Aristotle's Rhetoric Term Paper

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Aristotle's Rhetorical Theory

When Socrates' was put to death in his own city, after failing to adequately argue for his life in court, Plato became very skeptical about the power of argumentation to uphold that which was good. Through-out history people have surely been having arguments, and through-out history they have either succeeded in them or resigned the entire messy affair. Plato leaned towards the later view. His pupil, Aristotle, however, took the opposite track. "He promises to do his philosophical work in a place from which Plato and Parmenides had spent their careers contriving an exit. He insists that he will find his truth inside what we say, see, and believe..." (Haskins, 2004, 3) Aristotle is likely not the first philosopher to argue from a rational, humanistic perspective, nor to suggest that debates and arguments should be performed as an art form known as rhetoric. He is, however, the most influential. Through-out history Aristotle's Rhetoric has been standard reading and a standard influence on the development of philosophy.

The Rhetoric of Aristotle is a practical psychology, and the most helpful book extant for writers of prose and for speakers of every sort,' So Lane Cooper [said], startlingly, in 1932, and others have been found to echo the judgment " (in: Ferguson, 1999)

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Farther back, historically, in 1810 Edward Copleston declaimed that Aristotle was "a magazine of intellectual riches... The whole is a textbook of human feeling; a storehouse of taste; an exemplar of condensed and accurate, but uniformly clear and candid, reasoning." (in: Ferguson, 1999) the re-discovery of his work has been credited by some as the spark which prompted the age of reason and the Enlightenment, as author Rubenstein writes in his histories: "a turning point, perhaps the turning point -- in Western intellectual history..." (in: Miles, 2004)

Term Paper on Aristotle's Rhetoric Assignment

Aristotle has a great number of works, many of which today are no longer particularly interesting to scientists (most of his understanding of the natural world proved flawed), his theoretical works such as the Rhetoric are still vital to our understanding both of the ancient political world and the modern. Aristotle's keen understanding of human nature has allowed generations of rhetors to convince their audiences of whatever proposition they find most apt.

Aristotle's personal work on Rhetoric.

Aristotle's body of work is dauntingly lengthy, including multiple pieces on analysis, ethics, and logic. However, the work known as his Rhetoric is substantially shorter and relatively straight-forward. In this work, he presents a theory of what constitutes rhetoric as an art form aimed at the capacity to persuade, the usefulness of rhetoric, the necessary elements of persuasion including appeals to emotion, status, and logic, and proceeds to present a wide range of specific stratagem for convincing an audience of one's point. Both the theory and the stratagem remain in use today.

According to Aristotle's opening line, "Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.1) Though books could, and have, been written on the implications of this line, it can be understood simply enough. Rhetoric, which is the art of appealing to crowds in order to sway them to one's cause, is closely related to personal arguments (dialogues) between two individuals. "All men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.1) Aristotle continues to suggest that the study of how to argue successfully (rather than with mere instinct) to an audience is an art, and one that is absolutely necessary. He advances four reasons why rhetoric ought to be studied by a responsible and self-interested member of society:

1) for righteousness to prevail, it must be presented appropriately so that it's worth will be recognized, (2) many audiences are not capable of making logical and educated decisions, so on must be able to understand their motivations and convictions in order to explain the logical and righteous in such a fashion that it will be understandable to the mob, (3) only studied rhetoric can argue both sides of an argument and hence allow us to discover the weaknesses of our own argument; mere conviction does not have this advantage, and (4) it is a shame to be unable to defend one's self and one's position in a rational and persuasive fashion.

Aristotle makes two very important points in his discussion of the necessity of rhetoric, which have occasionally gone unnoticed among his successors, either in their importance (among those who disagree) or in their presence (among those who castigate Aristotle for his amorality). First, he argues that "things that are true and things that are better are, by their nature, practically always easier to prove and easier to believe in." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.1) Additionally, he holds that rhetoric is quite capable of being used in the service of evil even as it can be used in the service of good, but that this is a risk which one takes with any valuable craft, from health and wealth to intelligence and beauty. Rhetoric, he claims, is universally applicable to human endeavors, it is useful, and it is generally beneficial, and in these aspects resembles all other arts.

Aristotle continues to give more direct advice on the form and usage of rhetoric.

In giving oration, which is the end use of rhetoric, there are three general occasion for speech: political use in swaying governors and votes, for forensic use in determining the existence and guilt of a crime, and for ceremonial or performative uses as when one speaks for the sake of religious enlightenment, personal or social enrichment, or to educate. In all three cases, the same basic principles apply to the use of rhetoric, with only slight variations based on environment.

Aristotle suggests that there are three principle ways in which one may be persuasive: "The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions-that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.2)

Understanding human character leads to understanding one's audience, and determining what sort of argument will be most likely to sway them. From that point, the understanding of goodness and of emotion leads to arguments based on ethos and pathos, respectively. An ethos-based ethical argument appeals to that which is considered to be a prima facia good. For example, "Happiness, as being desirable in itself and sufficient by itself, and as being that for whose sake we choose many other things. Also justice, courage, temperance, magnanimity, magnificence, and all such qualities, as being excellences of the soul. Further, health, beauty, and the like, as being bodily excellences and productive of many other good things..." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.6) an argument which appeals to these goods and assumes that they will accrue from the application of its suggestions, will be inherently attractive to a human audience.

A pathos-based or "pathetic" argument appeals to the emotional state of the audience, such as to their rage or love or honor. Aristotle dedicates a good portion of the second part of his Rhetoric on how emotions may be provoked or quelled in an audience, including detailed instructions on how to make a passive crowd angry, or an angry crowd passive. Aristotle teaches the orator how to use such knowledge as: "people who are afflicted by sickness or poverty or love or thirst or any other unsatisfied desires are prone to anger and easily roused: especially against those who slight their present distress... As to the frame of mind that makes people calm, it is plainly the opposite to that which makes them angry, as when they are amusing themselves or laughing or feasting...[or] when they have spent their anger on somebody else." (2.2-3) logical argument, on the other hand, is that which Aristotle considers to be the best sort of argument, for it is based on proof --but it is not necessarily always the most effective. He suggests that audiences may not be prepared to understand a purely logical answer, but that such logic should be combined with other elements. Nonetheless, he spends a great deal of time describing the working of logical arguments both from examples and from syllogisms in which the first premises are guaranteed to be agreed with by the audience (perhaps because of their emotional or ethical qualities) and from which one may argue to a given conclusion. He refers to these syllogisms as enthymemes. " I call the enthymeme a rhetorical syllogism, and the example a rhetorical induction. Every one who effects persuasion through proof does in fact use either enthymemes or examples: there is no other way." (Aristotle, 350 BCE, 1.2)

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Aristotle's Rhetoric.  (2005, April 20).  Retrieved July 13, 2020, from

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"Aristotle's Rhetoric."  April 20, 2005.  Accessed July 13, 2020.