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In copertina: Angelo che annuncia lApocalisse (part. miniatura), Beato di Libana,

Codice di Navarra (sec. XII), Bibliothque Nationale de France.

Contributi di:
Rafael Benlliure Tbar, Andrea Borsari, Manlio Della Serra, Olivier Feron, Alberto Fragio,
Diego Giordano, Matas Gonzlez, Csar Gonzlez Cantn, Emanuela Mazzi, Vida Pavesich,
Martina Philippi, Antonio Rivera Garca, Jos Luis Villacaas

egli ultimi anni linterpretazione del pensiero di Hans Blumenberg [1920-1996]

ha subto rilevanti trasformazioni. Le ricerche condotte sui suoi primi lavori, la
collazione di saggi, articoli e aforismi apparsi separatamente in riviste e giornali, la
pubblicazione dello scambio epistolare intrattenuto con Carl Schmitt, e soprattutto la
comparsa di materiale inedito appartenente al Nachla, permettono oggi di guardare
in maniera pi completa allincidenza e complessit della sua opera filosofica. Tali
acquisizioni impongono una profonda revisione sia delle questioni classiche che di
quelle riguardanti lermeneutica della Modernit, la polemica sulla secolarizzazione o
la metaforologia.
l presente volume stato concepito con il proposito di offrire nuovi approcci allopera
di Blumenberg attraverso unampia variet di prospettive, dallantropologia filosofica allinterpretazione ontologica della retorica e del mito, dalla filosofia della storia
allastronoetica, al confronto con figure come Thomas Hobbes, Cornelius Castoriadis o
Georg Simmel.

HANS BLUMENBERG | Nuovi paradigmi danalisi

multilingual book

a cura di Alberto Fragio e Diego Giordano

Nuovi paradigmi danalisi




Diego Giordano
Decentramento antropologico
e neutralizzazione simbolica


Alberto Fragio
Das berleben der bergnge
Nuevos paradigmas de anlisis
de la obra de Hans Blumenberg

Saggio introduttivo

075 Jos Luis Villacaas

Leviatn. Un fragmento gnstico

en la modernidad

103 Csar Gonzlez Cantn

Absolutism: Blumenbergs Rhetoric

as Ontological Concept

143 Antonio Rivera Garca

Reflexiones sobre el concepto filosfico

de absolutismo: retrica y mito en Blumenberg

167 Vida Pavesich

Hans Blumenberg: Philosophical Anthropology,

Terror, and the Faces of Absolutism


Manlio Della Serra

Lirruzione metafisica. La logica della potenza
divina nella Matthuspassion di Hans Blumenberg


225 Olivier Feron

Anthropologie et contingence dans

la phnomnologie de H. Blumenberg


Martina Philippi
Ein Spiel mit Selbstverstndlichkeit(en).
Formal-inhaltliche bergnge in
Blumenbergs philosophischen Miniaturen


Emanuela Mazzi
I pensieri astronoetici come laboratorio
per unantropologia sperimentale: la riflessione
di Hans Blumenberg sullimpresa spaziale

301 Matas Gonzlez

Contraposiciones y diferencias.
Sobre algunas posibilidades en la nocin
de tensin en el texto blumenberguiano


Rafael Benlliure Tbar

Creacin ontolgica y comprensin histrica
en Hans Blumenberg y Cornelius Castoriadis.
Una lectura aproximativa


Andrea Borsari
Il Simmel antropologo
della Beschreibung: una noterella

Csar Gonzlez Cantn

Absolutism: Blumenbergs Rhetoric

as Ontological Concept

his article is devoted to show both the importance

of Blumenbergs notion of rethoric within his philosophical framework, and his particular understanding of
this notion. What might merely seem a sophistical revival
of the topic of rethoric turns out to be an ontological notion.
In order to justify this assert, we present Blumenberg discussing Heideggers philosophical enterprise of taking account of human existences finitude. In Blumenbergs view Heidegger did not
actually accomplished his goal. The Heideggerian proposal needs
to be pushed further by integrating into the ontological analysis,
not only contingence but also what human beings do to avoid
contingences awareness. These two factors give shape to human
existence. This new understanding actually means to reframe ontology from an anthropological vantage point. In order to do that
does Blumenberg stick to the approach developed by the philosophical anthropology arisen in the 20th century in Germany.
For this reinterpretation it is key his concept of rethoric. I focuse on a comparison between Platos, Aristotles and the sophists notions of rethoric on the one side, and Blumenbergs one
on the other side. At this point it arises a radical confrontation
between two aspects of reason, that correspond to the aforementioned double-faced structure of existence: an absolutist
reasonvehicle of discovering of the contingence, and a rethorically shaped reasonmeans of avoiding the counsciousness of itguided by the so-called principle of insufficient
reason. I also treat the role played by metaphors in the latter.
Three principal outcomes emerge from these considerations.
Firstly, Blumenberg loads rethoricaland, more generally, anthropologicalfeatures with ontological weight. Particularly


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

significant here are the two aspects of human temporality disclosed for Blumenberg by his correct understanding of human
finitude: the necessity of delaying and the situation of not having
enough time. Secondly, both aspects have ethical consequences.
Thirdly, one of the two functions of philosophy would be for
Blumenberg of rethorical kind (metaphorology); Blumenberg
allignes so with the contemporary Renassaince of rethoric.

1. Ontology as metaphorology

t might be said that Blumenberg considers himself as a step

beyondand maybe definitiveHeidegger in the history
of ontology. Most concretely, in his opinion existential analysis
of Dasein must be replaced by anthropology with phenomenological characteristics, very close to that elaborated by Arnold
Gehlen, Helmut Plessner, Ernst Cassirer, Erich Rothacker and
Paul Alsberg, among others. Blumenberg intends to explore the
contingence of human existence from a phenomenological perspective, strongly critical of Husserl and Heidegger.
J. Kopperschmidt, ed., Rhetorik, Vol. I, (Darmstadt, 1990), 1.
Factual translation mistakes in the case of German works not published
in English remain my own.

This interpretation of Blumenbergs philosophy is far from usual. We
have attempted to give a more detailed argumentation in Csar G. Cantn,
Blumenberg versus Heidegger: la metaforologa como destino de la analtica
existencial, Anuario Filosfico 38 (2005), 726.

Above all: Arnold Gehlen, Der Mensch. Seine Natur und seine Stellung
in der Welt (Frankfurt a/M: Athenum Verlag, 1962).

Above all: Helmut Plessner, Gesammelte Schriften IV. Die Stufen des
Organischen und der Mensch (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp, 1981).

Ernst Cassirer, Was ist der Mensch?: Versuch einer Philosophie der menschlichen Kultur (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960).

For instance: Erich Rothacker, Probleme der Kulturanthropologie (Bonn:
H. Bouvier und Co. Verlag, 1948).

Paul Alsberg, Der Menschheitsrtsel (Dresden, 1922).

Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Die ontologische Distanz. Eine Untersuchung

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


For Blumenberg, anthropology is the attempt to understand

human existence from itself, not having its reason in Being,
God or whatsoever, such as it has supposedly been the case
throughout the history of thinking. Resorting to whatever entity
outside of man serves to the purpose of giving answer to the fundamental questions (Grundfragen)10 posed by the fact of existence, for instance, whats the world? Where do we come from?
Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing?
Whats the sense in dying? It is not difficult to see that being able
to have these answers means having the capacity for a kind of
total knowledge about reality (about the world, the own existence) as a whole, which has received the name of theory. Human
beings plenitude (happiness) is contingent on this knowledge.
To state that the world has sense means for Blumenberg that it is
sending these answers to human beings; in the experience of
happiness it is perceived that reality cares for man. Since an
infinite amount of time would, in Blumenbergs opinion, be required to gain such a knowledge,11 to attribute sense to the reality
implies that the cognoscenti live forever and always existed. In
other words, the congruence between world-time and lifetime.12
The history of thinking has been full of proposals about the
details of this comprehension of human beings and reality. To
every one of them can be applied, Blumenberg states, the title
of cosmos, whose exemplary representation was coined in the
Ancient Greece by Plato.13 Not all of them stick to every element
with similar radicality, but all stand on the solid ground of the
ber die Krisis der Phnomenologie Husserls (Kiel: 1950), 7, 12, 112.
Unpublished habilitations work.
Hans Blumenberg, Beitrge zum Problem der Ursprnglichkeit der
mittelalterlich-scholastischen Ontologie (Kiel, 1947), 5. Not published dissertations work.
Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1989), 176.
This is the title of one of the most famous Blumenbergs books:
Lebenszeit und Weltzeit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986).
Cfr. Blumenberg, Die ontologische Distanz, 52.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

following statement: reality cares for human beings.

