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Implicit Rhetoric

Kenneth Burke's Extension of Aristotle's Concept of Entelechy

published by University Press of America

A great introduction to the thought of Kenneth Burke, Implicit Rhetoric examines the implications of Kenneth Burke's concept of entelechy, the most transcendent term in Burke's philosophical system. The author discusses Burke's ideas on the existence of "implicit" rhetoric which goes against Aristotle's view that rhetoric includes an essentially "explicit" view of criticism. He begins with an introduction to the concept of entelechy, discussing the different aspects drawn from Burke's philosophy as well as how it relates to everyday and extraordinary issues, and discusses subjects including prayer and the issues surrounding the crisis that took place in Waco, Texas as applications of the entelechy concept.

            Chapter 6
The Entelechial Statistical Method
     In this chapter, I provide Burke's statistical approach to method.  Method is not one of the nouns which Burke explicitly modifies with the adjective "entelechial."  Yet, Burke does discuss "'entelechial' ways of viewing" (LSA 380) and equates his term "ways" with his term "methods" (PC 234).  In terms of critical methods, Burke notes in the "Foreword" to PLF:
[T]here is a tendency for writers to feel that they have characterized a work intrinsically when they apply epithets of approval or disapproval to it
(appreciation), or refer to it in tonalities meant to be in tune with the tonalities of the book itself (impressionism), or tell what it's about (reviewing),
or classify it (bibliography).  (PLF xix)
These methods are unsatisfactory, in Burke's view.  Burke assumes when he speaks of an entelechial theory--a process of seeing human action--that there are more and less preferable ways of viewing the theoretical entelechial tendency.

   The four current methods, Burke allows, "[a]ll . . . have value" (PLF xix).  But Burke is critical of the way they have been practiced.  Burke calls his "article on Hitler's Mein Kampf . . . the most complete example" of his "theory of the criticism of books" in PLF (PLF xviii). 

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In that article, Burke characterizes those previous reviewers who contented themselves "with the mere inflicting of a few symbolic wounds upon this book [Mein Kampf] and its author" as "vandalistic" (PLF 191).  Yet, Burke's main criticism of this criticism hinges on the word "hasty" and its synonyms.  He refers to such reviewers as hasty.  He refers to their "inattention."  He alludes to the limited "time at their [the reviewers'] disposal."  The "appreciation" which these hasty reviewers have expressed, Burke calls "a few adverse attitudinizings . . with a guaranty in advance that [their] article[s] will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population" (PLF 191).
   Burke indicates what he considers to be the preferred objective of criticism--i.e., "enlightenment."  If "theory" denotes seeing, and "perspective" denotes that vantage point from which seeing occurs, then "method" provides the light by which seeing occurs.  Burkean method is not designed to gratify readers (to reinforce attitudes readers already possess), it is designed to enlighten readers, to help them see things that they have not seen before.
   Of course, some of the methods currently in use are capable of providing enlightenment.  "Reviewing" or "telling what it's about" certainly enlightens those who have not read a given book.  A review provided by a colleague provides one with a new perspective, and is therefore enlightening.  Yet, Burke seeks a method of enlightenment which will be able to go systematically deeper than the sheer perspectives of various reviewers.
   "Classifying" comes closer to Burke's goal of providing a method, but it may not, at times, provide as much enlightenment as reviewing.  Certainly, if a critic classifies a given book as tragedy or comedy or satire, that critic is contributing to the enlightenment of his readers, so long as the readers are enlightened as to what expectations the various forms arouse and fulfill.  It accomplishes very little, for example, for a critic to classify the New Testament book of Revelation as either an apocalypse or a prophecy or an epistle, unless that critic's readers share the meaning of the implications of those conventional forms.  Burkean method does, in fact, classify.  But it classifies with the objective of enlightenment constantly in mind.
   Burke is a "philosoph[er] of human relations" (LSA 54). He claims: 

   Basically, the Dramatistic screen involves a methodic tracking down of the implications in the idea of symbolic action, and of [the hu]man 

