The Normative, the Proper, and the Sublime: Notes on the Use of Figure and Emotion in Prophetic Argument

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Too often in argumentation studies, an emphasis on argumentative norms fails to give adequate weight to elements of emotion and style that are essential to public speech at its best, not only in ordinary practice but especially in those rare moments where public speech arrives at the sublime. In this paper we examine the coordination of argument with figurative and emotive language whose combination yields sublime effects in the poetry of the Hebrew prophets as well as in examples of modern discourse. It is shown that poetic figures, while not fully reducible to argumentative norms, nor rational in the sense commonly applied to argumentation, do in fact contribute in propriety in public discourse; moreover, they surpass mere propriety to generate moments of the sublime.

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