Rhetoric is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the decisions of judges are not what they ought to be, the defeat must be due to the speakers themselves, and they must be blamed accordingly. Moreover, before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.Therefore, I conclude that the wise man who is capable of dialectic will not restrict himself to its use, but will also utilize rhetoric when that is a form of communication more suitable to both the audience and the situation. As for morality, it is worth noting that the first kind of rhetoric depends upon the personal character of the speaker. It is neither moral nor immoral in itself, its morality depends upon how it is used.
Here, then, we must use, as our modes of persuasion and argument, notions possessed by everybody, as we observed in the Topics when dealing with the way to handle a popular audience. Further, we must be able to employ persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be employed, on opposite sides of a question, not in order that we may in practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make people believe what is wrong), but in order that we may see clearly what the facts are, and that, if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confute him....
[I]t is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs. And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly.
It is clear, then, that rhetoric is not bound up with a single definite class of subjects, but is as universal as dialectic; it is clear, also, that it is useful. It is clear, further, that its function is not simply to succeed in persuading, but rather to discover the means of coming as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case allow.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
The utility of rhetoric
This one is for Ted, who has moral qualms about the use of rhetoric. I'm not going to appeal to Aristotle's authority, but will simply caution against blithely dismissing the man's reasoning... and note that he seems to have anticipated at least a part of Ted's objections by a few thousand years. Note that he defines rhetoric as: "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion."