Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric


Table of Contents

Table of Contents. 2

Rhetoric. 3

The Origin of Rhetoric. 3

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric. 3

References. 6



The Origin of Rhetoric

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric

The origin of the word rhetoric is a Greek word rhētorikós, “oratorical”, from rhḗtōr means “public speaker”, related to rhêma “that which is said or spoken, word, saying”, and eventually resulting from the verb legō, “to speak, say”. (Corbett, E. P. J, 1990)

Rhetoric can be referred to as an art of discourse, an art aimed at improving the facility of speakers as well as writers who make efforts to informing, persuading, or motivating specific audiences in certain circumstances. (Corbett, E. P. J, 1990) Rhetoric has played an important role as a subject of formal research topic as well as a productive public practice within western tradition (Thomas Conley, 1991) a comprehensive and best definition came from Aristotle, who considered rhetoric as an equivalent of both logic and politics, and refers to it as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”(W. Rhys Roberts, 1991).

Typically rhetoric offers heuristics to understand, discover, and develop arguments for certain situations, such as the three persuasive audience appeals of Aristotle that are; logos, pathos, and ethos. Romans first developed five rules which are important to design a persuasive speech. These rules are; “invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery”. Rhetoric is considered one of the three ancient arts of discourse along with grammar and logic.

Rhetoric has remained a central part of Western education from ancient Greece till the late 19th century with the main objective of train public speakers as well as writers to convince audiences and present arguments in such a way that moves them to action. (Johnstone, Henry W. Jr. (1995).

Aristotle‘s Rhetoric is the earliest Greek discourse established on the art of arguments that was created back in the 4th century BC. Usually, Aristotle is given credit to develop the basics of the systems of rhetoric which “thereafter served as its touchstone”,[1] and influenced in developing the rhetorical theory from primeval to modern times. The Rhetoric is regarded by most rhetoricians as “the most important single work on persuasion ever written.”(Golden, 2007). Gross & Walzer agree to represent that, just as has been considered by Alfred North White all the Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato”  Similarly all the extensions in the concept of rhetoric and its current applications to different fields can be referred as a response to issues raised” by Aristotle’s Rhetoric. (Gross, Alan G. & Arthur E. Walzer, 2000)

Though other works by Aristotle have survived from ancient times, it seems that the Rhetoric was not aimed to publish. Instead, it seems to a collection of notes of his student acquired by his lectures. From the Rhetoric, it is evident that Aristotle’s thought developed through two different periods of time during his stay in Athens. It also shows that Aristotle expanded on the study of Plato who initially criticized it in Gorgias (ca. 386 BC) and called it an “immoral, dangerous, and unworthy of serious study”. (Griswold, Charle, 2003)  In the Phaedrus (ca.370 BC) which is the last dialogue on rhetoric by Plato a more moderate view of rhetoric has been presented, accepting the value of rhetoric to a true philosopher (the “midwife of the soul”) for “winning the soul through discourse.” Aristotle was inspired by this dialogue, first as a student and afterward as a teacher at the Academy of Plato, thus becoming a more positive origin for the development of rhetoric as an art expected to get systematic, scientific study.

Initially rhetoric as a subject faced many challenges in classical Greece: on one side there were Sophists while Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were on the other side. The three philosophers considered rhetoric and poetry as tools that were being used for manipulating others, their emotion and neglecting facts. In particular, they blamed the sophists, including Gorgias and Isocrates for being involved in this manipulation. Plato, principally, accused sophists of being responsible for the arrest and the death of Socrates due to the sophistical rhetoric. Aristotle’s rhetoric is rooted in philosophy and the desire of enlightenment as opposed to sophist’s emotional rhetoric and poetry.


The contribution of Aristotle toward rhetoric is important because he identifies its rhetorically as one of the three major elements of philosophy together with logic and dialectic. As has been described by Aristotle, Rhetoric is “Rhetoric is a counterpart (antistrophe) of dialectic.”( J. H. Freese, 1926) . According to him, the purpose of logic is to reach scientific certainty with the help of reasoning while the concern of dialectic and rhetoric is probability and that is why these branches of philosophy are best suited to human affairs. Dialectic is used as a tool to establish a philosophical debate; using this tool the audience can test probable knowledge so as to learn. On the other hand, rhetoric is the tool that is used in practical debate; through it, speakers and writers can persuade a general audience using their probable knowledge for resolving real issues. Both the dialectic and rhetoric as a combination create a system of knowledge based on persuasion rather than upon exploitation and omission.



Corbett, E. P. J. “Classical rhetoric for the modern student”. New York: Oxford University Press., p. 1.1990

Griswold, Charles. “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, December 22, 2003.

Gross, Alan G. & Arthur E. Walzer. “Rereading Aristotle’s Rhetoric”. Carbondale, IL (USA): Southern Illinois University Press: p.ix. 2000

  1. H. Freese. “A translation of Aristotle”. Vol. 22. Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1926.

Johnstone, Henry W. Jr. “On Schiappa versus Poulakos.” Rhetoric Review. 14:2. (Spring), 438-440.1995

Thomas Conley “Rhetoric in the European Tradition”. University of Chicago, 1991



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