Blumenberg, on the contrary, affirms the impossibility of finding out these answers. That means actually anthropology: reality does not take care of human beings. Positioned within a sort
of negative platonic framework, Blumenberg considers that human beings are looking forward to taking charge of the totality of
reality and of their own existence. However, that is not possible.
Thus, the quest for happiness becomes rather flight of pain. It is
what Blumenberg terms the absolutism of reality (Absolutismus
der Wirklichkeit): the same way that a person is defenseless in
front of an absolutist governor, so human beings cannot control
the conditions of their own existence.14 That means, above all,
that they cannot control when they are born and when they die,
because a reality with sense means people who live both since
ever and forever. Reality has no sense because we die.
Not being able to access to the whole of reality is the core of
what Blumenberg calls historicity, finitude or contingence. This
incapacity consists in that loss of world (because we are born or
die too soon) are irreversible ones. This consideration of contingence leads straightforward to the integration of human corporality into the ontological analysis, since to be born and to die are
made possible by corporality.15
Blumenbergs position can be described as ontological skepticism (metaphysisches Skeptizismus) that would differ from
rational skepticism, as it can be found in some philosophical
systems before him.16 The latter certainly states our knowledges
weakness, but continues to move along Platonic coordinates, taking for granted a basic security in our relationship to the world.
The Being, may it be either spiritual or material, one way or the
other, cares for human being; whilst the former declares a radical
Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos, 10.
Moreover, an aspectthough not the most relevantof imperfect


knowledge as we will see later, would be its being disturbed by strong feelings
and passions, that are corporal realities
Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Robert
Wallace, trans. (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1985), 21819.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


hostility between human beings and reality.

This hostility is already expressed at the human biological
level. The ontological poverty of human beings matches their
anthropological one, as apparent in the vision of human beings as
animals characterized by a lack of instincts.17 An instinct can be
described as an inborn configuration of animal tendencies resulting from an evolutionary specialization, which allows an automatic response triggered by specific stimuli.18 As species, human
beings evolutionary development has followed a different and
unique path. As philosophical anthropology explains, that means
a huge disadvantage in respect to the other animals,19 because
instincts help animals to survive by reducing environmental uncertainty.20 Thus, thanks to them an animal always knows what
to do and how to do it. Not so human beings. These are, with a
Herders term, a creature of deficiency (Mngelwesen),21 that
has firstly to be understood as an insufficiency to deal properly
with reality from a biological point of view.22 In substitution of
such accurate instruments in the struggle for survival emerges in
human beings rationality and, consequently, culture.23
One aspect of the ontological poverty of human beings, made
possible by the lack of instincts, is their openness (with the
term inherited from Max Scheler)24. Human nature has not a giv It could be said that the anthropological poverty is the ratio cognoscendi of the ontological one, while the latter is the ratio essendi of the
Cfr. Jakob von Uexkll, Theoretische Biologie (Berlin, Gbr. Paetel:
1920), 11617.
Cfr. Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 811.
Cfr. Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 812; Gehlen, Der Mensch, 21;
Alsberg, 482.
J. G. Herder, Abhandlung ber der Ursprung der Sprache (Berlin,
Cfr. Gehlen, Der Mensch, 99100; Alsberg, 99.
Cfr. Gehlen, Der Mensch, 38; Alsberg, 44.
Offenheit: Max Scheler, Vom Wesen der Philosophie und der
moralischen Bedingung des philosophischen Erkennens, Vom Ewigen im
Menschen, Gesammelte Werke vol. 5 (Bern 1954).


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

en goal, it is comprised mainly of possibilities rather than facts.

Man is a being of possibilities (Mglichkeitswesen),25 burdened with the task of creating himself and its destiny.
Up to here, what finitude means for human existence. Yet the
novelty of Blumenbergs proposal is not only to help see this question in a different light, but of putting it together with the idea that
human beings are always trying to skip it. With Blumenberg, we
are not allowed to take seriously the idea of cosmos as real but,
on the other hand, we cannot live without it. As human beings
we need the presence of sense in our lives. Heidegger claimed to
be able to confront contingency without lenitive factors because
his understanding of it was cosmistic deep down.26 Precisely because Blumenberg claims the radical finitude of human beings,
he must acknowledge the heavy-weighted role that the idea of
cosmos plays in human life. Human existence consists then of a
dialectical movement between two equally dominating ontological poles: the consciousness of contingence (Instndigkeit) and
the attempt to silence it (Gegenstndigkeit),27 that is, to live as
though (als ob)28 the world had sense, i.e., we were immortals.
Both mankind and personal history swift, like a pendulum, between these two poles.29
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 212.
Blumenberg comes up with the idea that every thinker before him


Heidegger includedhas been so to say cosmistic, as they have refused to

accept that we cannot have all of the world and existence. This argument can
seem difficult to admit at first sight, but Blumenbergs philosophical efforts are
to a great extent intended to uncover the presence of cosmistic elements in
the thinkers before him.
Cfr. Blumenberg, Die ontologische Distanz, 201.
Hans Blumenberg, An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary
Significance of Rhetoric in After Philosophy? End or Transformation, Kenneth
Baynes, James Bohman, and Thomas McCarthy, eds., Robert M. Wallace, trans.
(Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987), 450.
In this way does Blumenberg reinterpret the heideggerian ontological
movement (ontologische Bewegung) (Die ontologische Distanz, 201; cfr. Sein
und Zeit, Max Niemeyer, ed., Halle5 1941, 40, 189.). Cfr. also Blumenberg,
Hhlenausgnge, 799; Die Vollzhligkeit der Sterne (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1997), 360. A good introduction to this point can be found in Ulrich

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


Human beings can conceal contingence in various ways.

Through the invention of tools and artifacts that help them overcome their biological deficiency, and in general through the
context of sense provided by culture30. This sense needs to be
individually appropriated in the form of a self-understanding (Selbstverstndnis)31. Therefore, if cosmos means to live
in a comprehensive knowledge of the world and of ones own
position in it, cosmos and self-understanding overlap to a great
Blumenberg attributes consequently a double functionality to
rationality in human beings. On the one side, reason has an inherent inclination to reveal the finite nature of existence, which can
be expressed as follows: theres no reason for existence This
is the way in which Blumenberg understands the absolutist reason highlighted by our time. Blumenberg calls the output of this
reason truth. On the other hand, reason leans similarly towards
covering it. It is the logic of life, which pursues its own preservation (Selbsterhaltung)32 above all: but I exist. This reason is
seen by Blumenberg as rhetorically shaped. Its product is sense.
From the point of view of each type of reason, the opposite pole
suffers from irrationality.
Each one of both reasons aspects can take the form of mythical, scientific or philosophical knowledge. Thus, the opposition
between the two different aspects of reason is not contingent on
which concrete form it takes (mythos, science, philosophical reflection), but on the function it develops, i.e., to uncover or to
Dierse, Hans Blumenberg: Die Zweideutigkeit des Menschen, Reports on
Philosophy 15 (1995), 121129.
Cfr. Blumenberg, Approach, 438.
Blumenberg, Approach, 441.
Hans Blumenberg, Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie, Archiv fr
Begriffsgeschichte 6 (1960), 1089. Taking into account what it has been said
so far, it is clear that the notion of self-preservation extends to biology, personal life and history of civilizations. Cfr. also: Hans Ebeling, Einleitung: Das
neuere Prinzip der Selbsterhaltung und seine Bedeutung fr die Theorie der
Subjektivitt, in Subjektivitt und Selbsterhaltung. Beitrge zur Diagnose der
Moderne, Suhrkamp 1976, 10.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

cover human existences finitude.

As we will see, rhetorical reasons main instrument for the
accomplishment of this goal is metaphor, considered as means
of self-expression and world understanding. Phenomenological
anthropology is finally understood as historical revision of metaphors: metaphorology. It plays the roles of both uncovering the
contingence of human existence by making clear the relativity
of each metaphor; and helping avoid this knowledge by telling a story about us and our relation to reality which makes
sense, i.e., which makes the impression that we know something about the Being. Therefore is Blumenbergs philosophy,
like human existence and History themselves, both Instndigkeit
and Gegenstndigkeit.

2. Platos and Aristotles accounts for rhetoric

s we have just seen, Blumenberg wants to grant ontological weight to the human activity of creating cosmos.
As we will see in a moment, by calling this activity rhetoric
Blumenberg introduces anthropological themes at the very beginning of the history of thinking: in the well-known discussion
between Plato and the sophists, that is one about the relation between words and things,33 that is, about the very possibility of
As we mentioned before, it is appropriate to locate
Blumenbergs attempt in the context of the so-called Renaissance
of rhetoric,34 where rhetoric is becoming, at the end of XX century, a new universal paradigm for every discipline, natural sci-

Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Individuation und Individualitt, in: Die

Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart III (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 31959),
J. Kopperschmidt, in J. Kopperschmidt, ed., Rhetorik, Vol. I, (Darmstadt,
1990), 1.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


ences and philosophy alike.35 While for Plato and Aristotle rhetoric is limited to persuasion in matters of justice,36 Blumenberg
understands it as penetrating every human theoretical or practical
activity in order to introduce sense in the world, i.e., to generate
a cosmos.
In the light of Blumenberg, the secondary role played by rhetoric in both Platos and Aristotles philosophical systems derives
from the fact that access to Being is by them taken for granted.
Beyond the important differences between these two authors in
their respective ideas about rhetoric, Blumenberg considers that
their common cosmistical approach permits him to keep them
in view together. The possibility of relation to the Being and,
therefore, of a global knowledge, allows Plato and Aristotle to
discriminate between essences true knowledge (science) and appearances imperfect knowledge (opinion). The former emerges
from understanding of causes, while the latter is properly related
to belief.
Plato holds rhetoric to be in the ambit of belief ().37
This would not be negative at all under the condition that rhetoric
stayed within its limits. But the sophist claims rhetoric to be the
most perfect kind of knowledge. In this way, according to Plato,
a sophist leads people to confuse justice with the appearance of
justice, the same way that cookery fakes medicine, sophistry pol For instance: S. Ijsseling, Rhetorik und Philosophie. Eine historischsystematische Einfhrung (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1988); A.G. Gross, The
Rhetoric of Science (Massachusets: Cambridge, 1990).
Cfr. Gorgias 454b, in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3, W.R.M.
Lamb, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William
Heinemann Ltd. 1967). Vid. Sophist 233c 5, in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes,
Vol. 12, Harold N. Fowler, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press;
London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1921); Rhetoric 1355a 2124 fw., in
Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 22, J. H. Freese, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1926). Greek versions:
Plato. Platonis Opera, John Burnet, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1903); Ars Rhetorica. Aristotle, W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959).
Gorgias 455a 12, where Plato says rhetoric is a sort of knowledge
based upon mere opinion ( ).