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as the kind of being that is particularly distinguished by an aptitude for such action.  To quote from Webster's Third New International Dictionary,
which has officially recognized "Dramatism" in my sense of the term, as treated schematically in my Grammar of Motives, it is "A technique of
analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information."  I would but note that such an "Ism"
can also function as a philosophy of human relations.  (LSA 54)
   Burke's philosophy methodically "track[s] down . . . the implications" of two ideas--the "idea of symbolic action" and the idea of "[hu]man as . . . distinguished by an aptitude for such action."  The bulk of this chapter is devoted to methods of "tracking down . . . the implications in the idea of symbolic action," but before moving to such methods, the idea of "[hu]man as symbol-user" is briefly outlined. 
The Definition of Human
    By 1935, Burke uses a "poetic or dramatic metaphor" to enlighten his readers concerning humans (PC 263).  He explains that Unamuno lists several alternative metaphors for viewing humans:
[T]he political being of Aristotle, Rousseau's signer of the social contract, the economic [hu]man of the Manchester school, the homo sapiens of
Linnaeus, "or, if you like, the vertical mammal."  He [Unamuno] votes for "the [hu]man of flesh and bone," as the romantic philosophers had
stressed a concept of volitional [hu]man which reached its culmination in Nietzsche's metaphor, [hu]man as warrior.  (PC 263-264)
To this list, Burke appends "[hu]man as mechanism," and then suggests "that the metaphor of the poetic or dramatic [hu]man can include them all and go beyond them all" (PC 264).
   The adoption of such a metaphor, says Burke, means that we have "a vocabulary of motives already at hand" (PC 264).  This vocabulary is the "whole vocabulary of tropes (as formulated by the rhetoricians) to describe the specific patterns of human behavior" (PC 264).  Among these tropes, Burke manifests an interest both early (PC 264) and late (GM 503ff.) in synecdoche.

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    Clause One of Burke's definition of human identifies the human as the symbol-using animal.  By 1953, Burke argues that Dramatism is not sheerly a "metaphor, but is strictly literal in reference" (CS 219).  The human, Burke continues, "is the specifically symbol-using animal, and a 'Dramatistic' theory of motives is systematically grounded in this view of human essence" (CS 219).  The sheer simplicity of Kenneth Burke's definition of the human is at once obvious and yet deeply fertile.  In Chapter One of LSA, Burke reiterates that "[The Hu]Man is the symbol-using animal" (LSA 3).
     Burke does not limit action to the use of extravagant metaphors and similes.  His book is called Language as Symbolic Action.  Burke is concerned with the essential nature of mankind (CS 219).  He asserts that "a definition of [hu]man is at least implicit in any writer's comments on cultural matters" (LSA 2), and he thereupon serves notice that he rejects the reductionism of the behaviorist view of humankind (DD 11).  It is human language which, for Burke, distinguishes humankind from all other animal life.  Burke tells his audience at the Heinz Werner Lectures:
I had in mind the particular aptitude that the human biologic organism has for the learning of conventional symbol systems (such as tribal languages), our corresponding dependence upon this aptitude, and the important role it plays in the shaping of our experience. (DD 15)
   On page 89 of this book, I consider the issue of determinism and free will in connection with Burke's preference for the term "motive" rather than "cause" as an explanation of human action.  In CS, Burke refrains from making a "plea for free will" (CS 81).  He concedes, "It may be true that, despite our 'illusion of liberty,' we are rigidly determined in both our thoughts and our actions" (CS 81).  Yet the key term in this sentence for Burke is "may be."  Burke prefers this agnostic stance (of the perhaps).  However, he actually believes that human symbolicity implies free will.  Otherwise, he would not have taken "sides against behaviorist reductionism" (DD 11).  Yet, Burke accedes to biological determinism insofar as human animality is concerned.  Burke locates the deterministic factor for humankind in the realm of human animality.  He locates free will in the realm of human symbolicity.  Burke maintains: 

