A2: Explain the classical and Enlightenment definitions of rhetoric and propose a contemporary definition. Account for differences between the three.
To begin, it is important to examine the development of rhetoric as an art, which was initially questioned by Plato but defended and actualized by his pupil, Aristotle. Thus, the classical definition of rhetoric will be derived from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which has become the predominate representation of classical Greek rhetoric.
In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates confronts Gorgias, the famous rhetorician, and demonstrates that the teacher does not truly understand that which he instructs. According to Socrates, “the whole of which rhetoric is a part in is not an art at all” but “flattery” he explains, that when employed, is focused upon “pleasure . . . without any consideration of good and evil”. Furthermore, Socrates insists that rhetoric “is not a techne, but an empeiria because it has no account of the things it applies, what sort of nature they are, and so it cannot state the cause of each thing. I refuse to call anything irrational a techne”.
Although Socrates’s argument attacks rhetoric, defining it in negative terms, in his text Phaedrus, Plato develops a defendable rhetoric rooted in dialectic, detached of the pleasure-seeking attributes developed in Gorgias. In a conversation between Phaedrus and Socrates, the latter concludes that “anyone . . . who seriously teaches the art of rhetoric, will first describe the soul with perfect accuracy” then “he will classify the speeches and the souls and will adapt each to the other”. Thus, rhetoric is art solely when the speaker knows the soul, is aware of what is good, and produces speech to promote said good to the soul of men. This notion is further developed in Quintilian’s Insitutes of Oratory. In book two, chapter sixteen, the author writes, “if eloquence is the art of speaking well (the definition of which I adopt), so that a true orator must be a good man, it must assuredly be acknowledged that it is a useful art” (Quintilian, II. xvii. 11). Thus, in the hands of Plato and Quintilian, rhetoric can be viewed as an art.
However, Plato’s argument questions the rhetorician’s ability to speak to multiple souls at the same time, acknowledging that common thought is inhomogeneous. Thus, Aristotle creates his text Rhetoric in defense for the art, fully aware of the incongruity of public opinion. Beginning his text with the declaration, “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic”, Aristotle challenges Plato’s previous arguments while setting rhetoric up as an art equivalent to Dialectic, commanding thorough exploration. Aristotle explains that “the framers of the current treatise on rhetoric have constructed but a small portion of the art” and these writers “deal mainly with non-essentials. 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”. Thus, Aristotle insists that the legislation creates “sound laws” in order to counteract the perversion of the judge “by moving him to anger or envy or pity”.
Lastly, before we arrive at Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric, it is important to elaborate on the role of legislation in Rhetoric, highlighting Aristotle’s philosophic thought countering the modern definition of rhetoric this essay will present later. Aristotle supports the creation of “sound laws” to temper the ability to wrongly persuade judges. These laws are unbiased because “they are made after long consideration” and “the law giver is not particular but prospective in general, whereas members of the assembly and the jury find it their duty to decide on definite cases brought before them”. Thus, Aristotle explains that the assembly and jury,
“lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgment obscured by considerations of personal pleasures or gain. In general, then, the judge should be allowed to decide as few things as possible. But questions as to whether something has happened or has not happened, will be or will not be, is or is not, must of necessity be left to the judge, since the lawgiver cannot foresee them”.
Although Aristotle is speaking on rhetoric, he is fusing the subject with his philosophy, which is instrumental in his definition of rhetoric. According to Aristotle, there are dependable principles at the foundation of reality assisting individual/communal actions (i.e. “sound laws”). However, certain “questions” arise in which the individual/communal must face that the foundation of reality “cannot foresee” because actual reality is constantly changing. Thus, Aristotle asserts that rhetoric and its study can bridge the gap between the principles (laws) guiding individual actions/decisions and the shifting reality that causes improvisation. Therefore, Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric is thus: “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion”. It must be used so that “we may see clearly what the facts are”. Persuasion consists of three kinds: “the personal character of the speaker; putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself”. The “enthymeme” incorporates these three in the form of communication. Because the “enthymeme” necessitates both speaker and listener, Aristotle’s rhetoric is a bidirectional process of understanding.
Peter Ramus’s text Arguments in Rhetoric Against Quintilian criticizes Quintilian’s jumbling of five parts, “invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery”, under the heading of rhetoric. Rather, Ramus argued:
“There are two universal . . . Reason and Speech; dialectic is the theory of the former, grammar and rhetoric of the latter. Dialectic therefore should draw on the general strengths of human reason in the consideration and the arrangement of the subject matter, while grammar should analyze purity of speech in etymology, syntax, and prosody for the purpose of speaking correctly, and also in orthography for the purpose of writing correctly. Rhetoric should demonstrate the embellishment of speech first in tropes and figures, second in dignified delivery (6).
Thus, one can conclude from Ramus’s text, as does he, that “from the development of language and speech, only two proper parts will be left for rhetoric, style and delivery, rhetoric will possess nothing proper and of its own beyond these”(10). Ramus reduces rhetoric to the final process of communication, preceded by Dialectic and Grammar. Thus, rhetoric lacks the art of invention, marking a heavy diminution of the study.
However, Ramus is not the sole representation of Enlightenment rhetoric. Whereas Ramus sought to isolate rhetoric, Giambattista Vico believes rhetoric should be incorporated in the study of all disciplines. In his text On the Study Methods of Our Time, Vico writes, “the greatest drawback of our educational methods is that we pay an excessive amount of attention to the natural sciences and not enough to ethics” (33). Furthermore, Vico concludes that “whosoever intends to devote his efforts . . . to a political career . . . let him cultivate his mind with an ingenious method; let him study topics and defend both sides of a controversy, be it on nature, man, or politics, in a freer and brighter style of expression(41). With this statement, Vico reconnects rhetoric to Aristotelian ideas of rhetoric as an art and topic on its own. Thus, in the 18th century, rhetoric was depicted as an art that can be studied by itself or something that may be integrated into the emerging scientific revolution.
