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Aristotle's Rhetoric (Greek: ΤΕΧΝΗ ΡΗΤΟΡΙΚΗ, Latin: Ars Rhetorica) is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The English title varies: typically it is titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.
Aristotle is generally credited with developing the basics of the system of rhetoric that "thereafter served as its touchstone", influencing the development of rhetorical theory from ancient through modern times. The Rhetoric is regarded by most rhetoricians as "the most important single work on persuasion ever written." Gross & Walzer concur, indicating that, just as Alfred North Whitehead considered all Western philosophy a footnote to Plato, "all subsequent rhetorical theory is but a series of responses to issues raised" by Aristotle's Rhetoric. This is largely a reflection of disciplinary divisions, dating back to Peter Ramus's attacks on Aristotlean rhetoric in the late 16th century and continuing to the present.
Like the other works of Aristotle that have survived from antiquity, the Rhetoric seems not to have been intended for publication, being instead a collection of his students' notes in response to his lectures. The treatise shows the development of Aristotle's thought through two different periods while he was in Athens, and illustrates Aristotle's expansion of the study of rhetoric beyond Plato's early criticism of it in the Gorgias (ca. 386 BC) as immoral, dangerous, and unworthy of serious study. Plato's final dialogue on rhetoric, the Phaedrus (ca.370 BC), offered a more moderate view of rhetoric, acknowledging its value in the hands of a true philosopher (the "midwife of the soul") for "winning the soul through discourse." This dialogue offered Aristotle, first a student and then a teacher at Plato's Academy, a more positive starting point for the development of rhetoric as an art worthy of systematic, scientific study.
The Rhetoric was developed by Aristotle during two periods when he was in Athens, the first, from 367 to 347 BC (when he was seconded to Plato in the Academy), and the second, from 335 to 322 BC (when he was running his own school, the Lyceum)
The study of rhetoric was contested in classical Greece: on the one side were the Sophists, and on the other side were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The trio saw rhetoric and poetry as tools that were too often used to manipulate others by manipulating emotion and omitting facts. They particularly accused the sophists, including Gorgias and Isocrates, of this manipulation. Plato, particularly, laid the blame for the arrest and the death of Socrates at the feet of sophistical rhetoric. In stark contrast to the emotional rhetoric and poetry of the sophists was a rhetoric grounded in philosophy and the pursuit of enlightenment. One of the most important contributions of Aristotle's approach was that he identified rhetoric as one of the three key elements--along with logic and dialectic--of philosophy. Indeed, the first line of the Rhetoric is "Rhetoric is the counterpoint of dialectic." According to Aristotle, logic is concerned with reasoning to reach scientific certainty while dialectic and rhetoric are concerned with probability and, thus, are the branches of philosophy that are best suited to human affairs. Dialectic is a tool for philosophical debate; it is a means for skilled audiences to test probable knowledge in order to learn. Conversely, rhetoric is a tool for practical debate; it is a means for persuading a general audience using probable knowledge to resolve practical issues. Dialectic and rhetoric create a partnership for a system of persuasion based on knowledge instead of upon manipulation and omission.
Most English readers in the 20th century relied on four translations of the Rhetoric. The first, by Richard C. Jebb, was published in 1909. The next two translations were published in 1924. John H. Freese's translation was published as a part of the Loeb Classical Library while W. Rhys Roberts' was published as a part of the Oxford University series of works in the Classics. Roberts' translation was edited and republished in 1954. The 1954 edition is widely considered the most readable of these translations and is widely available online. The fourth standard translation, by Lane Cooper, came out in 1932.
Not until the 1990s did another major translation of the Rhetoric appear. Published in 1991 and translated by George A. Kennedy, a leading classicist and rhetorician, this work is notable for the precision of its translation and for its extensive commentary, notes, and references to modern scholarship on Aristotle and the Rhetoric. It is generally regarded today as the standard scholarly resource on the Rhetoric.
Rhetorical theory and criticism in the first half of the 20th century was dominated by neo-Aristotelian criticism, the tenets of which were grounded in the Rhetoric and summed up most clearly in 1925 by Herbert Wichelns. The dominance of neo-Aristotelian criticism was "virtually unchallenged until the 1960s" and even now is considered not only as one of many approaches to criticism, but as fundamental for understanding other theoretical and critical approaches as they "developed largely in response to [its] strengths and weaknesses."