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   A Dramatistic terminology of motives, based on a generating distinction between action and motion would not look for the
ultimate roots of freedom in either physicist or biological notions of indeterminacy.  As a matter of fact, along Spinozistic lines,
Dramatism would feel safest if one could prove beyond all doubt (as one doubtless never will) that everything in the realms of
physics and biology is inexorably determined.  Insofar as a state of freedom is possible, Dramatism would seek it in the realm
of symbolic action (the dimension that the determinist, Spinoza, called "adequate ideas").  (DD 30-31)
   For example, a man may have a physical ailment which is determined through purely biological factors--he may have consumed a poison.  But, the man overcomes this determinism through the development of an adequate idea.  Some doctor or chemist may be able to discover what sort of poison is causing the problem.  Once this discovery is communicated to the man (via language/symbols), the man is free to change his diet and thus overcome the deterministic circumstance.
   It is not "signaling" (LSA 14) which differentiates humans from other animals--it is the human aptitude for using symbol systems.  Dogs certainly bark, cats meow, birds chirp, and lions roar.  But there is a fundamental difference between even "such complex sign systems as bees apparently have" and "what [Burke] mean[s] by the reflexive or second-level aspect of human symbolism" (LSA 14, cf. further the entire "Definition of [Hu]Man" essay).  For all we know, the specific signals of animals are instinctive.  A Japanese dog might well instinctively know the meaning of the bark or growl of a Brazilian dog.  But humans must learn the often subtly variant implications of a particular word or idiom when used by humans of different nationalities, ethnic or religious backgrounds, cultures, and ultimately different individuals or the same individual speaking in different contexts.  Words for humans do not carry immutable denotations in the same sense as a specific chirp of a mother bird attempting to lure the cat away from her young in the nest might.

   Herein lies both the conquest and the quandary of humankind.  Humans are "free" to expound for their generation (and subsequent generations) those "adequate ideas" which they believe to have the capacity to release auditors from their circumstances.  Yet, these "adequate ideas" are relayed to his auditors in the form of language/words/symbols.  Humans assume that their auditors share

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fairly well and rather precisely the meanings of their words (the referents of their symbols).  But to assume that there is perfect communication even with an audience of one's own generation and culture (much less an audience separated by many years) would be asking too much.
   Humans, however, can function quite well by "approximation" in terms of communication (CS 79).  And, as Burke has said, mankind has an aptitude for learning symbol systems.  Any person's sense of reality is related proportionally to his/her successful development of this aptitude.  Burke asks:
[C]an we bring ourselves to realize just . . . how overwhelmingly much of what we mean by "reality" has been built up for us
through nothing but our symbol systems?  Take away our books, and what little do we know about history, biography, even
something so "down to earth" as the relative position of seas and continents?  . . . [T]he whole overall "picture" is but a
construct of our symbol systems.  (LSA 5)
     To live as a human child is to gradually learn the symbol system of one's own tribe or country.  To study a foreign language is to gradually learn that shared symbol system.
     This is the realistic goal of Dramatistic analysis.  The aim is not perfect communication but rather further enlightenment, closer proximity in terms of shared meaning.  Burke provides enlightenment to the ways symbol systems work, by pointing out how they are constructed.  Using Burke's statistical method, the terms of a given symbol system may be analyzed and the interrelations between those terms may be viewed.
   Once Burke has identified the human as the symbol-using animal, he is free to move on to four additional clauses in his definition of the human.  Burke's second clause, "Inventor of the negative" (LSA 9), is an adaptation of and accommodation to the chapter, "The Idea of Nothing," from Bergson's work, Creative Evolution.  Burke is struck by the notion "that there are no negatives in nature, where everything simply is what it is and as it is" (LSA 9).  The "peculiarly human marvel, the negative," is demonstrated by Burke: 

Look at any object, say, a table, and . . . remind yourself that, though it is exactly what it is, you could go on for the rest of your life saying all 

