Aristotle's Rhetorical Theory When Socrates' Term Paper

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Certainly, rhetoric lends itself to the discovery of truth, as truth (Aristotle suggests) always makes more intuitive and intellectual sense compared to falsehood, and so equally talented rhetoricians will be more convincing sharing the truth than sharing falsehood. However, critics have pointed out that there is so "tension between Aristotle's epistemological optimism and his attempt to come to terms with rhetoric as a culturally and contextually specific social institution.... [as Aristotle says] scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of [certain audiences] instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles... rhetoric [is] something separate from and inferior to scientific and ethical deliberation." (Haskins, 2004, 13-14)

Aristotle's historical effect on rhetoric and its continued fallout

It may seem self-evident that arguments today would be based as much on logic and the greater good than on past authority and religious dogma. However, such an outcome was hardly assured in the Western world. For many decades, after the fall of Rome to barbarian hordes and the fracturing of desolated European culture into feudal holes, there was very little political debate whatsoever, and most discussions were based entirely on force of arms or force of faith. The dark ages represented a sort of cataclysm of reason. Interestingly, it also seems to have proven Aristotles point that "the world is eternal, but that the human race is periodically visited by cataclysms that destroy most of the accumulated knowledge. Each age, however, generates the same ideas about the world, and these ideas are preserved, if only partially, in the form of sayings, maxims, and myths...." (Haskins, 2004, 6) Aristotle saw himself as distilling past truths that had survived in stories, myths, and opinions. It is somewhat amusing, then, that after the destruction of Roman culture, centuries later Aristotle's works came to light once more and their preserved wisdom reintroduced rhetoric and rationality.

One could argue quite convincingly that the foundation of the modern approach to society, including the entirety of the modern political system, is fallout from the Medieval rediscovery of Aristotle's work. During the Crusades, Europeans discovered Latin translations of Aristotle in various libraries through-out the Islamic world. Other Islamic science and culture was also highly admired, leaving the Christian nations in some turmoil regarding their own backward state. As Latin was the language of the church, and some other ancient texts had long been discussed within the church (such as Plato), Aristotle's work was quickly picked up and interrogated. His claims that the world was essentially rational and comprehensible created something of a conflict between the mystic and traditional elements of the church and those which delighted in apply reason to the word and world of God. Aristotle was called the Great Philosopher by many, and the Godless Philosopher by others. However, it does not appear to be true that science was birthed amid in a grand struggle between Catholicism and Neo-Classicism. "The church is not the villain... both traditionalists and rationalists were churchmen, and 'the leading force for transformative change in Western thinking [was] the leadership of the Catholic Church.'" (Miles, 2004)

In fact, one of the leading Aristotellians of the day, Thomas Aquinas, not only revolutionized science, medicine, philosophy, and the practice of rhetoric -- he was also sainted by the Church. Protestants such as Luther, however, and skeptics such as Hobbes, were less helpful. Aristotle's scientific ideas were not the only ones that were revolutionary in this time, for his opinions on the nature and shape of rhetoric also strongly influenced the development of the enlightenment. " Aristotle's 'revolutionary new ideas from non-Western sources,' together with mass protest movements, created societies willing to 'engage each other in an intense, continuous dialog productive of new insights for both sides.'" (Miles, 2004)

Aristotle's work on rhetoric, among his other work, created a model of the scholastic, political philosopher -- a model that would serve as the mold for the fathers of Western egalitarian and republican theory. It would not, perhaps, even be inappropriate to consider Aristotle one of the founding grandfathers.

Aristotle's effects on modern democracy and the sensitivity of pathos.

At the foundation of American democracy, the nation had a relatively homogenous culture. (Assuming, of course, that one follows in the founder's footsteps and ignores the presence of slaves and natives) Athens, also, was a homogenous culture, where the members had most interests in common. So Aristotle's ideas on comprehending the common beliefs on one's audience and building on them based on syllogism and appeals to the common good were quite efficient. However, as the nation aged it has become increasingly multi-cultural, with a wider variety of base worldviews interacting to create the polis. A similar progression has taken place through-out the European democracies, and of course many post-colonial colonies have had to deal with such disparities from the beginning. Hence, it may seem that Aristotle's vision of rhetoric may have difficulties in a modern setting. "The Rhetoric is not applicable in the present day because the Greek philosopher expected only really ethical -- in the moral sense -- arguments to persuade in the natural polls where civic art was practiced. Today, we do not have orators enlightened by Aristotle's philosophy nor a 'natural polls' where we can take for granted shared values, middle terms, and connections. Our politics would be 'unnatural' to Aristotle." (Moss, 1997, 12)

However, Aristotle's arguments are actually adaptable to the modern world because they are not based solely on appeals to shared values, but also on appeals to both reason and emotion and the undisputed good, which may be capable of spanning worldviews and conflicts of interest. "Practical reasoning that employs ethical argument is superior to theoretical reasoning for dealing with situations in which a conflict of values is an inherent and not an accidental component... logic is about the formal relationship of propositions to each other, practical reasoning is about the relationship of an audience and a rhetor to propositions. This relationship of rhetor and audience makes practical reasoning ethical and creative." (James, 2005)

Aristotle's arguments have been applied to the idea of practical reasoning, particularly as one of his focuses is on the need to understand the audience and to meet them in their own comfort zone. The good rhetor, Aristotle suggests, does not merely speak wisely, but also speaks directly and relevantly to his audience. This aspect of Aristotle's philosophy has assured that his work remains modern.

Perhaps an even more important aspect of Aristotle's rhetoric for the modern democracy is the fact that the rhetorical system lends itself to the development of good, practical answers by its very nature. Most modern politicians are severely compromised ethically and commercially, and it is necessary that some method be created that would enable even the less virtuous members of society would be able to contribute to a virtuous outcome. "Rhetoric [may be] generating outcomes with a propensity to be consistent with right reason,... By bypassing the onerous standard of full virtue required in monological phronetic deliberation. By providing structural-technical incentives that substitute for the full virtue... rhetoric could enable political institutions to reach correct outcomes despite the ethical shortcomings of the polity's members. In other words, rhetoric might be a way for Aristotle to lower the virtue bar for successful politics." (Abizadeh, 2002) This functions because of the way that good and moral arguments, as Aristotle suggests, tend to be more convincing, and therefore more appealing to lawmakers.

Does Aristotle inadvertently justify the chicaneries of modern lawyers?

Aristotle himself expressed concern that his teachings on rhetoric could be used both for good and ill. No analysis of his influence on the modern use of rhetoric would be quite complete without also admitting the degree to which Aristotle's ideas have influenced some of the less savory aspects of modern politics and rhetoric. The fact that Aristotle focuses on catering to the audience and giving them only what they need to know to decide according to one's wishes (whether that be a fully informed decision or not), does make his ideas ideal for a large scale republic whose voters are mainly under-educated, ill-informed, and overly passionate. A more reasoned argument would surely be resigned to academia. One author summarizes Aristotle's position rather rudely by saying: "If the true principles or valid inferences are too far removed from common sense, or if the true conclusions can be reached only by overly complicated argument, it may be that neither truth nor validity is appropriate for rhetorical argument....In some cases the orator must argue from false premises, use invalid inferences, or argue to false conclusions in order to cast things in such a way that common sense will be persuaded..." (Rudebusch, 1998)

This justification of committing the truth in order to have the "right thing" be accepted by common sense is applied to mere political (or religious or cultural) "truths" then one enters the dangerous territory where a rhetor…[continue]

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