The Role of Rhetoric in Chiropractic

by The Atlas of Life on June 18, 2009

rhetoric in chiropractic(Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of an “Editor’s Corner” article written by Ryan Yates in May’s edition of the Palmer Beacon.)


The early history of chiropractic was wrought with metaphor and analogy attempting to explain this thing called chiropractic. The pioneers of this profession no doubt did their best to describe this revolutionary new breakthrough in human health. Thus, we would be in error were we to blame our forefathers and mothers vicariously for these early (perhaps, too) simplistic descriptions of chiropractic and subluxation; after all, mistaken as they were, they were far more attractive than the rather barbaric medical methods used around the same time in history. They are certainly examples of the rich history of rhetoric that this profession has enjoyed since its founding.

While such metaphors were inaccurate and simplistic by today’s standards, they were no less effective means of communicating the value of chiropractic to prospective chiropractic students and patients. Without science and cultural authority, chiropractic had no choice but to rely on effective and meaningful communication. That our profession survived its early days until now may be in large part due to presence of several master communicators throughout its uncertain history. Indeed, this assessment seems to be supported today by the studies that report high patient satisfaction amongst chiropractic patients. Such patients are often impressed with the detail to which their chiropractor explained their particular situation. In addition, chiropractors often have an active patient education program designed to build value in regular chiropractic check-ups and care when needed.

One cannot deny the important role that rhetoric or communication has played and continues to play in the chiropractic profession. Without effective communication, it is doubtful that chiropractic, a peripheral healing art for much of history, would even exist today. On a more tangible level, chiropractors rely on effective communication daily in their patient education programs, spinal screenings, regular health talks, and written materials on their website, in pamphlets, and in external advertising. By contrast, people understand the allopathic paradigm, therefore good communication skills in medicine are not as important as they are to a practitioner of a minority paradigm. In fact, in allopathy, the message is so well communicated that patients often report to their physicians asking for ‘the purple pill’ or for a particular procedure. Chiropractic does not share in this luxury or the billion-dollar annual advertising campaign of medicine. You can be sure that marketing campaigns in chiropractic are not generated in the penthouse boardrooms of world-class marketing firms, but rather in thousands of chiropractic offices half the size of such rooms. In chiropractic, it is a far more grass roots effort than a trendy, polished, shiny, and clever advertising campaign.

Therefore, if the use of rhetoric is central to all that a chiropractor does on a daily basis, why is it not included as part of the famous metaphorical three-legged stool that has been traditionally used to demonstrate the relationships of the chiropractic triune, namely the Philosophy, Science, and Art? It is time for rhetoric to take its rightful place as one of the legs of the stool. In doing, we must first remove Philosophy as one of the traditional legs of the stool and establish it as the platform which unifies the three legs by interpreting and informing the Science, the Art, and Rhetoric of chiropractic.

How Philosophy differs from Science and Art

To place philosophy as one of the legs of the ‘chiropractic stool’ is to entirely misunderstand the nature of philosophy. Philosophy is a far different entity than art and science; the latter two happen to be more closely related by nature. The role of philosophy is to provide context, understanding, and interpretation as opposed to supplying the chiropractic profession with knowledge. Knowledge is in the realm, and perhaps even the end, of science and art. In order to better understand the similarities and differences between these somewhat abstract concepts, a discussion of the ancient Greek (specifically Aristotelian) etymology and concepts as they relate to philosophy, science, and art is needed.

The Greek word used for art or craft is technê, which according to Aristotle in Book VI of the Nichomachean Ethics, is the domain of practical knowledge (i.e. know-how), whereas epistêmê, or science, is the domain concerned with theoretical knowledge (i.e. the why). Therefore, in a general sense art and science concern themselves with knowledge, rather than interpretation (i.e. the implications of knowledge), which clearly falls in the realm of philosophy. For Aristotle, science concerns itself with necessary truths (i.e. universals) of the theoretical world, while art concerns itself with the everyday contingencies (i.e. particulars) of the practice world.

Clearly art and science are more closely related in their nature than they would be collectively or individually with philosophy. This begs the question then, if the nature of philosophy is different from both science and art, in that it is not concerned with knowledge (technê or epistêmê), just what type of entity is it? By simple definition and the combination of its ancient Greek root words, philosophy literally means ‘the love of wisdom.’ It is self-evident that knowledge and wisdom are clearly clearly not the same thing. While this assumption may suffice, let us again return to Aristotle to more fully answer in what way they differ.

Aristotle divides wisdom into two types: phronesis and sophria. The former is the understanding that comes from experience because it comes from the world of particulars (i.e. the world of technê), and therefore requires time. By contrast, the latter is the understanding that comes from the deliberation and contemplation of the world of universals (or world of epistêmê), and therefore requires intellect. Phronesis and sophria are the distillations of knowledge and knowledge of experience (as opposed to the mere knowing) that comes from the discovery of universal and particular truths. Wisdom is part phronesis and part sophria together, but is somehow greater than the sum of its individual parts. It is this understanding that provides a context for viewing the world (clearly a person thought to be wise sees the world quite differently from the person who is advanced intellectually; they are not one in the same).

Without equivocation, the Aristotelian ideas are helpful in that they clearly demonstrate how science and art are more closely related to each other than either one of them is related to philosophy. Therefore, it makes more sense in terms of the traditional stool analogy to remove philosophy from one of the legs and place it on a pedestal (pun intended) as the stool’s platform. The platform is in constant contact with each leg of the stool, which creates a better metaphor as to philosophy’s role in chiropractic: to provide context or a lens with which to view the science, art, and (as I will argue later) rhetoric of chiropractic. More specifically, philosophy is the broad base or foundation that unites all three legs, stabilizing them and making them useful (i.e. meaningful) by causing them to work together to perform the function of the stool (and in the analogy, the function of chiropractic).

(Part 2 of this article will post tomorrow.)