October 5, 2011
Greek Rhetorical Theory In the early years of Greek rhetoricians, Aristotle and Plato played a major role in defining and exploring the philosophies of rhetoric. Even though Aristotle spent most of his life being educated by Plato, they have contrasting views on rhetoric. Aristotle defined rhetoric into detailed classifications, while Plato focused more on the soul of the audience in relation to rhetoric. These differing ideas are the pillars for which the uses of rhetoric have been built upon. Plato is usually associated with the belief of divine truth and its accessibility to humans. He believed that before birth, we were granted with the ability to recognize truth. The problem with transcendent truth is that post birth requires us to regain the knowledge of truth that we once had while in the divine. As you would imagine, this could be challenging and seem nearly impossible, but according to Plato, it is a philosopher’s task to help others find their way back to absolute truth. A significant part of Plato’s theory on rhetoric was his view on the soul and the various compartments imbedded within it. According to Plato, the soul was made up of three sections, the white horse, the black horse and the chariot. The chariot symbolizes your conscious and your ability to make choices. The black horse represents the emotional side of the human soul along with the uncertainty and irrationality that comes with it. On the contrary, the white horse exemplifies logic and reason; it is more stable and secure than the black horse. This metaphor of the soul is fundamental to the success as a rhetorician in the eyes of Plato. To truly exemplify one’s skill as a rhetorician, one must know and acknowledge the souls of his audience members. In the Phaedrus, written by Plato, rhetoric is seen as a noble part of life that is only available and understood by the higher class. This higher class that could obtain the knowledge of absolute truths were the Philosopher Kings. The Philosopher Kings were then able to pass along the absolute truth to those who were able to comprehend it. One characterization of understanding rhetoric, which Philosopher Kings possessed, is the ability to classify Aristotle’s multidimensional model of rhetoric and how they are somehow intertwined. The division begins with the two categories of artistic proofs and inartistic proofs. Aristotle continues to break down rhetoric into categories by applying the sub divisions of artistic and inartistic to the new category of ethos, logos and pathos. Aristotle then applies his categorization further by dividing rational appeals into enthymeme, maxim and example (170).
In Aristotle’s Book 1 of rhetoric he outlines four major uses for rhetoric. First and foremost, he believed that rhetoric would naturally bring the truth forward and stand out amongst all other things. The second useful aspect of rhetoric is the ability to persuade and argue a point to a popular audience that could otherwise not be convicted with truth alone. The third use of rhetoric is to argue both sides. Aristotle believed the third function of rhetoric was to argue both sides, which allowed every case or situation to be balanced by the ability to view multiple conclusions. Lastly, the use of rhetoric can be helpful in the form of defense. Aristotle claims that it is shameful if a man is only able to defend himself physically but lacks the knowledge or use of speech to hurt others with words. In Rhetoric, Aristotle attempts to glorify the use of rhetoric in decision making on subjects in which the absolute truth is unknown. While the Phaedrus suggests that when studying the souls of audience members, you should apply rhetoric in order to appeal to the their individual souls.
As previously stated,