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Aristotle On Rhetoric

Aristotle proposed in his "Treatise on Rhetoric" that there are three primary elements to speaking well. These involve the various aspects of the speaking experience.

For Aristotle, the art of rhetoric was also the art of persuasion. The idea was to get other people to agree and thereby stimulate positive action. This was done by, "considering all the various ways of presenting a particular subject."

Aristotle describes three aspects. First, and perhaps most importantly is the speaker himself. He should be above all sincere and impassioned. Believing in the arguments presented is a great help in doing this. Aristotle said, "persuasion is achieved by means of moral character, when the speech shall have been spoken in such a way as to render the speaker worthy of confidence." He felt this admixture of credibility and forthrightness would have a great effect.

If the aspect of the speaker was the primary element, the receiver of the rhetoric was the second element to be considered. The listeners of a speech had to be "brought to a state of excitement under the influence of the speech." Thus, the mood, perspective and environment of the listeners had to be taken into consideration by the speaker.

But the passion of the speaker and the enrapture of the listeners was not quite enough, the final element had to be the actual information that was conveyed by the speaker. Arguments had to be considered in various lights according to their logic and inherent truth. As Aristotle said, "persuasion is effected through the speech in itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question."

In his book, "The Eloquent President", Ronald C. White, Jr. proposes that "Lincoln's rhetoric embodies the principles of the ancient Greek philosopher...The narrative of Lincoln's eloquence is the stirring story of his increasing ability to employ 'all the possible means of persuasion on every subject.'"


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