Rhetorical Theory centered on the 4th Century BC writings of Aristotle. Aristotle’s Rhetoric
was the seminal work which was later revised by others including Kenneth Burke (dramatism)
and Toulmin (argument model). George A. Kennedy (2004) wrote the most respected,
authoritative and explanatory translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric but an older translation by W.
Rhys Roberts (1954) is available online for free. Aristotle’s mentor, Plato (385 BC), reacted
to the unjust rule of Athenian culture, first defining rhetoric in negative terms as a dangerous
form of flattery and the persuasion of uneducated mobs of people in courts and assemblies.
Aristotle re-defined rhetoric in positive terms as the ability to identify the appropriate means of
persuasion in any given situation.
Mary P. Nichols (1987) states, “In his Rhetoric, Aristotle defends rhetoric against the charges
that it permits injustice and distorts truth – charges made by Aristophanes and Plato. He presents
rhetoric as a bridge between private and public, passion and reason, individual interest and
common good, and equity and law. Rhetoric thus appears as a means for statesmanship rather
than a tool of despotism... In his Rhetoric, Aristotle divides rhetoric into three kind: deliberative
rhetoric deals with the advantageous or the good, epideictic rhetoric with the noble, and forensic
rhetoric deal with the just (I. iii. 5)…Aristotle teaches rhetoricians how to incorporate into their
speeches the variety of goods that men seek, as they are revealed in their opinions and implied in
their passions. Because it is based on a comprehensive understanding of human nature, their
rhetoric will be persuasive. And because of that same comprehensiveness, it will be both true
and just, to the extent that human affairs permit… Aristotle points out the limits necessary for
successful persuastion – from the logical rules that underlie thought to the diverse elements of
common opinion that rhetoric must accommodate…Aristotle indicates the extent to which
rhetoric involves refining opinions and modifying desires in light of more comprehensive
goods…He therefore defines the art of rhetoric not as the ability to persuade, as others had done,
but as “ther ability to see the possible means of persuasion in particular cases.”
The first rhetoric genre Aristotle classified was deliberative which concerned future situations
like choosing a course of action. The second rhetoric genre was forensic which concerned the
past and often involved justice and injustice. The third genre was epideictic which was situated
in the present and might involve honor or dishonor and praise or blame. Because these terms
were originally written in Greek, their names can seem confusing and are often translated into
various synonyms which are difficult to consolidate for the rhetoric neophyte.. Modern
theorists continued the ancient rhetoric controversy between neo-Aristotelian and neo-
Sophistic with question whether rhetoric consists of “the container” or “the contents” which are
limited by the container?
Some sources assert that all rhetoricians subsequent to Aristotle only translated his ideas or
dressed them in new clothes. Rhetoric is all about the speaker considering how to ethically
present persuasive ideas with trustworthiness while appealing to audience emotions and reason.
Richard West and Lynn H. Turner (2010) listed two assumptions of rhetoric: “Effective
public speakers must consider their audience” and “Effective public speakers use a number of
proofs in their presentations” (p. 313). The first assumption advised the public speaker to engage
in audience analysis. This involved considering the anticipated audience as specific individuals
evaluating their anticipated viewpoints in light of the context of...
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