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

itics and cosmetics gymnastics.38

Rhetoric, ranking lowest in Platos knowledge system, is not
an art (), but a habitude (), since it has no account
to give of the real nature of the things it applies and so cannot
tell the cause of any of them. I refuse to give the name of art to
anything that is irrational ( ).39
A habit all the more dangerous since it aims at satisfaction
without any consideration of fairness.40 Therefore, as believed
by Plato, sophistry does not go beyond manipulation. That is to
be understood when Plato affirms that a sophist is a producer
of persuasion.41 A sophist offers an appearance of knowledge
in exchange for money, so that rhetoric likens the hunting of
domestic animals, that is, of wealthy and distinguished young
men.42 The sophists victim falls into a trap of words, carried by
the force of persuasion.
Because of that, Plato uses the dialog form: he does not just
want to make philosophical assessments, but to make the reader
to question what he or she hears, i.e., to help getting him or herself out of the manipulating logos.43 It is the difference between
(to give a display) and (to discuss).44
Dialectical speech, however, haunts the audience as well. But not
in the way that rhetoric does, but because what it says is true.45
With respect to this, the only legitimated usage of rhetoric by
Plato is that of persuading the unjust man to submit to the punishment that will bring him back to a state of pureness.46





Cfr. ib. 465c fw.

b. 465a 14. Another name for art: rational opinion, Phaedrus 238b.
Cfr. b. 462bd; vid. also 501a 35.
b. 453a 2: peithous dmiourgos h rhtorik.
Cfr. Sophist 223b 27.
Cfr. Robert Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric. Gorgias, Plato and their successors (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 54 fw.
Gorgias 447a 6 and 447c 1.
Cfr. b. 508e 6509a 2.
b. 480a and fw. That is precisely what Plato is intending to do with
Calicles through storytelling (vid. 493a and fw.)

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


However, Platos position seems to allow for still being pushed

one step further. In Phaedrus he displays a notion of rhetoric
reconciled with philosophy. Being trapped and pulled by rhetorical speech needs not be negative because it could mean we have
gotten in touch with muses47 and, therefore, achieved a superior
understanding of reality. But what remains untouchable in Platos
approach is the priority of truth: if rhetoric is to be practiced, it is
indispensable to be acquainted with the similarity and dissimilarity of things;48 especially with those which are very similar,
because we might more easily be mistaken. Plato concludes that
practicing rhetoric necessarily includes communicating truth:49
anyone who does not know his or her topic could undoubtedly
make good speeches but would not possess the rhetorical art.50
Aristotle inherits the Platos first approach to rhetoric. He is
however less suspicious of it and Aristotle grants more attention
than Plato to the specifically rhetorical elements of speechfor
instance, to the voice tone. Nonetheless it continues to be a prevalence of science over opinion, which results in the reduction of
rhetoric to its therapeutical role.
Optimistic regarding the possibilities of human knowledge,
Aristotle thinks that truth, from an ideal point of view, can be
achieved by everyone, for the true and the just are naturally
superior to their opposites.51 However, since the prevalence of
Phaedrus 238c in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1, Harold North
Fowler, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William
Heinemann Ltd. 1966). Vid. also Ion 542a in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes,
Vol. 9, W.R.M. Lamb, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press;
London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1925). See Christina Schefer, Rhetoric
as part of an initiation into the mysteries: a new interpretation of the platonic
Phaedrus, 17596, in Ann N. Michelini, ed., Plato as author: the rhetoric of
philosophy (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003), 359 p.
Phaedrus 261e262a.
[] unless he pays proper attention to philosophy he will never be able
to speak properly about anything, ib. 261a.
ib. 271d272b.
Rhetoric I 1, 1355a 12.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

truth is not so automatic in the ambit of opinion,52 where we can

be easily confused by our passions or prejudices, a philosopher
needs rhetoric as the faculty of discovering the possible means
of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever.53 Rhetoric is
an art that implies knowledge of the causes;54 in this case, of the
causes that make the speech persuasive.55 Philosophers should
pay attention to style [] not as being right, but necessary; for, as
a matter of right, one should aim at nothing more in a speech than
how to avoid exciting pain or pleasure. For justice should consist
in fighting the case with the facts alone, so that everything else
that is beside demonstration is superfluous; nevertheless, as we
have just said, it is of great importance owing to the corruption of
the hearer.56 Therefore, the function of rhetoric can only be not
to let the sophist make the weaker logos stronger than truth itself,
it being up to rhetoric to discover the real and apparent means of
persuasion57 and playing consequently an ancillary service.58
Rhetoric has to be based on what things are and on the basic
principles of ethical behaviour: logic and ethics are required as
previous disciplines.59 That leads to the following conclusion by
Cfr. Rhetoric I 9, 1367b 227.
ib. I 2, 1355b 26 and fw.
Aristoteles, Metaphysica 981a 24b 6, in Aristotle in 23 Volumes,


Vols.17, 18, Hugh Tredennick, tr. (Cambridge: MA, Harvard University Press;
London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1933, 1989): Nevertheless we consider that
knowledge and proficiency belong to art rather than to experience, and we assume that artists are wiser than men of mere experience (which implies that
in all cases wisdom depends rather upon knowledge); and this is because the
former know the cause, whereas the latter do not.
For instance, Rethoric I 10, where Aristotle comments on which and
how many are the causes of injustice; or Rethoric II 1, 1378a 612, for the
characteristics of an expert orator.
ib. III 1, 1404a 112.
ib. I 1, 1355b 15; vid. as well Peri sophistikon elenxion 1402a 23 and
Wardy, 10910.
Josef Knig, Einfhrung in das Studium des Aristoteles: an Hand einer
Interpretation seiner Schrift ber die Rhetorik (Freibur and Mnchen: Karl
Alber, 2002), 43.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


Aristotle, reminiscent of Platos one aforementioned: persuasion

is only possible about what is fair. To unfairness belongs on the
contrary manipulation: it can be defended but not justified, likewise a corpse can be respectfully treated but not healed.60
Summarily, both Plato and Aristotle state that truth imposes
itself on us. It must be supposed a teleological reality where truth
is for mind and inversely. Plato expresses it so: discussion is possible when the interlocutors do not speak against their own convictions,61 which implies human minds trend to truth.
Sophistry assigns to rhetoric much more importance because
of its fundamental doubts about the possibility of understanding
reality. In Gorgias essay On Nature we find the remarkable sentence: Nothing exists. If anything does exist, it is unknowable.
If anything can be known it is incommunicable.62 It is persuasion that originates truth. From this point of view, the sophists
purpose would not be to cheat young men but to teach the way
to get by in an uncertain world. When no perfect knowledge can
be gained, then everything turns out to be opinion and the sole
possible knowledge is of rhetorical kind. As Wardy says, Gorgias
would be dealing with the likelihood, better, the reasonability
(eikos)63 of our world.

3. Ontological reinterpretation of rhetorical aspects

fter having gone shortly through the main positions

regarding rhetoric in Greek thinking, we can connect
them with the Blumenbergs reflections previously displayed.
Relation to Being can be understood as direct and clear (cosmos)
Hctor Zagal, Retrica, induccin y ciencia en Aristteles (Mxico DF:
Universidad Panamericana/Publicaciones Cruz O, 1993), 96.
Gorgias 495a 4.
Gorgias von Leontinoi, Reden, Fragmente und Testimonien, Th.
Buchheim, ed. (Hamburg, 1989), 41.
Wardy, 33.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

and therefore there will be the possibility of science, or rather as

difficult and even nonexistent and then rhetoric will be the ideal
kind of knowledge. More specifically, it depends on whether
there is a right comprehension of human temporality. Rhetoric
has a subsidiary function if we had all the time in the world and,
consequently, we could achieve a total understanding of reality
and of ourselves; on the contrary, rhetoric turns out to be the only
means to deal with reasonability, that is, with the peculiar type
of knowledge that emanates from not being able to have all of
the world and our existence. Summarily, whilst Platonic science
would be suitable for immortal beings, rhetoric is the appropriate knowledge for mortals. As Blumenberg states, revivals of
rhetoric are, since Antiquity, a property of resignations of a certain kind.64
Rhetorical speech bases, then, on an axiom65 that
Blumenberg calls principle of insufficient reason (Prinzip des
unzureichenden Grundes) as opposed to Leibniz principle of
sufficient reason,66 that would have become paradigmatic of the
Platonic comprehension.
Once Blumenberg has carried out a transmutation of ontology
in anthropology, rhetoric takes over the place assigned by Plato
to philosophy. In the process, the function of philosophy has
slightly changed. For Plato it was to achieve happiness through
comprehension of reality, i.e., being immortal; for Blumenberg,
to lessen the pain caused by not having the entire world (i.e.,
having to die), through avoiding to became aware of it. In order
to clarify the ontological features of Blumenbergian rhetoric, I
follow three steps.
Hans Blumenberg, Begriffe in Geschichten (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1998), 164 (ist Belebung von Rhetorik seit der Antike ein Merkmal
bestimmter Resignationen).
Blumenberg, Approach, 447.
That says: nihil esse sine ratione, vel ut rem distinctius explicemus,
nullam esse veritatem, cui ratio non subsist. Ratio autem veritatis consistit in
nexu praedicati cum subiecto, seu ut praedicatum subiecto insit: Gottfried
W. Leibniz, in Opuscules et fragments indits de Leibniz, L. Couturat, ed.
(Hildesheim, 1988), 11.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


