Revolution Lullabye

June 18, 2007

June 18 Response

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 12:26 pm

Aristotle. Rhetoric. In The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 169-240.

Atwill, Janet M. “Rhetoric and Civic Virtue.” 

Haskins, Ekaterina. “Choosing Between Isocrates and Aristotle: Disciplinary Assumptions and Pedagogical Applications.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 36 (2006) 191-201.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is considered to be one of the most important primary documents for rhetorical studies. In this extensive treatise, Aristotle defines rhetoric as being primarily involved in public political discourse and having three major forms: forensic, deliberative, and ceremonial. In the excerpts contained in The Rhetorical Tradition, Aristotle explains how a rhetorician might use rhetoric – which, in his definition, is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” – most effectively. He points out that there are three major appeals a rhetorician may use to sway an audience: an appeal to rational logic through example and enthymeme, an appeal to the audience’s emotions about a situation, and appeal to the speaker’s own ethical character, which must be created within the speech itself. Aristotle goes on in Rhetoric to list four major commonplaces or topics that speakers can use to construct enthymemes or examples for their arguments and twenty-eight other, more specialized lines of reasoning that may be used in particular situations to disprove or prove a point. Aristotle’s Rhetoric is also concerned with explaining what a rhetorician must know to effectively persuade: he must know the audience intimately, so that he can tap on the emotions, examples, maxims, and enthymemes that would most appeal to them. The rhetorician must understand that the ultimate end for all people’s actions – their purpose – is happiness, and understand what constitutes virtue and goodness.

I was really glad that I was assigned to read Aristotle’s Rhetoric – finally! – because it forced me to sit down and read it. I feel that just by reading this text, I will be a better writing teacher in the fall. Reading this primary text made me appreciate several of arguments historians (like Sutherland) we read this semester made in their articles – that it is important to return to the primary document and not rely on secondary interpretations for understanding our scholarship. I always knew that the appeals and the classification of types of rhetoric came from Aristotle, and I always spend time in my class teaching ethos/pathos/logos, but now that I’ve actually read the original explantion of it, with all of Aristotle’s careful examples and explanations, I feel like I will be better able to explain to my students how and why it’s important and effective to persuade and argue in these ways. It was a valuable reading for me, and I think I will reread it several times this summer to fully appreciate and understand what it says. I’m just dumbfounded that I went so long without reading Aristotle for myself!

I was struck by Haskins’ argument about the importance of juxtaposing Aristotle with other, less considered rhetoricians like Isocrates. I agree with Haskins that Aristotle is important and deserves his prominent place in the canon – his treatment of rhetoric is thorough, detailed, smart, and directly applicable to pedagogical and practical needs, even though it is considered to be more theoretical than practical. However, no one explanation of rhetoric is sufficient: it is a discipline that deals with all aspects of human life, with every imaginable subject matter in every possible community. Isocrates provides many important counterparts to Aristotle that are especially valuable to students, such as the declaration that rhetoric is not confined to the public political sphere and the assurance that the rhetorician need not understand justice and virtue completely before speaking, that those truths are discovered through the act of rhetoric instead of a necessary precursor to it.

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