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Rhetoric

The Art Of Persuasion

Because the Western world has offered the most systematic historical, methodological, and theoretical approach to rhetoric, this entry will focus on the Western concept of rhetoric, understood as the art of persuasion, essentially through speech.

Form and content.

Rhetoric's persuasive efficacy depends on both thought and expression or style. Thought, which is the domain of philosophy, governs the art of dialectics. Expression, which is concerned with the speech act itself, governs how that thought is put into words and how it is delivered. That division between the philosophical realm of thought and the linguistic field of expression is problematic, and the history of rhetoric is in large part the history of their relationship. The tendency to separate them, to limit rhetoric to expression and reserve the dialectical realm of argument, evidence, and organization to philosophy is always present, as if thought were independent of its expression and, conversely, as if eloquence were independent of thought and truth. In rhetoric properly understood and as Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.) conceived it in De oratore, persuasion and expression are interdependent, organically connected. Meaning lies as much in form as in content.

Logos.

Rhetoric thus defined deals with the everyday universe and the contingent aspects of human and social reality, which a certain kind of philosophy, practiced by Plato (c. 428–348 or 347 B.C.E.) and later by René Descartes (1596–1650), disdained and considered unworthy of interest. Philosophy in its traditional and classic sense is interested in eternal and universal certainties and truths. It intends to convince by calling upon unassailable evidence and by invoking arguments that will make its demonstrations irrefutable. Rhetoric's philosophical method is dialectics, which relies on credible arguments, plausible evidence, or circumstantial events. Such arguments appeal to commonplaces and are based on received opinion; they allow for and may even demand refutation, or at least objections that appeal to competing opinions and the same sorts of evidence. Because rhetoric deals with opinions, it argues by applying what is called dialectical reasoning to the probable causes on which the opinion is based. In order to persuade, rhetoric relies on credible arguments, plausible evidence, or circumstantial events. Such arguments appeal to commonplaces and are based on received opinion, but at the same time, they must allow for and may even demand refutation, or at least objections that appeal to competing opinions and the same sorts of evidence.

Pathos and ethos.

Although the first measures taken by the rhetoric of persuasion occur in the realm of thought (designated by the term logos), the order of verisimilitude to which thought belongs is not sufficient in itself to influence the audience decisively. Rhetoric moves beyond logical argument to consider indirect and circumstantial data (historical, political, social, religious, psychological, moral, and ethical, for example) as a way to increase its effectiveness. It also considers the audience's sensibility, passions, and emotions at least as much as its intellectual faculties. This appeal to the psychology of the audience is what traditional rhetoric calls pathos and it is directed primarily at the senses. Hence images, sounds, odors, and even tactile and gustatory sensations may serve to reinforce the influence sought. That is why the senses (especially sight but also hearing) seem to have become the target par excellence of modern methods of influence, as in advertising. The dominance of the visual in the twenty-first century means that image is often the determining factor; no one who is not at least minimally telegenic can expect to have much public or political success.

The final aspect of any rhetorical approach is ethos, which is linked to the orator's personality. It establishes authority and assures the audience's trust by presenting a view of the orator's character, moral qualities, and sincerity by projecting a moral and physical image. Hence venerable age, experience, social or religious position, or professional or media success may invest an individual with authority.

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