Tagged: Aristotle

Aristotle Gave Rhetoric To All-Part 2

For the layperson, logos means logic; ethos, ethics/credibility; pathos, emotion.  The audience is more than aware that the most sound logical argument (logos infused), if made by an unsound person (wanting ethos) without some appeal to emotion (wanting pathos) will not be effective.  It is important to pause here and note that Aristotle was describing life as he saw it, not prescribing life as he thought it should be.  Think back to Plato.  Plato believed rhetoric was generally applicable only to the spoken word and that rhetoric was irrational.  Aristotle is distinguishing himself then.  And this is a subtle, but weighty distinction.  It is the key to understanding precisely why Aristotle is due all the credit he receives for his contributions to rhetoric.  In the specific case of pathos or emotion, unlike Plato, Aristotle does not see harm or irrationality.  Instead, he observes that emotional appeal is a part of any communication.  Since it is a part of any and every communication, he goes on to argue that it must be accounted for.  Aristotle writes that emotional appeal must be acknowledged.  And once acknowledged, emotional appeal begs to be studied and put to deliberate use.

Even a rhetorician’s actual ethical credibility, or ethos, is not objective or mathematical.  Today, if not during Aristotle’s lifetime, scholars note that a speaker’s ethical credibility can be faked with the skillful application of rhetoric.  Perception is reality, as the saying goes.  Basically if a speaker can convince an audience he or she is an expert, then in the audience’s eyes he or she is an expert (Moss 638).  Again, note that Aristotle does not recommend the deceit.  As before, he simply recommends that this ability, inherent to rhetoric, to influence the audience be acknowledged.

Given the thousands of years since Aristotle lived, there are plenty of opinions regarding his ideas.  Interestingly, most seem to still find his ideas challenging and applicable.  Of late, it seems that there may even be a bit of resurgence regarding the application of his analyses.  Michel Meyer suggests that people should think about Aristotle’s contributions to the study of rhetoric in the following way.  Meyer writes that he believes that Aristotle taught that rhetoric is the way people negotiate the distance between each other.  He is referring to the temporal distance that unspoken questions create.  For example, Meyer mentions a certain television commercial for Chanel no 5 (a fragrance).  He says the unspoken question is how can an image sell a scent?  The answer Chanel chose was to negate the problem.  The ad campaign developed a commercial which included very familiar problems being solved, to include Little Red Riding Hood taming wolves.  Implicit in this action is the association that Little Red Riding Hood miraculously tames previously dangerous wolves, just as Chanel no 5 solves the audience’s fragrance problem (Meyer 250).  The success of Chanel no 5 alone can be taken to prove that rhetoric is clearly involved in answering these unspoken questions.  In other words, the skillful application of varying amounts of logos, ethos, and pathos is both possible and effective.

In conclusion, this paper simply adds to the already well-established argument that Aristotle is the father of rhetoric.  In continuing a pedagogical tradition that Socrates began, Aristotle furthered the study of the tools available to a communicator, whether speaker or writer.  He didn’t seem to concern himself with prescribing what to do, instead just describing the options a rhetorician possesses.  Considering the practical desire to persuade other people each person has on a near daily basis, it seems that modern man should still be interested in reviewing the way which early man believed it was possible to do this.  Aristotle’s ideas captured in his book Rhetoric is the best place to begin.

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“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013 <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506&gt;.

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&gt;.

Moss, Jean D. “Reclaiming Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”” The Review of Metaphysics 50.3 (1997): 635-46. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20130074&gt;.

Aristotle Gave Rhetoric To All-Part 1

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.

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“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013

<http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506&gt;.

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&gt;.

Tabula Rasa. It’s like the movie…

A movie is a story.  A story has purpose.  Fundamentally, a story is an interpretation of an event.  The study of philosophy is the study of how we interpret life.  (Hear the next sentence in the voice of the Architect from Matrix 2).  Ergo, a movie is philosophy.  With me?  Moving on.

My love for movies is a disease.  Say nearly anything to me and my next few words will likely be, “It’s like the movie…”  I’m actually very embarrassed by this when I meet new people these days.  (Obviously everyone else is just so busy and mature they have no time for fun…)  Lately though, I’ve decided to own it.  The following is an explanation of my decision.

People always ask me how I do it.  “For the love, Pete!  How do you remember so many movie quotes?”  Actually, that’s the second question in the conversation.  The first is usually, “What’s wrong with you?”  I’ve had some time to think about this.  The movie quoting that is; there is nothing wrong with me.  And here’s the truth.

Aristotle basically coined the concept of Tabula Rasa.  It means “blank slate.”  I first heard the phrase Tabula Rasa as a freshman in college.  I’ve been intrigued by it ever since.  It simply expresses the idea that we’re all blank to begin with, as in from birth.  Only through living do we fill up the blank slate and become who we are.  Surely you remember where you were on 9/11.  Why do you remember your location on a specific day over a decade ago, but not two years ago?  I’d argue you remember it because 9/11 was a surprise.  That’s the reason I remember movie lines so easily.  They are a surprise to me.  All of life is, but movies especially.  I watch movies as a blank slate. Do I know the good guys are going to win?  Will the guy get the girl?  Yes, yes.  Just like I know that I’m going to eat another meal soon.  But just because I’ve been right every day about my chances of eating again doesn’t mean that I don’t know with certainty what my next meal will be.  And that doesn’t mean I can’t immerse myself in a film and pretend that maybe, just maybe this time the bad guys will win and the story will end with something more gripping than the guy getting the girl.

Movies have so many lessons.  Any type of storytelling does.  As we talk, if you’ve seen the movie I’m referencing, our connection in this lifetime just grew.  If not, I hope you at least found my best attempt to reenact the scene enjoyable to witness.  Either way, our time together increased, and as a consequence our relationship deepened.  Maybe that’s why I do it.  Maybe I reference movies so much because it lengthens the conversation, consequently increasing our time together.  It’d be a sad world if you think I ought to be ashamed to admit that I want to spend more time with you.

The conclusion challenge:  If you can’t remember much, are you assuming too much?  Are you living life with a full slate?  How’s that working for you?  A blank slate is much more fun.  It’s like in the movie “Dumb and Dumber” when Jim Carey discovers 25 years after the fact, “No Way!  That’s great!  We landed on the moon!!”