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the things that it is not.  "It is not a book, it is not a house, it is not Times Square," etc., etc.  (LSA 9)
   Burke proceeds to distinguish between the "hortatory negative, 'Thou shalt not,'" and what he suggests that Bergson stresses, "the propositional negative, 'It is not'" (LSA 10).  The hortatory negative implies moral choice, which involves action.  "Hence the obvious close connection between the ethical and negativity, as indicated in the Decalogue" (LSA 11).
   Finally, under this clause, Burke alerts his audience to the existence of "polar" terms such as "true-false, order-disorder, cosmos-chaos, success- failure, peace-war" (LSA 11), etc. 
   Earlier, the concept of the negative is developed by Burke--drawing on Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler--into a "perspective by incongruity," as he observes that certain clusters of terms automatically exclude certain other clusters of terms.  Yet Spengler acquires a new perspective "by taking a word usually applied to one setting and transferring its use to another setting" (PC 89-90).  This is identified as a "'perspective by incongruity' since he established it by violating the properties of the word in its previous linkages" (PC 90).  Burke notes that the "metaphor always has about it precisely this revealing of hitherto unsuspected connectives which we may note in the progressions of a dream" (PC 90).
   The third clause in Burke's definition of human "is designed to take care of those who would define [the hu]man as the 'tool-using animal'" (LSA 13).  The clause reads:  "Separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making" (LSA 13).  Burke argues that although "the human powers of symbolicity are interwoven with the capacity for making tools" (LSA 14), the symbolic nature of the very act of defining is prior to the instrumentality of tool-making.
   In the fourth clause, "Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy," Burke handles the "incentives of organization and status" (LSA 15).  He addresses the social hierarchy in RM and relates the concept to the heavenly economy in RR.
  The fifth clause is presented by Burke as a "final codicil [which] was still needed, thus making in all": 
[The hu]Man isthe symbol-using . . . animalinventor of the negative . . .

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separated from his natural condition by  instruments of his own makinggoaded by the spirit of hierarchy . . .and rotten with perfection.  (LSA 16)
    This final codicil is the point at which Burke indicates that he is attempting to adapt "the Aristotelian concept of the 'entelechy,' the notion that each being . . . is marked by a 'possession of telos [telos] within'" (LSA 17).  Thus, Burke's definition of the human ends with the human's rotten penchant for chasing ends.  Perhaps the irony of ending his definition with a clause indicating the rottenness of the human preoccupation with ends prompted Burke to call this a "wry codicil" (LSA 16).  With the addition of this perfection codicil, Burke believes that he has perfected(?) a definition of mankind.
   It may strike the reader as strange that Burke's "philosophy" has no need of a definitive position on human origins.  Burke answers such a query:
Certain intradisciplinary decisions might be immaterial to a given philosophy.  For instance, though specialists might quarrel as to
just exactly where human culture began and exactly how it spread, many such decisions would be quite irrelevant to a philosophy
of language which takes as its starting point a definition of [hu]man as [s/]he is, everywhere all over the world, regardless of how
[s/]he came to be that way.[i] 
   As noted, Burke's philosophy methodically "track[s] down . . . the implications" of two ideas--the "idea of symbolic action" and the idea of "[hu]man as . . . distinguished by an aptitude for such action" (LSA 54).  Now that the idea of "[hu]man as symbol-user" has been outlined, consideration will be given to the Burkean method(s) of "tracking down . . . the implications in the idea of symbolic action." 
Tracking Down Implications in Symbolic Action
    Burke describes his method of criticism as follows: 

[T]he way primarily tried here . . . is this:  To identify the substance of a particular literary act by a theory of literary action in general.  The 

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quickest way to sloganize this theory is to say that it is got by treating the terms "dramatic" and "dialectical" as synonymous.  So it is, as
you prefer, to be called either "dialectical criticism" or "dramatic criticism methodized" (i.e., a reasoned method for treating art as act).  (PLF xix-xx)
   In my discussion of Clause Two of Burke's definition of the human, I make reference to the existence of "polar" terms such as "true-false, order-disorder, cosmos-chaos, success-failure, peace-war" (LSA 11), etc. wherein Burke observes that certain clusters of terms automatically exclude certain other clusters of terms.  As I mention there (p. 132), these clusters of terms at times can be violated so as to produce a perspective by incongruity.  But, usually, these clusters can be studied for the purpose of understanding the peculiar symbol system of a given author (or, more specifically, a given author within a given work) to find out which terms s/he automatically associates with which other terms.  For Burke, "a book is a replica of the human mind" (DD 20).  He would qualify the comparison by adding that "in a book," the "vast assortment of 'equations'" is "finished, whereas in life there is always the possibility of new situations which will to some degree modify such alignments" (DD 20).  The mind is in a state of constant modification.  Note, however, that for Burke, "Any work is a set of interrelated terms with corresponding 'equations,' sometimes explicit, but more often implicit" (DD 20).  Such clusters of "implicit or explicit 'equations'" form a "structure of terms, or symbol-system" (PLF viii).