Firstly, I show a general overview of the rhetorical elaboration of cosmos based in the symbolical features of language. Two
aspects are here considered: rhetoric as (1) instrument of configuration of reality and, more specifically, as (2) instrument of
instruments. As a result two Gorgian descriptions of rhetoric (as
art of elaborating speeches and as fighting instrument) and the
Aristotelian topoi are re-interpreted in ontological terms.
These two last points deal with the basic aspects of human
temporality for Blumenberg. Both of them are defined in respect
to the pressure that absolutism of reality imposes on human beings. In front of it human beings react structurally in two ways.
The first of themthis is the second stepconsiders human
beings as being swept out to a relationship with reality for what
it is not ready, and reacting by means of delaying entering in
contact with it. In this sense the rhetorical characteristic of not
going straightforward to the point, is reinterpreted ontologically
as art of delaying; also the platonic interpretation of rhetoric as
art of appearances.
The second of themthird stepregards rhetoric as providing a way of responding to the pressure of reality when there
are no more chances left to avoid it. In this case three more elements are ontologized: the topoi used in rhetorical speech; the
Aristotelian goal of easy learning; and the time constraints of
In every one of this points it is discussed where the peculiar rationality of rhetoric lies in by means of contrast with the
absolutist reason. In respect to that it is specially stressed the
role played by metaphor in rhetorical reasonability. On the other
hand, it is considered that each aspect of human temporality has
some consequences for ethical behavior.
Along the exposition, these three points are each examined
both at the ontological level and in its expression at the anthropological level.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

4. Rhetoric as instrument of instruments

s we pointed out above (1), the term rhetoric is in

Blumenbergs philosophy the key concept to introduce
his anthropological thesis in the scope of ontological thinking.
For a better understanding of this statement, it must be realized
that philosophical anthropology has considered language as
the instrument par excellence for the configuration of reality.67
Rhetoric as the art of elaborating speeches, as it was defined
by Gorgias,68 happens to leave its simple ancillary role to be assigned an ontological task.
Beginning with the anthropological point of view, it was argued that lack of instincts made difficult for human beings to
work their living out. However, this handicap is balanced out
and even overwhelmed by the possession of intelligence and its
primary expression, language.69 In animals, both perception of
reality and themselves are well structured by instincts since their
very first moments in life. Human beings, on the contrary, perceive world as a chaotic cloud of signals in need of configuration
to become signs with sense;70 and themselves as a pure possibility requiring to be given a form and whose sentimental correlate is the anguish of existentialism.71 Language is notcontrary
to both Platos and Aristotles reportssecondary to thinking,
a mere adornment (ornatus)72 to communicate a truth already
held in mind and, in its most beautiful form (rhetoric), the lesser
of two evils, required only because of either the weakness or the
It must be noted that Blumenberg, as we said above, has not spoken of
the relation between mind and things but between words and things.
Marcello Zanatta, Larte del persuadere: la retorica in Platone e
Aristotele (preface), 27, in Marcello Zanatta, ed., Aristotele. Retorica (Milano:
Unicopli, 2002), 227 p.
Hans Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1979), 10; Plessner, Die Stufen, 245.
Gehlen, Der Mensch, 41; Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 812.
Cfr. Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos, 10.
Blumenberg, Approach, 430.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


perversion of recipient73. It turns out rather to be a function of

human beings specific difficulty74, that is, of the puzzlement
of being disoriented in a sinless world: the art of surviving
(berlebenskunst)75. Speaking does not consist only in communicating a content but in modifying a situation.76 This order is
introduced in the very act of speech,77 so language learning in
human beings occurs to be a regulating and categorizing action
at the same time. A principal role is played in this process by the
well-known phenomenon of echolalia, first studied by Herder
and Humboldt. The child reacts to stimulis excessive appeal by
elaborating and integrating them in its own vocalic response, so
that resulting words do not merely mirror reality but bring in
itself the childs practical elaboration of stimuli.78 It can then be
said that language creates79 reality. What comes to human
beings as impression of something alien and inaccessible is
given back to the world as sensuously tangible expression.80
Things are, in a certain sense, their names.81






Blumenberg, Paradigmen, 8.
Blumenberg, Approach, 432.
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 293.
Rothacker, Probleme, 137.
Plessner, Die Stufen, 442.
Helmut Plessner, Homo absconditus, in Roman Rocek and Oskar
Schatz, eds., Philosophische Anthropologie heute (Mnchen: Verlag, 1972),
Arnold Gehlen, Gesamtausgabe. Bd. 4: Philosophische Anthropologie
und Handlungslehre, Karl-Siegbert Rehberg, ed. (Frankfurt am Main:
Klostermann, 1983). Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Ein mgliches Selbstverstndnis.
Aus dem Nachlass (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1997), 45 fw.
Blumenberg, Approach, 438. In Stoellgers opinion, this situates
Blumenberg in the Vico-tradition: Philip Stoellger, Metapher und Lebenswelt:
Hans Blumenbergs Metaphorologie als Lebenswelthermeneutik und ihr religionsphnomenologischer Horizont (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 102
fw. Vico is the first author to make a process of construction of metaphors
into a model of adaptation of human behaviour to changing environment:
Ferdinand Fellman, Vico-Axiom. Der Mensch macht die Geschichte (Freiburg
i. Br, 1976), 169 fw.
This intuition is what underlies Platos criticism of the association be74


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

This understanding of language stresses its symbolical aspect

and favorites the interpretation of human beings as Cassirers
animal symbolicum.82 The subject of symbol connects the
more general question of language with that of rhetoric. The situation of pressure of reality terms Blumenberg rhetorical situation (rhetorische Situation).83 A symbol or metaphor is, in its
Aristotelian sense, something that stands for another thing.84 This
can be seen both in Aristotles definition of metaphor85 and in the
etymology of both words,86 and it is assumed by Blumenbergs
definitions of metaphor as a heterogeneous element that refers
to another context,87 or something which displays something
that it is not present.88 Examples of metaphors for Blumenberg
can be that of the work clock for the universemetaphor invented by Nicolas of Oresme89in the beginning of Modernity, or
tween rhetoric and magicas has been pointed out by Wardy (40): the magic
word identifies with the thing referred to, rendering it possible to control it.
Cassirer, Was ist der Mensch.
Blumenberg, Approach, 437.
Blumenberg hardly distinguishes between metaphor or symbol, rather
he considers them as quite equivalent regarding their ability to represent
(Reprsentanz) (Vollzhligkeit, 420); the only difference between them is that
symbol is what a metaphor becomes when performing its outmost in the substitution of unavailable for available (Ausblick, 96). As Stoellger states correctly, Blumenberg does not take part in the contemporary debate about the
symbol theory (Stoellger, 180).
Metaphor by analogy means this: when B is to A as D is to C, then instead of B the poet will say D and B instead of D. And sometimes they add that
to which the term supplanted by the metaphor is relative Poetics 1457b 1820
in Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 23, W.H. Fyfe, trans. (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1932).
(from -, change as verb particle; between as adverb;
and -, to bring) and (from -, with; and -ballein to put
together); it is well-known that with was meant each of the two
parts of a broken piece of ceramic, through which someones identity could be
certified: a short of credential.
Blumenberg, Ausblick, 98.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 26.
Hans Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung und Beharrung. Zur Konstitution
der neuzeitlichen Rationalitt, in Akademie der Wissenschaften und der

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


that of Balints condensator for human psyche in the context

of psychiatry.90
It is clear that, from this viewpoint, the for-element of the
definition does not point to a possible comprehension of the reality for which the metaphor is.91 It is the stand-element that
is emphasized: symbol is, with Aristotle, about set[ting] things
before the eyes,92 but not in order to help us accept the truth but
quite to place a front to prevent us from seeing it. While metaphors are for Aristotle just a resort at hand as its difficult for an
orator to find real life examples,93 Blumenberg regards it as the
condensation of everything we have said so far.
The activity of introducing order in reality at the anthropological level is at the same time an ontological process of creation of
reality, both external and internal. It is not that human beings create the reality, but surely they create a reality where they live.
Blumenberg positions himself, naturally, on Gorgias side. Since
language is an intersubjectivity reality,94 this activity of truth creation can only be possible in the consensus.95 It is the ontologization of what Aristotle calls generally accepted principles (
)96 or commonplaces ( )97: the context of a
world in the commonality of convention (Konvention).98 Thus,
a statement being true does not have much to do with a mental
content fitting its correlate in reality, but with the function it perLiteratur in Mainz. Abhandlungen der geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen
Klasse 11 (1970), 340.
Blumenberg, Begriffe, 86.
This question will be treated later.
Rhetoric III 11, 1411b25: ; see also Poet 17,
1455a 21 fw.
See Rhetoric II 20 1, 1393b 510.
See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen
Philosophical Investigations (The Macmillan Company: New York, 1970),
Blumenberg, Approach, 436.
Rhetoric 1355a249.
Rhetoric 1358a 1214.
Blumenberg, Approach, 443.


