History of Rhetoric and Rhetorical Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

While these are some of the more famous elements of rhetorical theory, they do not require extensive discussion here for two reasons. Firstly, they are fairly well-known. Secondly, and more importantly, they actually do not provide much insight into the uses of rhetoric, because Aristotle implicitly inserts an ethics into his discussion of rhetoric that precludes it from having as robust an application to the real world as would be desired, due to the fact that rhetoric does not equally "target the emotional and rational attitudes and convictions" of the audience (Martina 567). In particular, Aristotle's theory suffers from assumptions regarding human beings receptivity to logic and a belief that rhetoric is ultimately "a means of attaining truth and knowledge" (Hugenberg 1). In fact, rhetoric is more often than not deployed as a means of avoiding or otherwise obscuring the truth, and but Aristotle's moralizing attitude precludes him from effectively addressing this fact.

Following Aristotle, the next major development in rhetorical theory came around the first century BC with the writing of Rhetorica ad Herennium, which was previously attributed to Cicero but is now considered to be the work of an unknown author. In it, the unknown author discusses the deployment of rhetoric in a structured way, arguing for a series of six steps which should be included in any successful argument. In English, these six steps are listed as "the Introduction, Statement of Facts, Division, Proof, Refutation, and Conclusion" (Unknown 9). These steps should sound familiar to most Western students, because they are largely analogous to the format of the standardized five-paragraph essay, which has led "many students [to] obtain the imprecise idea that writing is merely a skill, [as] they do not fully comprehend the theoretical issues that form the basis" of this kind of academic writing (Reznizki iv). Thus, the standardization of the five-paragraph essay format may be seen as an example of the assumptions and biases often included in the study of rhetoric, because these standards of argumentation are taken as a given without any mention of Rhetorica ad Herenium.

The rest of Rhetorica ad Herenium consists of explicating these six steps in detail by discussing the variety of styles which may be deployed. This history need not discuss the entirety of these stylistic choices, but it will be worthwhile to consider each of the six steps in a little more detail. The introduction is precisely what it sounds like, and is the point at which the speaker (or writer) first engages with the audience and "by it the hearer's mind is prepared for attention" (Unknown 9). Following this, "the Narration or Statement of Facts sets forth the events that have occurred or might have occurred," and the Division is the portion in which "we make clear what matters are agreed upon and what are contested" and state definitively what position the speaker is taking (9). The Proof and Refutation stages are the central argumentative portions, as the speaker or writer proposes the evidence in support of his or her argument and refutes any possible counterarguments that might arise. Finally, the conclusion "is the end of the discourse, formed in accordance with the principles of the art" (9).

In some ways the Rhetorica ad Herenium is even more important to the study of rhetoric than Aristotle's text, because while Aristotle nonetheless remains the preeminent figure in nearly all philosophy, the rhetorical process described in Rhetorica ad Herenium has been so deeply engrained into Western educational culture that it is now often taken as a given. Thus, while students of philosophy are often required to learn the different tactics of persuasion outlined by Aristotle, students of nearly any subject are required to learn the rhetorical structure outlined in Rhetorica ad Herenium, even if no mention is ever made of the text itself. That this text is so deeply engrained in Western educational standards demonstrates both its specific utility and the ease with which human culture assimilates concepts and subsequently disguises their origins, such that in many cases ideology becomes nearly invisible.

Rhetorica ad Herenium was the preeminent rhetorical text for much of recorded human history, and fundamental challenges and additions to the theory outlined there did not appear until centuries later, when the intellectual explosion of the Enlightenment and the years that followed led to a dramatic increase in the number of people considering the theoretical and critical assumptions which had previously been taken for granted. This marked the beginning of a process of questioning and reevaluation that continues to this day, and a look at one of the most important critical texts to arise out of the Enlightenment will allow one to appreciate the overwhelming power wielded by the assumption that rhetoric serves to convey truth, and assumption instigated by Aristotle but not challenged for centuries of human history.

One of the most important of these new philosophers to emerge from the Enlightenment was Frederick Nietzsche, and his text On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense finally managed to accurately describe the reality of human interaction that Aristotle was unable to as a result of his moralizing paradigm. In particular, Nietzsche notes that:

Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself -- in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity -- is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible that how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them. (Nietzsche 889)

Nietzsche discussion of deception is a crucial contribution to the study of rhetoric because it frees the theorist from Aristotle's assumption that "true and better [arguments] are by nature always more productive of syllogism and, in a word, more persuasive" (Aristotle 35). The assumption that true arguments are always more persuasive has been the root cause of innumerable atrocities and political problems, because this assumption leads people to believe that if something is persuasive, it must be true, when in fact most persuasive things rely on exploiting human beings' common logical failures.

For instance, humans are particularly bad at imagining long-term risk and particularly adept at making assumptions regarding people of other ethnicities or races, which has led to any number of short-sighted, bigoted decisions being widely supported precisely because they were so persuasive, and thus assumed to be true. Thus, rhetoric is not necessarily "the basis from which knowledge is created, reproduced and transmitted," but rather the result of a complex interaction between reality and its manipulation through speech (Carbajal 32). Recognizing that deception is a fundamental part of the normal functioning of human society allows one to consider rhetoric objectively, without relying on moralizing assumptions that ultimately serve to cloud the issue.

In 1888, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels' Manifesto of the Communist Party contributed to rhetorical theory by popularizing the format of the manifesto. The manifesto represented a condensation of Marx's larger work Das Kapital, and although both represent an enormous contribution to critical and political theory as a whole, the manifesto's contribution to rhetorical theory in particular largely has to do with the format of the text itself, rather than the critical theory expressed in its content. In particular, the Manifesto of the Communist Party represented one of the first instances of what might be called a performative rhetoric, in which the act of dialogue itself achieved the action intended in the deployment of that rhetoric. Appreciating this development helps one to predict the even more fundamental change that rhetorical theory would undergo in the twentieth century.

The manifesto begins by noting that "a specter is haunting Europe -- the specter of Communism" (Marx & Engels 87). The purpose of the manifest, then, is to transform this specter into reality, and "to this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages" (Marx & Engels 87). The manifesto format represents a kind of meta-rhetoric, because while it argues in order to motivate action on the part of others, it simultaneously achieves some of that action in the act of arguing itself. Thus, when the Communist Manifesto ends with its dramatic call for "WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!" It does so with the implicit acknowledgment that this unity has already been partially achieved in the writing of the manifesto (Marx & Engels 125). The manifesto offers an inkling of the critical force which rhetorical theory will gain over the course of the twentieth century, because it represents one of the earlier instances in which criticism does not merely serve to describe reality, but actively campaigns to change it. (Of course, all criticism implicitly serves to change and…

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