Rhetoric cannot be discussed without Aristotle; Aristotle cannot be discussed without rhetoric. Not just rhetoric, but Rhetoric, one of the many books he wrote. A good way to begin talking about Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric is discussing his relationship to Plato. Plato, himself a student of Socrates, taught Aristotle. A moment spent marveling at the pedagogy of these three men cannot be a wasted moment. What is known about Socrates comes from what Plato wrote. That is to say, Socrates taught exclusively by speaking. It should not surprise anyone, then, to learn that Plato taught that rhetoric was specific to the spoken word. Aristotle dissented. Here then is a starting point. In what might be a direct reaction to Plato, Aristotle did not believe that rhetoric was “merely verbal and manipulative, and for that very reason, irrational (Meyer 249).” Aristotle believed the opposite. He believed that rhetoric had “a rationality of its own (Meyer 249).”
Aristotle defines rhetoric “as the art, not of persuading–for the best of speakers may sometimes fail to persuade—but of finding what persuasive things there are to be said on a given side of a given question (The Contemporary Review 206).” This publication (from the late 1800s) further elucidates that, “as a moralist, he [Aristotle] disallows any appeal to the feelings and passions of an audience; but as a rhetorician, he proceeds to give a long and very valuable analysis of those feelings and passions, explaining to us their nature, enumerating their ordinary objects, and suggesting how they may be most effectually aroused (207).” This again helps clarify what exactly is meant by rhetoric, and why history rightly records Aristotle as the resident expert.
That Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric were a reaction to a man whose pedagogy he trained under should not weaken those thoughts. In fact, taking into account their durability throughout history, Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric, themselves, are better suited to lose value in the debate. That said, it is time to look at Aristotle’s contribution to rhetoric. Aristotle convincingly taught humanity that there are three categories available for use during argumentation: logos, ethos, and pathos. These three categories are all always present, only varying with regard to their ratio to each other. In other words, logos, ethos, and pathos make up one hundred percent of an argument, whether 30-30-40 or 80-10-10. It doesn’t matter what the exact breakdown is; the point Aristotle made was that all three were being used—whether intentional or not.
“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013
Meyer, Michel. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Topoi 31.2 (2012): 249-52. Springer Link. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://0-link.springer.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/article/10.1007/s11245-012-9132-0/fulltext.html>.