Practical, aesthetic, and scientific attitudes toward public speaking

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Oregon State University]On: 20 December 2014, At: 18:58Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Practical, aesthetic, and scientificattitudes toward public speakingMilton Dickens a & R. L. Schanck aa Syracuse UniversityPublished online: 05 Jun 2009.

    To cite this article: Milton Dickens & R. L. Schanck (1931) Practical, aesthetic, andscientific attitudes toward public speaking, Quarterly Journal of Speech, 17:4, 504-510, DOI:10.1080/00335633109379837

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  • 504 THE QUARTERLY JOURXAL OF SPEECH

    Early in his speaking in the House he was "tried out" as it were.Various members attempted to divert his attention from his argumentby putting questions to him in the course of his speech. He dealtwith such interruptions so effectively that the members knew himas a dangerous man to interrupt."5 He was constantly on the alertto detect weak points and strong points in a debate, so that hemight contradict or eulogize them. As he listened he jotted downshort notes on pieces of paper which were employed in the same wayas his well prepared speech notes.30

    We may briefly conclude from this consideration of preparationthat for the most part Mr. Bright prepared his speeches; that prepa-ration for him meant a well developed plan, but that aside from per-oration and some illustrations, he did not prepare his exact words;and lastly, that he demonstrated quite marked ability in extemporespeaking.

    PRACTICAL, AESTHETIC, AND SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDESTOWARD PUBLIC SPEAKING

    MILTON DICKENS AND R. L. SCHANCKSyracuse University

    ' j *HERE is a story told of how a poet, an engineer, and a geologiststood looking at a mountain. "A sleeping giant!" exclaimed the

    poet. "There's thirty kilowatts of potential electricity in that water,if a man could only make a dam hold at the end of that naturallake," said the engineer. The geologist, meanwhile, was busy writinghis analysis, "Niagara limestone on a basalt formation, a serious rockfault, the whole thing of Silurian origin." All were looking at thesame object, but each saw it differently.

    The above point might well be put into psychological language:the attitude of the observer determines both the direction, the per-spective, and the light in which he views the object before him."Attitudes" are, perhaps, best defined as motor sets or tendenciesto respond in a given way under given circumstances. There appearto be three possible attitudes which one may take toward any phe-

    35 O'Brien, op. cit., p. 106.British Quar te r ly Review, Volume 48, July-October, 1869, p. 200.36 Robertson, op. cit., p. 567.

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  • ATTITUDES TOWARD PUBLIC SPUAKIKG 505

    nomenon: the aesthetic, the practical, the scientific. These typesare illustrated by the story above. Professor R. M. Ogden hasstated, "There should be nothing in all human experience towardwhich one cannot maintain an aesthetic attitude."1 It could be addedor toward which one cannot maintain a practical or scientific attitude.

    Public speaking is a field containing phenomena toward whichpeople can and do maintain all three of the attitudes suggested. Thesuccess or failure of any public speech is likely to depend upon theattitudes involved, both on the part of the speaker and the listeners.An illustration may help to make this statement clearer. Two yearsago, in an extemporaneous speaking contest one of the competitorswas ranked first, third, and ninth by the three judges. Because ofthe wide variation in judgments, each judge was asked to explainhis reasons for his ranking of the speaker in question. The judgewho had placed him first (a lawyer) said that the speaker had donemost toward convincing him of the truth of the message of thespeech; the judge who had placed him third (a public speakingprofessor) said that the speaker had ranked high, but not best, in hisestimation because of various features connected with the construc-tion of the speech, the bodily movement, voice, diction, et cetera; thejudge who had placed him ninth (a teacher of interpretation) saidthat she felt the speech entirely lacked all literary quality and artisticfinish. It will be seen that the lawyer took a practical attitude towardthe speakers ; the speech professor took a scientific, analytical attitude:the interpretation teacher took an aesthetic attitude. We may thussay that in terms of the listeners, the success of a speech is likelyto hinge upon the attitudes involved. Reversing this statement, wemay say that the success of the speaker often depends upon hisability at predicting and meeting the attitudes of his listeners; orupon his ability at building attitudes among his hearers which willcorrespond with his attitude.

    It would seem advisable to consider the problem from thespeaker's standpoint in somewhat greater detail. What are thequalities of a practical speech? The characteristics of this approachare the clearest of the three. In a practical speech, the speaker'spurpose is to control and manipulate the behavior of his audience.The essential mechanisms involved may be more easily understood

    1 The Aesthetic Attitude, Journal of Philosophy, 1905, pp. 411-412.

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  • So6 THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF SPEECH

    by analyzing the following illustration. A large ape in a certainexperiment was caged with smaller monkeys. For several daysbananas were thrown into the cage. On the first day, the apesucceeded in taking possession of the bananas, but only after aconsiderable struggle in which teeth were bared and several of thecontestants wounded. After this process had been repeated a fewtimes, the ape found that he needed only to bare his fangs andshow other signs of rage in order to drive off the smaller monkeys.By means of a process of conditioning, it became no longer necessaryactually to fight because the substitute stimuli of growls, snarls, andfacial grimaces were found adequate to produce the desired results.The ape was thus provided with a method by which he was ableto control the behavior of his fellows to the better satisfaction ofhis own biological needs.2 Among human beings, the process hasbeen considerably refined, but is not essentially different. The lawyer,salesman, preacher, and statesman are interested in the possibilitiesof speech as a method of control and it is probably safe to assumethat a fair share of public speaking students take the work with thisend in vew.