   The associational nature of these equations, according to Burke, make them similar to what "contemporary social scientists call 'values' or what in Aristotle's Rhetoric are called 'topics'" (PLF ix).  Put otherwise, the inductive procedure to which Burke adheres is capable of providing not only enlightenment regarding the specific text under consideration, but also of revealing a picture of the scenic background in which the literary act takes place (since Burke considers the scene to be the ideological background in which the act occurs, and values considerations are ideological).  Ruth Anne Clarke and Jesse Delia, comment:  "Since the Classical period, rhetoricians have taught topoi, or commonplaces--general strategic approaches to be adapted to specific communicative needs."[ii]  The Epideictic topoi of a given rhetorical handbook, for example, would provide a tool for an orator of the milieu in which the handbook is valid in order to persuade an audience from that milieu to either praise or blame the individual who

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was the subject of the Epideictic speech.  The topoi serve as indicators of the level of virtue of a person, according to the values which the audience accepts.
   In charting the specific symbol system of a given author, Burke's method requires "objective citation":
Now, the work of every writer contains a set of implicit equations.  [S/h]e uses "associational clusters." 
And you may, by examining his[/her] work, find "what goes with what" in these clusters--what kinds of
acts and images and personalities and situations go with his[/her] notions of heroism, villainy, consolation,
despair, etc.  And though [s/]he be perfectly conscious of the act of writing, conscious of selecting a
certain kind of imagery to reinforce a certain kind of mood, etc., [s/]he cannot possibly be conscious
of the interrelationships among all these equations.  Afterwards, by inspecting his[/her] work
"statistically," we or [s/]he may disclose by objective citation the structure of motivation operating here. 
There is no need to "supply" motives.  (PLF 20)
   Burke includes the proviso, "by objective citation," and his elaboration, "There is no need to 'supply' motives," as an answer to and protection against his method being "characterized as 'intuitive' and 'idiosyncratic,' epithets that make (him) squirm" (PLF 68).
   Burke would begin his search for "equational clusters" by watching "for the dramatic alignment.  What is vs. what" (PLF 69).  Another way of considering this first step is as a search for polarities.  When Burke says that he might "sloganize [his] theory . . . by treating the terms 'dramatic' and 'dialectical' as synonymous" (PLF xx), he implies that there are "two quite different but equally justifiable positions . . . in [his] approach" (LSA 54):
    There is a gloomy route of this sort:  If action is to be our key term, then drama; for drama is the culminative
form of action (this is a variant of the "perfection" principle . . .).  But if drama, then conflict.  And if conflict,
then victimage.  Dramatism is always on the edge of this vexing problem, that comes to a culmination in tragedy,
the song of the scapegoat.
   There is also a happy route, along the lines of a Platonic dialectic.  . . . [T]his happier route . . . states the
problem in the accents of an ideal solution.  (LSA 54-55)

