Rhetoric Summary



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Rhetoric Summary

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Rhetoric is a 4th-century treatise by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle on the subject of persuasion. Divided into three books, it is generally considered to be the source of most modern systems of rhetorical theory, and is often called the most important single work on persuasion ever written. It is believed to be a collection of Aristotle’s students’notes in response to his lectures, and thus illustrates his thoughts without actually having been compiled by him. It follows the development of his thought process during the periods he was in Athens, and reflects his discourse with Plato on the subject of rhetoric. It has been translated into English four times, first in 1909 and later in 1924 and 1954. A major new translation was published in 1991 by classicist and rhetorician George A. Kennedy; it is considered the most extensive modern translation and analysis of Aristotle’s work.

Rhetoric consists of three books. The first book offers a general overview of the subject, discussing the purposes of rhetoric and giving a working definition along with the major contexts and types of rhetoric. It has fifteen chapters. The first defines rhetoric as the counterpart of dialectic, and discusses the similarities between the two. The second defines rhetoric as the ability to see the available means of persuasion, and introduces the concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos. The third discusses the deliberative, forensic, and epideictic types of rhetoric. The fourth looks at the types of political topics that arise in deliberative rhetoric. The fifth discusses the ethical topics of deliberative rhetoric. Chapter Six adds greater detail to the elements of the goal of human action. Chapter Seven discusses the ends of deliberative rhetoric: to advance the greater good. Chapter Eight looks at the concepts of democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and monarchy in terms of rhetoric and deliberation. Chapter Nine looks at what makes certain topics appropriate or worthy. Chapter Ten looks at the role of accusations and defenses in terms of wrongdoing, while Chapter Eleven discusses the concept of pleasure as the source of people’s wrongdoing. Chapter Twelve continues to examine judicial rhetoric, and discusses people’s frame of mind when they do wrong. Chapter Thirteen looks at acts that are just and unjust in judicial rhetoric, while Fourteen looks at the role of magnitude in these discussions. Chapter Fifteen ends Book One by looking at the role of evidence in supporting or weakening a case.

Book Two gives advice for crafting different types of speeches, with a focus on Aristotle’s concepts of ethos and pathos. Aristotle argues that the effect of these concepts on the audience determines the effect of persuasion. Chapter One discusses how emotions cause people to change their opinion in regard to their judgments, and looks at the causes and effects of emotions. Chapters Two through Eleven look at effective emotions for speakers to elicit in all genres of rhetoric, as well as at how to arouse these emotions in an audience so that the speaker can persuade them. Aristotle contrasts emotions such as anger and calm, and also looks at how emotions parallel each other. By defining the emotions and showing where they come from, Aristotle is able to quantify them and make clear how they can be aroused. Chapters Twelve through Seventeen look at how to adapt the character of a speech to the character of the audience by using techniques and emotions that the audience will be especially susceptible to. The final chapters of this book, Eighteen to Twenty-six, focus on the dialectical features of rhetoric that are common across genres. These include comparisons, fables, maxims, and either amplifying or depreciating a concept to change the audience’s perspective on it.

Book Three focuses on style and the arrangement of words in rhetoric and discourse, and is generally not studied as widely as the previous two books. The first twelve chapters are focused on style, and explore such concepts as pronunciation, natural quality and how to avoid cold and alienating language, similes, how to use words accurately, conciseness, rhythm, periodic style, and metaphors. He concludes this segment by discussing the perils of hyperbole and examining the genres of oral and written language again. Chapters Thirteen through Nineteen focus on grammar and examine concepts including introductions, epilogues, narration and presentation of proof, and interrogations. Aristotle also handles how to address prejudicial attacks and clarify the accusations in a trial. He concludes by discussing how to properly end a speech, including ensuring that the audience leaves with a positive view of the speaker and is reminded of the speaker’s main points.

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist who is considered one of the most significant philosophers and writers of the ancient world. A student of Plato’s Academy in Athens, he wrote works covering subjects including biology, logic, ethics, poetry, physics, politics, and language, as well as pioneering the study of rhetoric and persuasion. His works are considered the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Thanks to his role as the private tutor of Alexander the Great, he was able to establish a private library in the Lyceum in Athens, where his hundreds of scrolls were stored. He is considered one of the most influential Ancient Greek philosophers and his surviving works are still widely studied today.