What Is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the decisions of judges are not what they ought to be, the defeat must be due to the speakers themselves, and they must be blamed accordingly.

- Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1355a

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses rhetoric. Gorgias, the great sophist philosopher and master of rhetoric said, "Speech is a powerful lord that with the smallest and most invisible body accomplished most godlike works. It can banish fear and remove grief, and instil pleasure and enhance pity. Divine sweetness transmitted through words is inductive of pleasure and reductive of pain". But for Plato it was a vice, and those like Gorgias who taught rhetoric were teaching the skills of lying in return for money and were a great danger. He warned "this device - be it which it may, art or mere artless empirical knack - must not, if we can help it, strike root in our society". But strike root it did, and there is a rich tradition of philosophers and theologians who have attempted to make sense of it. How did the art of rhetoric develop? What part has it played in philosophy and literature? And does it still deserve the health warning applied so unambiguously by Plato?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Rhetoric

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Philosophers have had a longstanding problem with rhetoric. The standard view of the quarrel is well-known: philosophy is a truth-directed activity concerned with reasoned argument, while rhetoric is uninterested in truth and concerned merely with persuasion. This view is often traced to Plato, but it is too crude. As Plato himself recognised, philosophers need to present their ideas in persuasive form if they are to gain acceptance, and there are uses of rhetoric that can further our commitment to truth rather than frustrate it. The power of an effective speaker to captivate an audience is apt to arouse our suspicion in democratic politics, yet we should also acknowledge that the practice of rhetoric can serve a civic purpose. The real question here is what distinguishes good rhetoric from bad rhetoric...

Continue reading Tushar Irani's article: What's the difference between good and bad political rhetoric?

Further Reading

Rhetoric is the art of discourse, wherein a writer or speaker strives to inform, persuade or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the European tradition. Its best known definition comes from Aristotle, who considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals, logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric, which trace the traditional tasks in designing a persuasive speech, were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic (or dialectic—see Martianus Capella), rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse.

From Ancient Greece to the late 19th century, it was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Rhetoric

Related Topics

AristotleCognitive Biases | FallaciesLogicPersuasion | Philosophy | Rationality

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