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Whether Burke's method is called "dramatic" or "dialectical," the implicit antithetical nature of Burke's method may be noted.  In drama, the antithetical hero and villain are present.  Burke can speak of "the 'villain' that makes the total drama go" (ATH 343).  In Platonic dialectic, something similar to the "opposite banks of a stream" is present.  The antithetical nature of the "opposite banks" may be transcended by the "reality" of the whole stream.  It is not necessary in dialectic to disprove one bank of the stream, in order that the opposite bank may be true.  Still, in both the "dramatic" and the "dialectic" separate "bins" (ATH 135) are present.  Polarities are present.  The question, "What is vs. what?" is present.
   As a paradigm for utilizing Burkean analysis, Burke would himself recommend his analysis of Hitler's Mein Kampf.  Therein, Burke seems to follow his own advice.  He sees several polarities.  There is the polarity of the single Mecca, Munich, as opposed to the discord of the parliamentary wrangling of Vienna.  There is the "dominating male" (Hitler, himself) who "woos" the "feminine masses," as contrasted with "the rival male, the villainous Jew," who would "seduce" them (PLF 191-195).  There are the "many voices in dispersion, placed in . . . opposition to the one voice of Hitler" (PLF 69).
   Once Burke has located the polarities, he notes "the sets of 'equations' that reinforce each of the opposing principles" (PLF 69).  By way of illustration, with the "one voice of Hitler," he sees that:
Hitler's inner voice, equals leader-people identification, equals unity, equals Reich, equals the mecca of Munich, equals plow,
equals sword, equals work, equals war, equals army as midrib, equals responsibility . . ., equals sacrifice, equals the theory of
"German democracy" . . ., equals love (with the masses as feminine), equals idealism, equals obedience to nature, equals race,
nation.  (PLF 207)
With the "many voices of the dispersion," Burke sees that Hitler equates:  "'Babylon,' Vienna as the city of poverty, prostitution, immorality, coalitions, half-measures, incest, democracy . . ., death, internationalism, (and) seduction" (PLF 200).

   In addition to the "equals" concept, Burke finds that he needs a "becomes" concept.  He observes that "the two main symbols for the charting of structural relationships would be the sign for "equals" and "some such sign as the arrow" (PLF 75).  "Since literature is a

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 progressive form," Burke writes, "the matter of 'equations' always verges on the matter of the arrow."  Burke offers the analogy of a musical chord and an arpeggio.  "'Equations' . . . cause us to collapse into a single chord a series of events that, by the nature of the literary medium, must be strung out in arpeggio" (PLF 75).
   Since the discussion has led to the types of short-hand which Burke employs, it is expedient to mention here that Burke's polar notation which designates the "compensatory relationship in equations" is "vs." and his short-hand for "a compensatory sequence" is an "arrow with a slanting line (/) drawn across it" (PLF 77).
   Since there is an "arrow" concept, a "from what to what" idea, there is a middle step which Burke observes that can be quite revealing.  He states, "Along with the distinction between opposing principles we should note the development from what through what to what" (PLF 70-71).  As examples of this middle step, Burke offers:  "the 'laying of the cornerstone,' the 'watershed moment,' and the 'valedictory,' or 'funeral wreath'" (PLF 71).
   Burke's statistical method, with its "objective citation" proviso amounts to an inductive method which may be used "to note what the . . . equational structure is.  This is a statement about its form" (PLF 101).  By tying Burke's statistical method to his theory of "form," Burke has led back from one of those "labyrinthine" "side streets" in the "city" of his "terminology" to reconnect with the main "avenue" of entelechy (ATH vi). 
    Burkean method (as a way of viewing the symbolic action in a given work) tracks down the implications of the terminology in a work.  Since "a book is a replica of the human mind," Burkean method may also be used to track down the implications of the terminology of a given symbol-user.  The terminology of a given symbol-user in his/her creation of a Symbol, or literary work, may be expected to adhere to principles of consistency.
   To avoid charges of "intuition" and "idiosyncrasy," Burke makes his method inductive by requiring "objective citation" of all terms and equational links.  In order to chart the equational structure, Burke employs the equals sign, the arrow, the abbreviation "vs.," and the slashed arrow.

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    Although the charting of the equational structure or symbol system of a given work or a given symbol-user is itself an entelechial process for the individual performing the analysis, it does not suffice as entelechial criticism.  The point of "knowing" the equational structure of a given terminology is to "know" the form (or underlying pattern) which is implicit in a given process of symbolic action.   Charting is the first step toward becoming enlightened as to the implications of a given terminology's equational structure.
   The question which entelechial criticism would address is:  In what respect(s) is a symbol-user moved by "a kind of 'terministic compulsion' to carry out the implications of [his/her] terminology" (LSA 19)?

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[i]Kenneth Burke, "Poetics and Communication," in Perspectives in Education, Religion, and the Arts eds. Howard E. Kiefer and Milton K. Munitz (Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1970), 415.

[ii]Ruth Anne Clarke and Jesse G. Delia, "Topoi and Rhetorical Competence," Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979):  195.