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forms in order to make sense.99

The true may consequently change with time.100 Therefore,
Blumenberg puts an end to the equivalence inaugurated by Plato
between rhetoric and manipulation. Persuading might be not
lying when truth is not evident even to who is persuading.101
Moreover if, as it was said before, the activity of creating cosmos could be equaled in a certain sense to the elaboration of
the own self-understanding, whoever tries to talk someone into
something is seeking not so much to convince others as much as
to persuade him or herself of the correctness of his or her own
self-understanding. Thus, it may be said that every statement of
rhetorical kind is always canvassing rhetoric.102
Nonetheless a cognitive function for the for-element in
symbols definition is not excluded in Blumenbergs analysis.
But it does not go forward, to the reality, but backwards,
to the life-world. We see it next, in relation to the Platonic and
Aristotelic notion of resemblance.
Plato asserts that rhetoric will be the art by which a man
will be able to produce a resemblance between all things between
which it can be produced, and to bring to the light the resem-

Hans Blumenberg, Sokrates und das objet ambigu. Paul Valrys
Auseinandersetzung mit der Tradition der Ontologie des sthetischen
Gegenstandes, Franz Wiedmann, ed., Epimeleia. Die Sorge der Philosophie
um den Menschen. Helmut Kuhn zum 65. Geburtstag (Mnchen: Pustet, 1964),
290. Blumenberg follows here the Ernst Cassirers criticism of Aristotles
epistemology, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen ber
die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft:
Darmstadt, 19693 [1910]).
Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Die erste Frage an den Menschen. All der
biologische Reichtum des Lebens verlangt eine konomie seiner Erklrung,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2.6.2001, 127. There is only one eternal truth
of human nature: the formal ontological movement (ontologische Bewegung)
between Instndigkeit and Gegenstndigkeit: Blumenberg, Legitimacy, 457
Blumenberg, Lebenswelt, 13.
Blumenberg, Approach, 443.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


blances produced and disguised by anyone else.103 It will be a

fair imitation when rhetorician sticks to true reasoning, while
when he or she does notproducing in consequence what Plato
terms spoken images104, he or she is able to mislead the listener. A false doctor but experienced rhetorician, would sound
more knowledgeable about an issue than a true doctor who does
not manage the art of speaking, for the former can make his or
her speech more agreeable and, therefore, more likely to be accepted by the ignorant.
Following Plato, Aristotle speaks of rhetoric as of an art of
managing resemblances.105 Metaphor can act as a representationin the sense exposed abovebecause it rests on analogy, that is, on a communal aspect between two things; with an
Aristotelian example, an arbitrator and an altar are said to be the
same since the injured fly to both for refuge. Both for Plato and
Aristotle, resemblance is possible because the for implies a
true knowledge about reality.
Blumenberg resorts, on the contrary, to the Husserlian concept of life-world to explain where the possibility of establishing
resemblances lies. There we find at the same time the possibility
of the for we were talking about.106 Any metaphor stands not
for reality but for a complex relations field within the wider
net in which the life-world consists. For instance, to understand
the universe as a work clock tell us nothing about the universe
in itself but about how we understand ourselves and our place in
the world, what depends in turn on a net of interrelated senses of
which human life and culture is comprised. In the same vein, the
notion of God, that for Blumenberg is a metaphor, shows what
kind of being is man when trying to push its self-understanding
to its limits.107





Phaedrus 211de.
Sophist 234c ( ).
See Rhetoric I 19 9, 1367b 13 (geitnian).
Blumenberg, Ausblick, 98 and fw.
Blumenberg, Approach, 456. Blumenberg has a book completely de-


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

This would be an aspect of rationality of rhetoric: considered

as a piece of information about our life-world. It would serve for
the metaphorologues academic purposes. A second aspect has
to do more with the individual life who seeks to create a cosmos:
it gives him or her a glance of reality and, as open beings,
metaphors provide him or her with new possibilities of living,
i.e., of acquiring or enriching a self-understanding. It serves the
metaphorologue as human being.
That is irrational for the absolutist reasonfor instance in its
scientific shape. The target of science is to establish a causal relation among given facts108 expressed in concepts, whose measure
is truth. Neither a global vision of reality nor a possibility are
facts. On the contrary, the principle of insufficient reason focuses
on human openness. Its measure is not truth but significance
(Bedeutsamkeit). It means that it is perceived and taken into account109 by human beings only what carries out a function both
in the preservation of life and in its development (that is, in its
elaboration of a self-understanding), though be it not real or
only still to come. Since theory implies human beings as having all the time in the world, human lifes individuality can be
disregarded, which constitutes the base for scientific objectivity:
statements acceptable by everyone at every time, unrelated to
their own circumstances.110
voted to this issue: Hans Blumenberg, Matthuspassion (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1988).
Blumenberg, Weltbilder, 48.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 812. This notion, first formulated as
the principle of significance by Rothacker in his Zur Genealogie des menschlichen Bewusstseins (Bonn 1966), 4452, says that a human being perceives
only those objects of existential relevance for it. So to speak, significance
takes the place of a causal mechanism of stimulus-reaction in a human being: Barbara Merker, Bedrfnis nach Bedeutsamkeit. Zwischen Lebenswelt
und Absolutismus der Wirklichkeit, Franz Joseph Wetz, H. Timm, eds., Die
Kunst des berlebens. Nachdenken ber Hans Blumenberg (Frankfurt a.M.:
Shurkamp, 1999), 83.
Blumenberg, Legitimacy, 129. Lets see Nagels definition of objectivity: A view or form of thought is more objective than another if it relies less

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


Science is not able to forecast where a human life can get to

or what it can achieve, while rhetoric has to do not with facts
but with expectations.111 Therefore in our practice we turn
into an axiom, as a postulate, what provides a motive for taking advantage of the more favorable prospects for humanity,112
for example the existence of God, liberty, immortality, i.e., of
whatever helps make sense of human life. To the probability
(Wahrscheinlichkeit) of scientific statements, the credible
(glaubwrdig) or verisimilar (dem Wahren hnlich) of practical ones must be opposed.113
The principle of insufficient reason thus summons human beings to act as though true theoretical statements (may they be either philosophical or scientific) were not worthy of consideration
as soon as ones own self-understanding is put in a tight corner;
for example, when some psychological version of the evolutionary theory concludes that human beings are only animals, or love
only a chemical reaction.114 It is worthwhile for human beings to
bear115 an insufficient knowledge where otherwise human life
might be handed over to the indifference of absolutist reason.116
on the specifics of the individuals makeup and position in the world, or on the
character of the particular type of creature he is: cfr. Thomas Nagel, The View
from Nowhere (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1986), 5.
Blumenberg, Approach, 451.
Blumenberg, Approach, 450. Axiom in the Kantian sense, as the
statement of the practical reason that can be neither demonstrated nor even
understood by theoretical reason, but that is necessary for the exercise of practical reason: Gesammelten Werken (Akademieausgabe) Bd. 5: Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Kritik der Urteilskraft (1798), (electronic edition: Institut fr
Kommunikationsforschung und Phonetik (IKP) - Universitt Bonn, Bonn),
473; url:
Blumenberg, Approach, 451; Paradigmen, 91.
Hans Blumenberg, Weltbilder und Weltmodelle, Nachrichten der
Gieener Hochschulgesellschaft 30 (1961), 74.
Hans Blumenberg, Ausblick auf eine Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit,
Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer. Paradigma einer Daseinsmetapher (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp, 1979), 98.
Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos, 19, 437. The negation of the logic of
life (that is, of its preservation) from side of theory results not only in disrupting


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

The irrationality of rhetoric can be more precisely outlined with Blumenbergs term Unbegreifflichkeit (unconceptuability)117. Because of that absolute metaphors (absolute
Metaphern)118 take a special place between metaphors, so-called
because they present both a global interpretation of world and
self, and resistance to be reduced to concepts.
(2) But language is not only a tool for the creation of sense,
but it is an instrument of instruments. Its peculiarity lies in
that every other instrumenteither mental or physicalexists
through language. It is not limited to just one function, like a
hammer or the knowledge about how to make cookies.
This was already perceived by Plato, Aristotle and the sophists. Plato criticizes what he considers an odd feature of rhetoric
based on considering words as imitations, as we have seen,
praised by sophists: their capability to speak about every topic as
if they know everything about every thing. In his criticism Plato
has probably Gorgias words in mind, rhetoric is to be understood
as a fighting instrument119 that might be used at wish either for
justice or injustice.120 The same is observed by Aristotle who, to
self-understanding but logically in destroying life itself. Blumenberg gives the
nazi genocide as an example: to consider people as animalsbased on scientific statementsbrought on the possibility of eliminating them like animals.
Blumenberg, Paradigmen, 21. This is to be understood in the context
of Kantian categories and referring primarily to concrete existence, that is not
located in the categories framework: Cassirer, Substanzbegriff, 403.
Blumenberg, Paradigmen, 13. As we mentioned at the very beginning,
metaphorologys object is the historical going over about variation of absolute
Gorgias 456d 1.
For Gorgias, rhetoric is not all about knowing a certain object, but
about knowing the right combination of words that has the desired effect on the
audience; see Marcello Zanatta, Larte del persuadere: la retorica in Platone e
Aristotele, 27, in Marcello Zanatta, ed., Aristotele. Retorica (Milano: Unicopli,
2002), 227. This vision is supported by Gorgias understanding of words meaning as being made of a very subtle stuff, that would cause a physical reaction in the listeners soul (Encommium of Helena, 14, quoted by Giuseppe
Mazzara, Gorgia: la Retorica del Verosimile (Academia Verlag: Sankt Agustin,
1999), 261). Words have thus a real effect on people.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


