16 September 2008

Response to Rhetoric Book I (Rhetoric and Composition)

In reading, The Rhetoric, I realized that Aristotle said it best over 2300 years ago. I found it difficult to summate this piece of literature because the writing was concise and effective; the layout was methodical and systematic. Overall, Aristotle listed many definitions for the term rhetoric. The text consisted of multiple parts that came together and provided a comprehensive whole. Aristotle insisted that men be able to “observe in any case the available means of persuasion…on any subject presented to [them]” (181).

The most striking feature in the text was the use of “three.” He mentioned the “three kinds of rhetoric,” “the three means of effecting persuasion,” and the “three modes of persuasion.” He also stated that “rhetoric falls into three divisions, determined by the three classes of listeners to speeches…[and] these three kinds of rhetoric refer to three different kinds of time…[and] has three distinct ends in view” (185). He continued to explain “the propositions of Rhetoric are Complete Proofs, Probabilities, and Signs” which summed to three proofs of rhetoric (186). Even today, the number three is still very important in the Christian and secular world. The only exception was the five “main matters on which all men deliberate and on which political speakers make speeches” (187).

Part I stated, “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic” (179). Rhetoric, as an art, included more than persuasion. It included enthymemes, but not “prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions. It is not right to pervert the judge by moving him to anger or envy or pity...A litigant has…nothing to do but… show [that]…the fact is so or is not so, that it has or has not happened…Rhetorical study …is concerned with the modes of persuasion. Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration [and the enthymeme or] orator’s demonstration [is] the most effective of the modes of persuasion [and] the business of dialectic” (180).

However, rhetoric was more than “succeed[ing] in persua[sion]” (181). It provided a greater purpose. Aristotle stated, “Men have a sufficient natural instinct for what is true, and usually do arrive at the truth…Things that are true and things that are better are…always easier to prove and easier to believe in.” Furthermore, Aristotle argued that “rhetoric is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites...We must be able to employ persuasion and argument [which are] notions possessed by everybody.” And we must be able to employ “strict reasoning” on both sides of the question. Being able to argue both sides allowed the person to see the facts clearly and dispute untruths (181). It was shameful for a man to be “unable to defend himself with speech and reason...Dialectic and rhetoric alone do this…A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly.”

Part II discussed the three “modes of persuasion” (181). First, in ethos, the “personal character of the speaker” was important. The audience must believe the credibility of the speaker. Secondly, in pathos, the speaker must “put the audience into a certain frame of mind” and the speech must “stir their emotions.” Finally, in logos, proof must be provided within the text of the speech. He asserted that “a truth or an apparent truth” made an effective speech (182). Although uniquely different, all are elements of persuasion.

In essence, Aristotle persuaded me as he has persuaded trillions of people for thousands of years. He was a master of rhetoric and had a keen ability to understand rhetoric in all its minute parts. The Rhetoric was, conceptually, today’s “how-to” book. Aristotle placed a great deal of emphasis on understanding and evaluating human behavior and emotion as well as establishing credibility and presenting logical, coherent arguments. Undoubtedly, the text implied that anyone who desired perfection as a speaker, through the use of rhetoric, must understand and manipulate human emotions. From political speeches to infomercials, the principles of Aristotle are still being used today.

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