Praxis, practice, practical, pragmatism

Being ‘practical’ can mean to get done in an efficient and effective manner. Aims can be ‘practical’ (as opposed to ritualistic/artistic). One can be practical about a practical action, such as baking bread or building a chair, i.e. do this action that is practical in and of itself in an efficient way. Being practical, according to Carolyn Miller in What’s Practical about Technical Writing? entails an efficiency or goal-orientedness “that relies on rules proved through use rather than on theory, history, experience, or general appreciation.”
Practical rhetoric, according to Miller, concerns the “instrumental aspect of discourse-its potential for getting things done-and at the same time to invite a how-to, or handbook, method of instruction.”
Rhetoric in Aristotle’s philosophy was techne (art), i.e. it could be taught as a concept but it was not viewed as a science (absolute, certain). This juxtaposition of the handbook tradition of rhetoric with the theoretical tradition of rhetoric is sometimes paralleled with the low and high senses of ‘practical’. The low sense entails the mundane activity, the high sense, derived from Aristotle’s ‘praxis’, the foundation of modern philosophical pragmatism, entails “human conduct in those activities that maintain the life of the community.” Miller traces this discrepancy back to ancient Greek society where slaves and non-citizens performed the mundane (practical) activities and citizens were free to concern themselves (in a practical, i.e. efficient/goal-oriented way) with the good of the society. Practical work versus practical conduct. Technical writing, so Miller, can then be compared to practical work, is ‘practical’ in the low sense.
Dubinski likens this dichotomy to that which exists in service learning pedagoy: the providing of technical solutions vs public action.


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