the statement words are imitations,121 adds remarkably and

the voice also, which of all our parts is best adapted for imitation.122 Rhetoric is, therefore, form as means for, obedience of
rules as an instrument,123 sheer method (reine Methode).124
We have seen that Gorgian rhetoric as both art of elaborating speeches and instrument of instruments, such as Aristotelian
topoi, are ontologized. Other rhetorical features spring from
the consideration of human temporality. Its peculiar biological
and ontological constitution converts human beings consciousness of time in a dialectical experience.
On the one side, a human being is an animal that has to think
twice before coming into contact with a hostile reality, for it lacks
the competent means for it. It suffers from what Blumenberg calls
a structural perplexity. This aspect is to be discussed in the following pages under the title of rhetoric as the art of delaying. It
is ontologized the rhetorical circumstantia and rhetoric as art
of appearances.
On the other side, as there is no more options left to avoid
Rhetoric 1355b 835.
b. 1404a 2225. This last sentence by Aristotle, when confronted with


what was said before, reveals a deep sense about the relation between the anthropological and ontological levels. The wide range of sounds of which human
voice is capablemade possible by the lack of instincts (Plessner, Die Stufen,
54)reveals the ontological sense at an anatomic level: that words can imitate things because language has played an important role in how we perceive
them. See also Plato, Cratylus 423b fw., in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes,
Vol. 12, Harold N. Fowler, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press;
London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1921): A name, then, it appears, is a vocal
imitation of that which is imitated, and he who imitates with his voice names
that which he imitates.
Blumenberg, Approach, 431 (original text: Form als Mittel,
Regelhaftigkeit als Organ).
Blumenberg, Lebenswelt und Technisierung unter Aspekten der
Phnomenologie (754), in Wirklichkeiten in denen wir leben. Aufstze und
eine Rede (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1981), 45. As an anatomical counterpart of this
anthropological flexibility of language, human beings happen uniquely to be in
possession of five finger hands, the instrument of instruments at the anatomical level.


Csar Gonzlez Cantn

reality, human beings must react swiftly and amidst uncertainty

to the situations they are confronted with: it is the expression of a
radical not having enough time. Rhetorical is, in this case as well,
the way human beings counter it. Here we find an ontologization of Aristotelian topoi from a different point of view, as well
as of the target of rhetoric for Aristotle (easy learning).
Both aspects will serve as conducting threads to the theme of
rationality of rhetoric and its ethical consequences.

5. Rhetoric as the art of delaying

his aspect of rhetoric has found expression in popular

sayings, like when said that a person goes on and on
but he says actually nothing!
At the ontological level, as we said before, in the place of the
pressure of reality do human beings place a symbolic world to be
able to live on in this reality. In relation to the aspect of rhetoric
we are discussing now, lacking definitive evidence125 in our relation to the world justifies a delaying in our approaching it until
we had ideally gained an understanding (Verstndnis).126 Yet
that is not possible, due to the radical closure of reality. Therefore
human beings are by definition perpetually deferring its disembarkation in reality, keeping its distance to it. Language can be
regarded as the de-realizator per excellence. If kept in mind
that not being able to get to this understanding is equivalent to be
a mortal being, then it is clear that human beings whole efforts
go to not dying.
We could say: man is an indirect being,127 a being whom detour128 is a structural feature. This makes it deserve the name of




Blumenberg, Approach, 441.

Blumenberg, Approach, 447.
Cfr. Gehlen, Philosophische Anthropologie.
Blumenberg, Approach, 438; Hans Blumenberg, Lebensthemen. Aus
dem Nachla (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1998), 15 fw.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


hesitant being (zgerndes Wesen):129 human beings existential

structure requires to take ones time before acting. Rhetoric
can then be understood as the human life itself as interposing
procedures to avoid straight deals with reality: circumstantiality (Umstndlichkeit),130 the ontologization of Ciceros circumstantia.131
The basic relational form between human life and reality is thereforewith a term coined by Gehlen132unload
(Entlastung),133 discharge of the burden of reality: substitution
of absolutism of reality134 for a world of appearance. The symbolic world would be what we need to busy ourselves with in
order to avoid the awareness of death. This is task of rhetoric
defined as art of appearance (Kunst des Scheins).135 Platos derogatory statement about the rhetorician as being a conjurer136
turns out to receive a positive ontological significance: rhetoric
engages us with its verbal tricks, making appear and disappear
a linguistic reality where there is literally nothing.137 Rhetoric is
also then an art of illusionism.
From an anthropological point of view, loss of instincts is like
a short-circuit in the stimulus-reaction chain; in other words, it
means the nonappearance of an immediate and automatic reaction to stimulus. This means at least two different problems that
human being must confront.
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 487.
Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos, 15960; Lebensthemen, 15.
Cicero, Topica, Tobias Reinhardt, ed. (New York: Oxford University

Press, 2006), I.VIII; cfr. Bruno Accarino, Nomadi e no. Antropogenesi e potenzialismo in Hans Blumenberg, in Andrea Borsari (ed.), Hans Blumenberg.
Mito, metafora, modernit (Bologna: Ed. Il Mulino, 1999), 216, n. 36.
Gehlen, Der Mensch, 26.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 25.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 71.
Approach, 430.
, Sophist 235b3.
Cfr. Hans Blumenberg, Die Verfhrbarkeit des Philosophen (Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000), 54.


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On the one hand, human beings face situations of perplexity or of danger for which they are not biologically equipped.138
In front of them human beings respond not in a physical way,
like animals, but in a rhetorical one.139 For example, starting a
fight can be substituted by a slight raise of the eyebrow and have
the same effect. Human being does not know (or want) anymore
what to do in front of the requirements of reality, and therefore it
does what it can: to do as though it did something. Paraphrasing
the sentence attributed to Aristotle, the thought of fire does not
burn, it can be said that the action of symbolizing is not real so
far it introduces no change in reality; but it is on the contrary a
real action so far it helps human beings to live humanly. The
process of substituting physical accomplishments for verbal
[i.e. symbolic] ones is an anthropological radical.140 Examples
of this art of delaying are Greek myths. Myth establishes a daedal
set of rules and procedures to manage the relation among gods,
and between them and mortals; however, what myth is really intending to do is having divine, arbitrary, huge power (i.e. absolute power) closed into certain boundaries.141
On the other hand, through loss of instincts human beings are
deprived also of regulating and channeling means for their impulses that become exuberant and disorientated. Thus the stimuli
overabundance is matched by an impulsive overabundance.
That explains the common experience of being seized by a fit
of passion, which may bring us to lately regrettable decisions.
Hans Blumenberg, Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Staatstheorie, Schweizer
Monatshefte 48 (1968), 137.
At least so long as they are allowed to postpone it, as we will see in the
next section: cfr. Blumenberg, Die Sorge, 13.
Blumenberg, Approach, 438. Probably these ideas were taken from
Plessner, Homo absconditus, 75. It could then be asked what is the specific in
the eyebrow movement in comparison with certain threat signs in many animal
species. Although we cannot discuss that subject here, something about it will
be said later.
For example, Blumenberg considers politeism as a technique of weakening (Technik der Schwchung), Arbeit am Mythos, 142.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


To avoid it human beings build delaying mechanisms in its behavior, both at individual (to give a sober second thought) and
institutional level.142
Another expression of the art of delaying is that the human
capacity for taking one thing for another is true also from a reverse standpoint: the capability of delegation (Delegation),143
so that we neednt do or know everything that is necessary for
self-preservation.144 In the pressure of rhetorical situation, to get
others to make what oneself should do (they consequently standing for us) is another means of not having to confront reality
What is rational in the art of delaying is, as we know, that it
corresponds to the logic of life. It is seen as irrational by both
scientific and some philosophical approaches as far as, from the
viewpoint of absolutist reason, existence has no reason to exist.
For example, while an aspect of technological progress is concentration of processes [with the] intention of saving time,145
so often in human affairs its more convenient to put off doing
something. What is technically possible need not be the most
timely. Human beings must lead a life of existential procrastination. Moreover, technological complexity can nowadays
be very much like the original situation of overabundance of
stimuli146 that we mentioned before. In such open-to-doubt situations, long political/rhetorical digressions can make uncertain
that the shortest line between two points is the human way as
well.147 Blumenberg reinterprets here Husserls analysis in Die
Some authors in the field of public rational choice interpret in this
way the institutional division, in congress and senate, of political choice-making process: Elster, J., Intertemporal choice and political thought, in G.
Loewenstein & J. Elster (eds.), Choice over time (New York: Russell Sage
Foundation, 1992), 3553.
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 420.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 71.
Blumenberg, Approach, 44445.
Blumenberg, Begriffe, 111.
Hans Blumenberg, Gerade noch Klassiker. Glossen zu Fontane


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Krisis, upon the irrationality of natural sciences and their technological appendix in the context of the need for a clarifying reflection about both the sense of the world and of human beings
and its action.148 According to Husserl, technology is led by an
active ignorance149 (it is enough to know how to use it, not why
it works as it does), it being needed of being put under the guidance of reason if it has to serve human interests.
Accordingly to Plato, rhetoric gives only an appearance of
explanation but not a real one at all. Blumenbergs belief is that
human life needs not investigate its causes, neither with a scientific nor philosophical approach, because it would run the risk of
discovering it has no sense. Rhetorical metaphors or myths are
not used to replace theory () but to make it unnecessary150 by
having us engaged.151 That is exactly what makes them rational.
Prisoners refusal to leave the platonic cave is not due to their
irrationality, but to not wanting to have a direct experience of
Rhetoric can also take the form of philosophy when it performs
a rhetorical function; what has been the case, for Blumenberg, of
every philosophical system before his metaphorology, since they
all were, as it was mentioned before, cosmistic. That means, they
have played the game of entertaining us by promising imminent
answers to the important questions but actually never getting to
(Mnchen: Hanser, 1998), 122 (emphases added).
Edmund Husserl, Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp, 1981), 14. Cfr. Blumenberg, Lebenswelt, 26.
Blumenberg, Lebenswelt, 33.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 168. As Gehlen explains (Der Mensch,
360), in the field of vital knowledge the usual way to elaborate perturbations
(for instance a burn) is not to investigate the causes of the event (why fire burns)
but rather a shock and the ensuing prevention (not to get too close to the bonfire
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 164.
It is of great interest how Blumenberg describes the situation of someone who leaves the cave: sunlight blinds him or her and as a result he or she
loses his or her world: the sun is the truth (finitude), which makes us realize
our world is a fake (cfr. Ontologische Distanz, 44).