The Rhetoric consists of three books. Book I offers a general overview, presenting the purposes of rhetoric and a working definition; it also offers a detailed discussion of the major contexts and types of rhetoric. Book II discusses in detail the three means of persuasion that an orator must rely on: those grounded in credibility (ethos), in the emotions and psychology of the audience (pathos), and in patterns of reasoning (logos). Book III introduces the elements of style (word choice, metaphor, and sentence structure) and arrangement (organization). Some attention is paid to delivery, but generally the reader is referred to the Poetics for more information in that area.
Chapter One – Aristotle first defines rhetoric as the counterpart (antistrophos) of dialectic (Bk. 1:1:1-2). He explains the similarities between the two but fails to comment on the differences. Here he introduces the term enthymeme (Bk. 1:1:3). This chapter is inconsistent with what follows in the others however.
Chapter Two – Aristotle’s famous definition of rhetoric is viewed as the ability in any particular case to see the available means of persuasion. He defines pisteis as atechnic (inartistic) and entechnic (artistic). Of the pisteis provided through speech there are three parts: ethos, pathos, and logos. He introduces paradigms and syllogisms as means of persuasion.
Chapter Three – Introduces the three genres of rhetoric: deliberative, forensic, epideictic. Here he also touches on the “ends” the orators of each of these genres hope to reach with their persuasions – which are discussed in further detail in later chapters (Bk. 1:3:5-7).
Chapter Four – Aristotle discusses the types of political topics of deliberative rhetoric. The five most common are finance, war and peace, national defense, imports and exports, and the framing of laws.
Chapter Five – Aristotle discusses the different ethical topics of deliberative rhetoric. Aristotle identifies the goal of human action with “happiness” and describes the many factors contributing to it (Bk. 1:5:5-18).
Chapter Six – This is a continuation of Chapter Five, explaining in greater detail the stoikhea (elements) of the “good” described in the previous chapter.
Chapter Seven – Introduces the term koinon of degree. Discusses the ‘ends’ of deliberative rhetoric in relation to the greater good or more advantageous.
Chapter Eight – Aristotle defines and discusses the four forms of politeia (constitution) useful in deliberative rhetoric: democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and monarchy.
Chapter Nine – This chapter discusses the virtues and concepts of to kalon (the honorable) included in epideictic rhetoric. Aristotle describes what makes certain topics appropriate or worthy for praise or blame. He also states that it is important to highlight certain traits of the subject of praise.
Chapter Ten – Discusses what syllogisms should be derived from kategoria (accusations) and apologia (defenses) for judicial rhetoric. Also introduces the wrongdoing, which is useful for judicial rhetoric.
Chapter Eleven – This chapter discusses the many different types of hedone (pleasure) useful for judicial rhetoric. Aristotle states these as the reasons for people doing wrong.
Chapter Twelve – This chapter, also about judicial rhetoric, discusses people’s dispositions of mind and whom people wrong from the hedone discussed in the previous chapter. Aristotle emphasizes the importance of willingness, or intentions, of wrongdoings.
Chapter Thirteen – Aristotle classifies all acts that are just and unjust defined in judicial rhetoric. He also distinguishes what kinds of actions are fair and unfair with being just.
Chapter Fourteen – This chapter parallels the koinon described in Chapter Seven. Aristotle is clarifying the magnitude in relation to questions of “wrongdoing” meant for judicial rhetoric.
Chapter Fifteen – Aristotle is summarizing the arguments available to a speaker in dealing with evidence that supports or weakens a case. These atechnic pisteis contain laws, witnesses, contracts, tortures, and oaths.
Book II of Aristotle’s Rhetoric generally concentrates on ethos and pathos, and as noted by Aristotle, both affect judgment. Specifically, Aristotle refers to the effect of ethos and pathos on an audience since a speaker needs to exhibit these modes of persuasion before that audience.
Chapter 1: Introduction In Chapter 1, Aristotle notes that emotions cause men to change their opinion in regard to their judgments. As such, emotions have specific causes and effects (Book 2.1.2-3). Thus, a speaker can employ his understanding as a stimulus for the sought emotion from an audience. However, Aristotle states that along with pathos, the speaker must also exhibit ethos, which for Aristotle encompasses wisdom (phronesis), virtue (arete), and good will (eunoia) (Book 2.1.5-9).
