Aristotle, and W. Rhys Roberts. Rhetoric. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004. Kindle Electronic Edition.
A note is in order on the locations in Aristotle’s works. The four digit numbers are referred to as Bekker numbers, named after August Immanuel Bekker, who edited Aristotle’s works. The “a” or “b” after the number is a column marker. In the Bekker edition, lines would be counted on the page to give a precise location. Modern scholars of Aristotle generally use the Bekker numbers to overcome issues of pagination in different editions. Catholic or Thomist scholars typically use book and chapter identification in addition to Bekker numbers, the convention I will use.
Book I, chapter 1
Aristotle begins this treatise by observing that rhetoric and dialectic are counterparts, used by nearly all people on at least some levels, to inquire into and explain things. Aristotle urges caution in use of rhetoric, drawing a contrast between his teaching and that of his contemporaries. “The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a personal appeal to the man who is judging the case” (1354a). This is a form of perverting justice, as it creates a prejudice which may not be based on the facts of a case. The type of oratory which is used to debate and articulate laws is more dispassionate than that which is used to persuade a judge in a court case.
Aristotle introduces the idea of the rhetorical speech as “enthymeme.” “The enthymeme is a sort of syllogism, and the consideration of syllogisms of all kinds, without distinction, is the business of dialectic” (1355a).
Rhetoric is useful (1) 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, (2) before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. . . Further, (3) we must be able to employ persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be employed, on opposite sides of a question, . . . (4) it 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. . . (1355a-1355b).
The study of rhetoric, then, is necessary for a good society. It is one of the unique features of humanity and of civilized discourse.