What is Rhetoric?

10 Sep

Rhetoric is the art of using words to persuade, and it formed one of the first and most important subjects taught in a classical education. In modern times, unfortunately, rhetoric first disappeared from colleges and universities and then vanished from secondary schools, except for electives in English or Philosophy Departments. One of the foundational texts, Rhetoric, was authored by Aristotle and remains one of the “Great Books” of the western tradition.

Rhetoric was classically broken down into five canons: (a) invention, the process by which an orator researches and gathers material; (b) arrangement, the logical structure of an address; (c) style, the figures of speech and “way with words” the orator employs to deliver a point; (d) memory, methods for memorizing an address; and (e) delivery, the performative act of giving an address.

Even in the ancient world, rhetors were often criticized for flowery and obfuscating language. This is similar to the contemporary expression “mere rhetoric,” which we use to denote speech that is powerful but lacking in content. As then, so now, it soon become a rhetorical trick to deny having been trained in rhetoric, or to deny that one is intentionally structuring one’s words so as to be as persuasive as possible.

But it is important to remember that rhetoric, classically understood, includes everything from research to delivery. It is an all-encompassing discipline, opening the mind to the power of words. And in a world where everyone from CEOs to Pop Stars use words to relate to vast audiences, rhetoric—whether to persuade or to understand persuasion—is more important than ever.

Source: http://paideia21.com/rhetoric/


One Response to “What is Rhetoric?”

  1. Taimur Khan September 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    This is the second interesting article on rhetoric that I’ve come across this week. Here’s the first one: Other Men’s Flowers and the Art of Persuasion

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