Chapters 2-11: Efficacious Emotions for Speakers in All Genres of Rhetoric Chapters 2-11 explore those emotions useful to a rhetorical speaker. Aristotle provides an account on how to arouse these emotions in an audience so that a speaker might be able to produce the desired action successfully (Book 2.2.27). Aristotle arranges the discussion of the emotions in opposing pairs, such as anger and calmness or friendliness and enmity. For each emotion, Aristotle discusses the person’s state of mind, against whom one directs the emotion, and for what reasons (Book 2.1.9). It is pertinent to understand all the components in order to stimulate a certain emotion within another person. For example, to Aristotle, anger results from the feeling of belittlement (Book 2.2.3-4). Those who become angry are in a state of distress due to a foiling of their desires (Book 2.2.9). The angry direct their emotion towards those who insult the latter or that which the latter values. These insults are the reasoning behind the anger (Book 2.2.12-27). In this way, Aristotle proceeds to define each emotion, assess the state of mind for those experiencing the emotion, determine to whom people direct the emotion, and reveal their reasoning behind the emotion. The significance of Aristotle’s analysis stems from his idea that emotions have logical grounding and material sources.
Chapters 12-17: Ethos: Adapting the Character of the Speech to the Character of the Audience George A. Kennedy in On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse remarks that ethos predominantly refers to the “moral character” of actions and mind. On page 148, Kennedy reveals the purpose of chapters 12-17 as a demonstration to the speaker of “how his ethos must attend and adjust to the ethos of varied types of auditor if he is to address them successfully.” As seen in the chapters explaining the various emotions, in chapters 12-17 Aristotle focuses on the necessary means of successfully persuading an audience. Yet, in these chapters, Aristotle analyzes the character of different groups of people so that a speaker might adjust his portrayed ethos in order to influence the audience. First, he describes the young as creatures of desire, easily changeable and swiftly satisfied. The young hate to be belittled because they long for superiority (Book 2.12.1-15). According to Aristotle, the old are distrustful, cynical, and small-minded for unlike the young their past is long and their future short (Book 2.13.1-5). The old do not act on a basis of desire but rather act for profit (Book 2.13.13-14). Those in the prime of life represent the mean to Aristotle, possessing the advantages of both old and young without excess or deficiency (Book 2.14.1). One of good birth, wealth, or power has the character of a lucky fool, a character in which insolence and arrogance breed if these good fortunes are not used to one’s advantage (Book 2.15-17).
Chapters 18-26: Dialectical Features of Rhetoric Common to All Three Genres Although Book II primarily focuses on ethos and pathos, Aristotle discusses paradigm and enthymeme as two common modes of persuasion. There exist two kinds of paradigm: comparisons, referencing that which has happened before, and fables, inventing an illustration (Book 2.20.2-3). Maxims, or succinct, clever statements about actions, serve as the conclusion of enthymemes (Book 2.1-2). In choosing a maxim, one should assess the audience views and employ a fitting maxim (Book 2.21.15-16). Amplification and deprecation, although not elements of an enthymeme, can contribute to refuting an opponent’s enthymeme or revealing a falsehood by exposing it as just or unjust, good or evil, etc. Aristotle also mentions the koina, fallacious enthymemes, and lysis (the refutation of an opponent’s enthymeme). In all of these techniques, Aristotle considers popular wisdom and audiences as a central guide. Thus, the speaker’s effect on the audience serves as a key theme throughout Book II.
Book II ends with a transition to Book III. The transition concludes the discussion of pathos, ethos, paradigms, enthymemes, and maxims so that Book III may focus on delivery, style, and arrangement.
Book III of Aristotle’s Rhetoric is often overshadowed by the first two books. While Books I and II are more systematic and address ethos, logos, and pathos, Book III is often considered a conglomeration of Greek stylistic devices on rhetoric. However, Book III contains informative material on lexis (style) which refers to the “way of saying” (in Chapters 1-12) and taxis, which refers to the arrangement of words (in Chapters 13-19).
Scholars are turning to Book III once again to develop theories about Greek style and its contemporary relevance.
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