    Langfeld points out that if one enters an art gallery and findsa statue with outstretched hand and in surprise extends his ownhand under a misapprehension that the statue wants to shake hands,such a reaction is not one of artistic appreciation. If, however, onestretches one's arm -with the arm of the statue in order to feel thefull value of the lines, such a movement is in harmony with therest of the statue as intended by the sculptor.3 In the first instance,we have an example of the practical attitude; in the second, we havethe aesthetic. It will be seen that we have now left the field ofbread and butter interests and are endeavoring to enjoy in the factsof life a sense of harmony, proportion, and balance. When wechange our attitude from practical to aesthetic with reference to aspeech, we throw aside our desire to control the actions of ouraudience and attempt only the creation and enjoyment of somethingbeautiful. Drama and interpretative reading are activities whichexist primarily for aesthetic pleasure. Here a new relationshipbetween speaker and audience is found to have developed. As

    2 The substance of this illustration is taken from Wolfgang Koehler'sexperiments and reports.

    3 Langfeld, H. M.: The Aesthetic Attitude

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  • ATTITUDES TOWARD PUBLIC SPEAKING 507

    opposed to the practical situation where the speaker tries to achievedirect contact with his hearers, we now strive to develop a situationwhere the persons comprising the audience maintain an attitude ofdetachment and non-participation. Dr. Bulloch calls this aestheticdistance. If this is broken by either audience or players, the conse-quences are distasteful. Once during a showing of Othello, a memberof the audience became so excited that, during the scene in whichOthello murders Desdemona, he sprang to his feet and rushed to theplatform to stop the murder. Turning from audience to player, wemay again illustrate failure to maintain aesthetic distance by citingthe frequent cases where a player forgets his lines and in despairgoes "out of character" to look apologetically at his audience.

    Having now considered some of the characteristics of both thepractical and the aesthetic attitudes toward speech, we may turnto the third possible approach, the scientific. The spirit of purescience is neither practical nor artistic, but aims at exact descriptionand critical analysis. Speech students and teachers will be likelyto maintain this attitude in courses such as speech reeducation, voicetraining, speech psychology, and the like. As one examines thescientific attitude toward public speaking, it seems clear that hereagain there is a dual aspect: (1) there may be a scientific attitudetoward the speaker's method, i.e., a voice teacher critically analyzingthe voice of a student during the latter's speech; (2) there may bea scientific attitude toward the ideas being conveyed by means ofspeech, i.e., members of a scientific organization critically analyzingthe experimental findings of a member who is making an oral report.

    It appears possible that a speaker might apply all three of theattitudes we have described to a given speech or reading. For exam-ple, suppose a teacher of oral interpretation decides to read a poemto his class for purposes of instruction. He may go home and leafthrough a book in search of an appropriate selection. Upon findingthe poem he wants, he may sit down and read it aloud to himselfin order to enjoy the beauty of it. Charmed by his own reading,he may smile or shed tears. He is maintaining an aesthetic attitudetoward his reading. Next day, he reads the poem to his class, stop-ping at various points, perhaps, to call attention to some significantinflection or necessary emphasis. His attitude is now primarilyscientific or analytic. Then let us suppose that he reads a stanza and

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  • 508 THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF SPEECH

    calls upon a student to reproduce it. He has now become practicaland is trying to influence the behavior of his listeners.

    It should be noted that our distinctions between the practical,aesthetic, and scientific attitudes have been couched in teleologicalor purposive terms. The distinctions cannot be made in purely motorterms. Psychology and biology know of no muscles or glands ofaesthetic appreciation as distinguished from those of practical adjust-ment or scientific analysis. Observation of a man's overt movementsoften gives us no clue as to what his attitude is. The only way wecan classify his reaction is by finding out his purpose. This pointmay be clarified by considering a definite case of the relationshipbetween overt movement and covert purpose. Men run for manydifferent reasons. The)- run to catch trains. They run to get outof the path of an approaching auto. They run for exercise. Theyrun races. From what is now known on the subject, it appears thatthe same muscles and joints are used in each of the above situations. Simply observing the movements of a running man gives us no basisfor classification. However, if we can discover his purpose, aclassification in teleological terms is possible. Such a classificationseems entirely justified and useful.

    Unless a speaker knows whether he is attempting to controlhuman behavior to the better satisfaction of his own purposes, orperforming and creating an artistic piece of work, or presenting ascientific analysis, there can be only confusion and failure of purpose.A number of actual cases may help to make the practical applicationof this thesis clearer, ( r ) A public speaking professor recentlyrelated a personal incident of the following nature: he was assistingin an endowment drive and developed a "beautiful" speech whichdrew an average of 67c per person from audiences where it waspresented; he revised the speech in terms of applied psychology anddiscovered that his average rose to $1.37 per person. It will beseen that in his earlier speech, he had a mixture of the aesthetic andthe practical. In his latter speech, he eliminated some of the aestheticin favor of the more practical. The results of this change wereattested in dollars and cents. His first speech was apparently devel-oped without any clear analysis of his purposes. It was undoubtedlyan excellent effort and probably impressed his hearers favorably as anartistic piece of work. As his delayed analysis showed, however, hewas after all not speaking to arouse aesthetic appreciation among his

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  • ATTITUDE...

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