The Art of Aristotle

Would rhetoric work for speakers who want to outwit their audience and hide their real motives?  So, what does Aristotle say about rhetoric?

Aristotle says rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic, namely, the discussion and reasoning by conversation in which arguments are persuaded to find truth and lies.

He believes that the audiences of public speech are ordinary people who do not follow an exact proof on the principles of science.  These audiences will lose interested on subjects or issues that they do not relate to.  Aristotle states that the situation detoriates if the constitution, the laws and the rhetorical habits in a country or town are bad.

Some public speeches do not relay all the knowledge – they leave room for doubt; this is important if the person is credible and the audience is in a compassionate frame of mind. The decisions of juries and assemblies is a matter of persuasiveness, not of knowledge (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2010). Certain speakers can be persuasive simultaneously, but it is rhetoric that assists in discovering all means of persuasion on any topic.

The three classes of listeners are:

  • The hearer – must be a judge with a decision to make either past or present.
  • Observer – member of assembly decides a speaker’s skill, and comprises:  political, forensic and ceremonial display.

Political – either to do or not to do something.  Forensic – attacks or defends.  Ceremonial – either praises or censures and is concerned with the present. Aristotle believes that some events occur naturally or by accident.

The absolute art of rhetoric:

Political speeches consists of the following:

  • Ways and Means – the speaker must know and understand the availability of the country’s resources and revenues.  What needs to be increased or decreased to maintain a good economy.
  • Peace & War – know the strength of the military, both actual and potential.  It is important to gain knowledge not only in his own country but also in other countries.
  • National Defence – must understand the various methods of defence – what is the defence force’s strengths and weaknesses and character?
  • Imports/Exports – What resources needs to be outlaid to meet the demands of his country.  What commodoties are produced within his country as well as abroad? Agreements and commercial treaties must be made with the traded countries.
  • Legislation – the most important issue is legislation.  The speaker must understand the country’s laws as it is these laws that it’s welfare depends on.

Aristotle believed that humans gain knowledge from experience, from ecouraging probable knowledge, therefore examining what is the truth of a particular case.

Aristotle spent a great deal of time in his work on rhetoric, talking about virtue and character. He explains the concept of credibility and its importance, but he thought clearly on the subject (Horton 2004).  He entertained the idea that audiences can be persuaded by using emotional words.

Aristotle continues that our judgments, when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.  He talks a lot about emotions, mood, love, hate, pain and admits that emotions control man.  The speaker will have to speak so as to bring his audience into a frame of mind that will augment these emotions.

Aristotle summarises the arguments available to a speaker in dealing with evidence that supports or weakens a case. These arguments contain laws, witnesses, contracts, tortures, and oaths.

He highlights arete, which is defined as virtue or excellence. When applied to rhetoric, arête means natural rather than forced or artificial.  Metaphors are also addressed as a skill that cannot be taught and should bestow “verbal beauty”.

Aristotle discusses the simile.  Similes are only occasionally useful in speech since they are poetic and their similiarity to a metaphor.  Speaking properly by using connectives, calling things by their specific name, avoiding terms with ambiguous meanings, observing nouns, and correctly using singular and plural words.

Rhythm should be incorporated into a style to make it well “rhythmed” but not to the extent of a poem.  He covers the necessary parts of a speech which include the statement of the proposition and proof of the statement, along with the introduction and conclusion.  The conclusion must contain the following: disposing the hearer favourably toward the speaker and unfavourably to the opponent, amplifying and minimising, moving the hearer into emotional reactions, and giving a reminder of the speech’s main points.

This is the most important single work written on persuasion.


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