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


them, because such a thing would mean to become aware that

there are no such answers.153 Rhetoric disguised as philosophy
equates a never-ending rumor superimposed on the terrifying silence of Being.154
Without this game of providing apparent answers to the questions posed by the inherent tendency of reason to ask for the
causes, we would get sooner or later to the experience of finitude.
From the absolutist reasons point of view, rhetorical speech says
nothing; from rhetorics side, theres (literally) nothing to say. It
might accept theoretical requirements to cutting the nonsense,
stopping beating about the bush, speaking out plainly only
at the cost of disappearing itself. Metaphorology, from this viewpoint builds up a new history providing an appearance of answers
to fundamental questions, by telling the history of metaphors, but
really preventing us from getting to truth.155
The basic estrangement156 between this aspect of reason and
life, as in the prior section, justifies acting as though (als ob)157
these were no true.158 Rhetoric is, from this vantage point, the
art of persuading ourselves to ignore [theory] in the case it is
Blumenberg, Lebensthemen, 867. Blumenberg gives a memorable
description of this point in Das Sein - ein MacGuffin, Selbstverstndnis,
Hans Blumenberg, Weltbilder, 6974.
Thus, Metaphorology takes the place of Husserls phenomenology and
its infinite work on the philosophical object, an object that becomes the history of the analytical approaches to it: cfr. Emmanuel Levins, En dcouvrant
lexistence avec Husserl et Heidegger (Paris: Vrin, 1967), 174). However,
Blumenberg subjects this concept to an inversion: infinite work-on is rational
not because we get to know better, but because it avoids uncovering.
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 155.
Blumenberg, Approach, 450.
With these reflections, Blumenberg pushes forward the husserlian construction of life-world (Lebenswelt), that, roughly said, is matched by Husserl
to ordinary life and thought as a reserve of sense for human life in front of
the abstraction of occidental science. Edmund Husserl, Kant und die Idee der
Traszendentalphilosophie, Erste Philosophie (1923/24). Erster Teil: Kritische
Ideengeschichte (Husserliana. Gesammelte Werke VII), Rudolf Boehm, ed.
(Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1956), 232. Cfr. Blumenberg, Begriffe, 107.


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unbearable for praxis.159 As Wardy points out, to enjoy a tragedy one must let himself into a disposition to be deceived.160 It
is not about sheer cynicism: it not only responds to the logic of
life, but to unavailability of knowledge of reality for any kind of
knowledge, also for the scientific one. The difference between
practical and theoretical knowledge is not in our access to reality or Beingas if theory were able to achieve the truth. Both
of them are insufficient accesses to Being, so that the only difference between them is that theory has an infinite time to concoct;161 accordingly we are allowed for not taking too seriously
its statements, because they may also change over time.162
These arguments have far-reaching consequences for ethics.
Contrary to the openness of human beings, for the absolutist
reason human life is supposed to have a specific target, whose
elucidation would be the task of the Platonic ethical science.
However, radical lack of a pre-determined telos of human life requires an understanding of a rhetorical kind that, since a complete determination of human life is not possible, takes detours
and persists and is re-elaborated during the whole lifetime.163 To
understand the rationality of human action is, from this standpoint, an introduction to every ethical problem. We should know
what we are doing in order to know whether it is what we should
be doing.164
However, an ethics that, like the Platonic one, takes the evidentness of the good as point of departure leaves no room for
rhetoricas the theory and practice of influencing behavior on
the assumption that we do not have access to definitive evidence
of the good.165 The Platonic man would feel warranted to say
Blumenberg, Approach, 451.
Wardy, 36.
Hans Blumenberg, Das Lachen der Thrakerin. Eine Urgeschichte der

Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1987), 17; Approach, 437.

Blumenberg, Approach, 449.
Blumenberg, Matthuspassion, 96.
Blumenberg, Weltbilder, 68.
Blumenberg, Approach, 432.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


to the Blumenbergian one: stop beating about the bush: what

you must do is Blumenberg finds this position problematic,
even potentially perilous, much more if the philosopher finally
becomes king, because he would want to impose his idea of happiness to everyone.166

6. Rhetorical modes of responding to not having enough


ack of instincts may require, as we have seen, an art of

delaying. Yet, on the contrary, an art of quick response
too, when there are both no chance to continue avoiding the
crash with reality and deficit of guidances to manage it. The
rhetorical situation is often determined by being compelled to
act (Handlungszwang)167 or being compelled to take a decision (Entscheidungszwang).168 Thus, human beings are constituently those that have not enough time. It implies that, both
anthropologically and ontologically, human behavior needs to be
automated to a certain degree in order to react conveniently to
complex situations.
On the one hand, this characteristic of the rhetorical situation
can be seen in the restricted time allotted to speakers,169 that
for Aristotle is necessary to achieve the target of rhetoric: easy
learning.170 Since ordinary people cant stand time-consuming
reasoning, rhetorical speech should avoid being too long or it
Cfr. Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 187, 76. As Wardy says (76), Plato
rejects democracy because he considers that truth does not emerge in the agora,
but in the face to face conversation: Socrates affirms that the single witness
of the veracity of his reasonings that he admits, is his persuaded interlocutor
(Gorgias 474a5b1).
Blumenberg, Approach, 437.
Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 130. In my opinion Blumenberg echoes
Plessners concept of Vollzugszwang: Plessner, Die Stufen, 395.
Blumenberg, Approach, 437.
Rhetoric III 10 2, 1410b 21.


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runs the risk of missing audience attention.

On the other hand and from a properly anthropological standpoint, human passions play a significant role in a quick reaction.
Both Plato and Aristotle see here an opportunity for rhetoricians
to manipulate people via emotions.171 For Plato, rhetoricians
study and draw up an index of character types to make sure that
his or her influence will be successful.172 But they do not really
know what they are doing because their knowledge, as it was
said before, is rather a routine and habitude173 than a true understanding, and consequently their influence ends up being a
manipulation. Their speech results in the mere employment of
given common senses (topoi) which unleashes listeners automatic reactions.
Aristotle grants nevertheless more legitimacy to passions
through their integration into practical judgments.174 So, to develop a rhetorical speech is the art of driving people angry when
they should be, i. e., when presenting something morally wrong
to them.175 To persuade is not only to help think about something
but act on something: rhetoric is the only discipline that not only
contemplates its object but takes into account the subject.176 Yet
rhetoric may become also for Aristotle a sort of emotional manipulation177 if passion raising statements being resorted to are
a consequence of speaking outside the subject178that is, as
much as they are far from truth. From this standpoint, human
action would be irrational because not enough time is taken to
reflect on it, to weigh it up, to analyze it, to gain a global comprehension of the issues involved. Kant agrees with it as he says
that rhetoric is to regret because it transforms human beings into








Cfr. Wardy, 52.

Phaedrus 271c272b.
Gorgias 501a 35.
Rhetoric II 1 3, 1378a 2030; see also Et. Nic. II 3, 1104b 15.
Rhetoric III 7 1, 1408a 1520.
Topics, 155b4, 10.
See Rhetoric III 18 3, 1419b 256.
Rhetoric I 1 2, 1354a 246.

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


For Blumenberg, nevertheless, there are enough dangers and
pressures in reality to justify as to become a machine.180 Among
Aristotelian topoi, metaphors are the common places par excellence regarding its function of automatizing human behavior. As
I said, metaphors put something in front of listeners eyes, giving
him or her visualization, immediate understanding of it. Its simplicity181 provides a swift action guide which, as Blumenberg
says, induces [agent] to jump into another level.182
The metaphor of jump introduces again the topic of the rationality of rhetoric. Decision is described as a jump because it
involves abandoning the familiar ground towards terra ignota. In
every decision there is always a point of faithof irrationality,
from a scientific standpointand that is what Blumenberg wants
to emphasize. Metaphors help us take a course of action where
no clear course can be seen. As a surgeon, I might have doubts
about whether I should save the convicts life lying in front of
me. From a rational point of view, to be completely sure we
should know his whole future life course and weigh pros and
cons in terms of benefits for both him and society. This is clearly
impossible, not only because my lifetime is too short for that, but
because his life is all but an already-written story. Therefore, we
must resort to fables, anecdotes, fairy tales (metaphors) where
application of indisputable principles like do good, not bad
is the rule.
Kant, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Kritik der Urtheilskraft, 327:
aber Rednerkunst (ars oratoria) ist, als Kunst sich der Schwchen der Menschen
zu seinen Absichten zu bedienen (diese mgen immer so gut gemeint, oder auch
wirklich gut sein, als sie wollen).
Blumenberg, Approach, 455. The principle of insufficient reason
is identified by Blumenberg with the pascalian reason of effects (Raison
des effets), that regulates the natural and automated mechanism of ordinary
impulses: Hans Blumenberg, Das Recht des Scheins in den menschlichen
Ordnungen bei Pascal, Philosophisches Jahrbuch 57 (1947), 428.
Hans Blumenberg, Paradigma, grammatisch, in Wirklichkeiten in
denen wir leben. Aufstze und eine Rede (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1981), 159.
Blumenberg, Ausblick , 96.


