Justifying Belief

Stanley Fish and the Work of Rhetoric

By Gary A. Olson
Foreword by Stanley Fish
Afterword by J. Hillis Miller

Subjects: Literary Criticism
Paperback : 9780791456125, 198 pages, August 2002
Hardcover : 9780791456118, 198 pages, August 2002

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Table of contents

Stanley Fish


1. Public Intellectuals and the Discipline of English Studies

2. No Loss, No Gain: The Argument against Principle

3. The Story of Rhetoric: Constructing the Ground Upon Which You Confidently Walk

4. Fish Tales: A Conversation with "The Contemporary Sophist"

5. From Multiculturalism to Academic Freedom: The Case against Universalism

J. Hillis Miller


Works Cited

The Works of Stanley Fish


The first in-depth study of Stanley Fish's nonliterary writings.


While Stanley Fish has exerted immense influence on the study of seventeenth-century poetry and prose, his most widely read works—and perhaps his most important—are his nonliterary writings. In Justifying Belief, Gary Olson examines Fish's nonliterary work and explains that what unites Fish's interventions in so many seemingly disparate areas of inquiry is his belief in the centrality of rhetoric. Whether he is discussing how disciplines conduct their work, how political positions triumph, or how practice always derives from specific situations despite the grandiose theories employed to justify them, Fish consistently turns to the specific local, contingent context—to the rhetorical situation at play—to explain how something works. For Fish, people "understand" or are "persuaded" by a position because it fits into the structure of beliefs already in play, not because they have been swayed by the "reasonableness" of someone's argument; they then pursue the available means of support to justify that belief rhetorically, both to themselves and to others. Olson demonstrates that this strong relationship between rhetoric and belief is the intellectual foundation of much of Fish's work. Justifying Belief includes a comprehensive bibliography of Fish's works, an Afterword by J. Hillis Miller, and a Foreword by Fish himself.

Gary A. Olson is Professor of English at the University of South Florida and coeditor (with Lynn Worsham) of Race, Rhetoric, and the Postcolonial, also published by SUNY Press.


"Olson provides a superb introduction to Fish's recent nonliterary work and a discerning study of his anti-foundational rhetoric; further, he gives a revealing investigation into an intellect, an ethos that thrives on ideological engagement and relentless debate. " — College Literature

"Surely Justifying Belief is the best introduction to Stanley Fish's work yet written. It is a marvel of clarity and accuracy. " — J. Hillis Miller, from the Afterword

"Stanley Fish's position as a central figure in both literary studies and rhetorical studies is undisputed. The significance of this book resides in its ability to present Fish's major ideas in a lucid and interesting way. " — Thomas Kent, editor of Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing-Process Paradigm

"This book sets out clearly, cogently, and concisely the way Stanley Fish practices his craft as a writer and thinker. " — Jasper Neel, author of Plato, Derrida, and Writing and Aristotle's Voice: Rhetoric, Theory, and Writing in America