Why Study Rhetoric in Today’s Society?
A long, unanswered question for students and philosophers alike has been: why study rhetoric? The works of the classical rhetorician, Aristotle, suggests that, “we must be able to employ persuasion…in order that we may see clearly what the facts are, and…if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confute him” (Aristotle, 181), meaning that there is a need to study rhetoric simply for personal benefit and means of persuasion. George Campbell, a post-classical rhetorician, later suggests that rhetoric should be studied in order to “argue, to provide aesthetic delight, to affect the feelings, and to urge action” (Campbell, 898). It is necessary to study rhetoric not only for the reasons implied by Aristotle and George Campbell, but because society is, even now, immersed in various displays of rhetoric on a daily basis.
The first thing that must be known about rhetoric is that it surrounds each community in advertisements, conversations, art, movies, music and body language. Rhetoric is employed in each avenue, regardless of whether or not the user is conscious of his or her use of rhetoric. Studying rhetoric allows one to become conscious of the workings of rhetoric and how it can be skillfully applied to transform speaking and writing and thereby more successful and skillful communicators and more astute and perceptive audiences.
Aristotle was a philosopher who saw great potential in rhetoric. He developed his theory of rhetorical transaction which is a triangular model with a different focus at each vertex: subject, speaker, and audience. When addressing the subject, the rhetorician evaluates what he or she knows, and what he or she needs to conduct more research on and is able to determine useful proofs for his or her argument. This is achieved through “the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question” (Aristotle, 182). Assassin
Though this facet was determined many years ago, it still remains true to this day. A modern day example of Aristotle’s first point of “subject” is simply writing an essay, such as this one. Upon commencing composition of this essay, lessons from class were taken as what was already known. Further research from the textbooks was used to conduct further research as well as serve as a bank for quotes which could be used to further support the argument. Through studying rhetoric, a deeper concept of effective persuasion has been granted.
However, as Aristotle described, subject is not the only facet of composition, whether it be verbal or written. Considering the audience means speculating about the audiences’ expectations, interpretations, knowledge and disposition with regard to the subject of which the rhetoricians attempt to explore. Aristotle believed that: persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts. (Aristotle, 182) This facet of composition needs to be studied to instruct the public to speak according to their audiences. Campbell states that “The orator must ‘excite some desire or passion in the hearers’ and then ‘satisfy their judgement that there is a connexion between the action to which he would persuade them, and the gratification of the desire or passion which he excites’ ” (Campbell, 899).
A modern-day example of audience consideration in a rhetorical display is American Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign; namely, his speech in his hometown Detroit, Michigan. Though he was raised in the area, Romney made no positive comments about Michigan other than addressing the height of the trees, which did not sit well with many listeners. The comment was...
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