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As opposite to metaphor we find concept, which tolerates the

Husserlian infinite work-on of reason; therefore the impossibility of decision that implies by definition an interruption of the
deliberative process.183 From this perspective, both the saving
time strategy and the active ignorance of the technological
worlddue to its complexitycriticised by Husserl, appears as
the very essence of the principle of insufficient reason. Husserls
attempt to rationally clarify human action misses the point at least
in three different ways: that rhetorical situation compels human
being to act so many times without thinking twice; that too much
cerebration would lead to undesirable consequences, such as uncovering finitudeexpressed in this ambit as absence of guidances, i.e., indecision in the act of choice; and eventually that
such a clarification is not possible, as stated by Blumenbergs
ontological skepticism.
The structural shortage of time is what, in Blumenbergs opinion, explains why the philosopher is made a fool by the Thracian
slave184 or by the cave inhabitants as he or she comes back after having seen the reality.185 The philosopher is not able to
meet the challenges of practical lifetheres not enough light,
says Blumenbergand makes steadily a fool of him or herself.
Blumenberg sees it as the effect of intending a critical destruction and consequent definitive foundation of practical
thinking, as proposed by Husserl,186 which would impose such
To the question of how the theoretical reason determines itself to become practical, Kant answers: I dont know. The condition for this ignorance
was already treated by the Aquinas, who gave the following explanation: human will is infinite, so that no concrete goodbeing finitecan determine it to
action. If it could, deliberative process will be a sort of pros-and-cons calculus
from which it would fall the heavier-weighted option: cfr. Summa Theologica,
Enrique Alarcn, ed., S. Thomae Aquino. Opera omnia (Universitatis Studiorum
Navarrensis, Pamplona,, III,
q. 10, a.3.
Blumenberg, Lachen, 16.
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge, 87.
Nichts, das nicht absolut gerechtfertigt ist, soll gelten: Edmund
Husserl, Erster Philosophie (1923/4). Zweiter Teil: Theorie der phnomenolo-

Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


a level of rational proof that it would leave no room for what is

really intended with this process: the rational movement of existence.187 Theory in general, and its major exponent Husserl, has
idealized itself as the necessity of seeking a fundament for life;
nevertheless, it is typical of life not to need fundament at all.188
Thereafter, in the realm of reasoning about practical activities in
life, it can be more rational to accept something on insufficient
grounds [das Unzureichende] than to insist on a procedure modeled on that of science.189 If it was said in the previous section
that Husserls intuition underlying his concept of infinite work
on was a good approach to practical rationality, from this other
point of view it must be said it is not.
It might be accurate, Blumenberg thinks, to liken vital and
practical thinking to Descartes concept of provisory moral
knowledge. It was expressed through the metaphor of the traveler
lost in the forest.190 When disorientation is total, the only rational behavior is taking an arbitrary path and following it without
dismay, for there is only one thing sure: every forest comes to
an end.191 Rational in the rhetorical situationwhich, however,
does not have an endis this: the only justification to take a
certain direction is being compelled to act;192 waiting until every
necessary piece of information is available may be very rational
from a theoretical viewpoint but it surely would mean an early
Metaphor is then the right orientation for Handlungszwang. In
this sense and introducing the ontological aspect in our analysis,
metaphors standing for can be understood in the following way:
gischen Reduction (Husserliana. Gesammelte Werke VIII), Rudolf Boehm, ed.
(Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959), 6.
Blumenberg, Lebenswelt, 47.
Blumenberg, Hhlenasugnge, 1501.
Blumenberg, Approach, 448.
Ren Descartes, Discours de la mthode (Le Livre de Poche, 1970),
III 22.
Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung, 18.
Blumenberg, Glossen, 80.


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as a means of having at least something (the symbol), when there

is no enough time to obtain the real object. Since human beings
desires are directed to have things in themselves, to be content
with their signs has to do with the constitutive impatience of
individual.193 In the human war against finitude, it is a great success not to need have things in themselves [] but their mere
signs:194 at least something.195 For instance: understanding the
universe as a work-clock is a way of having the world in a certain
aspect when we do not have enough time to have it as it is, because it would take us an eternity.196 Human beings can thus have
every thing, as it is experienced in the vicarious life provided by
From this point of view, in the presence of radical questions
about existence metaphorology offers a prompt answer in the
form of erudite storytelling about the diverse answers that have
been given to these questions, making as though in turn it was
an answer. So it provides an orientation for human beings life
quickly, succeeding again in the task of hiding contingence from
All of this has ethical consequences that Blumenberg illustrates with a theological metaphor: human action is constituently
sinful. And that for two main reasons:
1) Lack of evidence makes both most consequences of human actions harmful and responsibility for them much less heavy
than moralists of sufficient reason principle would be willing to
accept: Most people are probably not more guilty [for their deci



Blumenberg, Lebenszeit, 1901.

Blumenberg, Lebenszeit, 169.
Hans Blumenberg, Glossen zu Anekdoten, Akzente 30 (1983) 1, 34.
Arnold Gehlen, Urmensch und Sptkultur. Philosophische Ergebnisse
und Aussagen (AthenumVerlag: Bonn, 1956), 162. This aspect of symbolization is based on the ability of human beings, thanks to the lack of instincts,
of referring not only to sets of facts but to their negation. The shortcircuit of
stimulus (i.e. not having what would be due) is the primitive germ of consciousness of negation; cfr. Plessner, Die Stufen, 340.
Alsberg, Menschheitsrtsel, 129.


Blumenbergs Rhetoric as Ontological Concept


sions] than in situations where no decision is to be made.198

This might count as another aspect of lacking control over the
conditions of our existence. As abovementioned, Blumenberg
represents just the negative of Platonic ethics: if immoral action
comes from ignorance, then human beings do structurally bad.
2) On the other hand, since the logic of life is its self-preservation; we are mainly our possibilities; and we have little time, our
actions can be no other than egoistic. As long as we do not know
in advance who we can get to be and what we will need for it;199
being this the most unavoidable moral command, because the
human way of living consists of making real our possibilities;200
and having absolutely not enough time to succeed, every other
human being logically turns out to be a rival.201 The main ethical
problem is the existence of a being with a limited lifetime and
unlimited desires.202 Against Kant, because of the finitude of
our life, we can afford no omission in achieving our goals.203
Plato can say it is better bearing than doing injustice because he
believes in immortality.204 Turning over Christian theology about
sin,205 Blumenberg affirms that it was death that let sin have its
way in the world and not the reverse.206 In this sense, the diabolic
could be defined as a concentrate of crafts and ruses to save
time, to have more of the world. With a more abstract formulation: the world takes time.207 Thereafter ethical and technological fields would be alien to one another: no moral law can



Blumenberg, Selbstverstndnis, 67.

Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 320.
Blumenberg, Begriffe, 1956.
Hans Blumenberg, Matthuspassion (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1988), 95.
Blumenberg, Lebenszeit, 712.
Blumenberg, Arbeit, 285.
Gorgias 524ab. From my viewpoint, myth of judgment after death
functions as the hidden base for all his argumentation in this dialogue.
Cfr. Romans, 5, 12.
Blumenberg, Arbeit, 285.
Blumenberg, Lebenszeit, 73.


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prevent human beings doing everything they can, because we

cant stand being doubtful about whether we really can or not.208
This is not, however, a justification for every kind of behavior;
along with these reflections, Blumenberg defends the protection
of community, just as a condition of the existence of individual
life.209 We find here and again the ambivalence that permeates
human existence for Blumenberg.
In this paper we have tried and displayed the main concepts of
Blumenbergs view of rhetoric. It seems to us that rhetoric plays a
crucial role in Blumenbergs philosophy, since it makes apparent
the ontological meaning of the Blumenbergian metaphorologys
anthropological turn. This ontological reference comes in turn to
light through the discussion with Plato and Aristotles concepts
of rhetoric. Going into more detail, we have tried to emphasize
the Blumenbergian anthropological transformation of ontology
by loading the classical features of rhetoric with ontological
meaning. Following this argument, we have examined the ideas
of human being as animal symbolicum and human beings double-faced temporality, drawing as a result both the concepts of
rhetoric as art of delaying and as solution for not having enough
This analysis has positioned us adequately in order to understand the ethical consequences deriving from the Blumenbergian
ontological and anthropological comprehension.

Blumenberg, Vollzhligkeit, 214. Italic by Blumenberg.

Hans Blumenberg, Ist eine philosophische Ethik gegenwrtig


mglich?, Studium Generale 6 (1953) 3, 178.