favor the dynamic interaction between reality and value or the universal and particular in creating social meaning.

P & O-T state, “Facts, truths, and presumptions are assumed to command the agreement of the universal audience, whereas values, hierarchies, and loci only command the agreement of particular audiences� (179). This passage, however, confuses me because overall P & O-T seem to suggest that they do not believe in an overarching truth: “[B]ut we will stay clear of the exorbitant pretension which would enthrone certain elements of knowledge as definitely clear and solid data, and would hold these elements to be identical in all normally constituted minds, independently of social and historical contingencies, the foundation of necessary and eternal truths� (510).

That being said, I am often at a loss for trying to follow what role the universal audience plays because they seem to want to make it integral in their explanation of rhetoric. I am not satisfied with what they do with the universal audience; for me, I never quite understand the role it plays except for that it is some overarching normality. Unlike Burke, I do not think they spell this out, spending most of their time talking about how to connect with the particular audience which exist in a “particular cultural atmosphere� (163). Near the end I am really thrown off when they state, “But the universal audience is no less than other audiences a concrete audience, which changes with time, along with the speaker’s conception of it� (491). So, are they not now equating the universal with the particular audience? Am I missing something?