Although it is difficult to offer a modern definition of rhetoric, modern texts on the subject have sought to reexamine classical rhetoric in an attempt to redefine the subject in a culture where rhetoric flourishes. This is clearly evident in Richard Weaver’s The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric and in Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives, in which Burke writes “rhetoric is the art of persuasion, or a study of means of persuasion available for any given situation. We have thus, deviously, come to the point at which Aristotle begins his treatise on rhetoric”(46). However, interest in rhetoric has been sparked by the modern ideology that language can alter reality because it alone creates meaning, as Burke writes, “rhetorical language is inducement to action”(42). As a result of our complete dependence upon language, rhetoric is unquestionably necessary. Furthermore, Burke believes that rhetoric is “rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols”(43). Thus, because man responds to symbols, rhetoric is the root of action and cooperation. Therefore, from a modern standpoint, rhetoric can be viewed as the way individuals “identify” with each other and “contributes variously to social cohesion”(44), which in the ever-changing world of modernity is an immense contribution. Thus, it is my belief that modern rhetoric has indirectly arrived at its Aristotelian roots.
However, an aspect greatly differentiating the two is Aristotle’s philosophical thought and that of modernity. As previously discussed, exemplified in Aristotle’s argument for “sound laws” at the base of judgment, Aristotle believes that certain generalities at a subsurface level guide individuals through life. Rhetoric rests atop said level and helps to navigate the uncertainties of the tottering surface. However, since Aristotle’s time, levels upon levels have been added to the underlying reality, thus deeply separating individuals from a common foundation. As a result, where Aristotle was able to establish systematic rules regarding the study and use of rhetoric, the rhetoric of modernity is deeply embedded within the multiple layers or our reality, mudding up modern attempts at definitions and implementation. Rhetoric is all around us and yet far from our perception.
B2: Is it possible to really understand the rhetorical tradition of another culture? Explain why or why not? Draw on course texts as needed for examples and arguments.
In order to undertake a cross-cultural examination of rhetoric, it is important to understand the foundation of one’s own rhetoric, then relate it to the other. Western rhetoric is essentially based upon the writings of Plato and Aristotle. According to Xing Lu in the text Rhetoric in Ancient China, “until Plato coined the term rhetorike in the fourth century B.C.E., rhetoric had not been conceptualized or treated as a separate discipline”(2). As a result of the ancient Greek’s isolation of the term rhetoric, they developed systematic rules regarding the study and use of rhetoric. In Aristotle’s influential text Rhetoric, the author clearly distinguishes the subject, elevating rhetoric to great importance: “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic”. Furthermore, Plato highlighted rhetoric as scientific, suggesting that “Rhetoric is like medicine . . . because medicine has to define the nature of the body and the rhetoric of the soul . . . not empirically but scientifically” (Phaedrus). In handling rhetoric as a definite topic of discourse, the ancient Greeks were able to define it. Plato asserted that the rhetorician “will classify the speeches and the souls and will adapt each to the other” (Phaedrus). Thus, rhetoric is an art when the speaker conceptualizes the proper speech for each soul and organizes his discussion accordingly. According to Aristotle, rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” so that “we may see clearly what the facts are” (Rhetoric). For Aristotle, truth is an actuality and people are generally reasonable yet swayed by emotions. Thus, rhetoric is necessary in assisting to uncover the truth of the good.
In contrast, ancient Chinese rhetoric was not treated as its own discipline. Thus, a definition of the topic was not developed. As a result, Xing Lu explains that “ignorance and denial of non-Western culture’s rhetorical traditions” has developed, leading to “the mistaken notion that rhetoric is the sole property and invention of the West, fueling cultural prejudice and bigotry with regard to the intellectual histories of other cultures” (1). It is not that the ancient Chinese did not have a rhetorical tradition. According to Xing Lu, undefined “rhetorical practices are contained in literary and historical texts. Ancient Chinese rhetorical theories . . . are embedded in works of ethics, epistemology, and statecraft”(2-3). As a result of the harmonious fusing of rhetorical practices into other disciplines, it is difficult to unearth the specific origin of Chinese rhetoric. However, when one closely studies ancient Chinese texts, a definition of rhetorical practices evolves, similar to that of the ancient Greeks.
In the text Rhetoric in Ancient China, the author suggests that the Chinese “Study of Naming (Ming) and Argumentation (Bian)” corresponds with Western rhetoric. In definition of this study, Xing Lu explains that “ming aims to seek the truth and justice and bian concerns the art of discourse and persuasion”(4). Furthermore, “ming is in some sense similar to the Greek notion of logos, in that both are concerned with issues of language and epistemology, while bian shares some common ground with the Greek word rhetorike, in both refer to argumentation, rationality, and the artistic use of language”(4-5). Thus, Western rhetoric and rhetoric of the East, clearly share much of the same ideology. Therefore, why is there difficulty understanding the rhetorical traditions of another culture?
The difficulty arises not out of pronounced dissimilarities between rhetorical traditions but out of cultural differences. Culture shapes that which exists within it. Consequently, “each culture will have a general sense of rhetoric based upon the culture’s experience with speech and language”(Lu, 3). Therefore, what prevents bian and ming from being equal to rhetorike and logos, is culture. More clearly, terms “are always culturally specific, ancient Chinese and Greek thinkers would necessarily have attached their own linguistic and cultural understanding to such terms. Therefore, attempting to find exact cross-cultural correlations and linkages is futile” (Lu, 5). Thus, each culture’s rhetoric is a reflection of the culture itself. To understand another culture’s rhetoric, one must understand their culture. As Xing Lu writes, “the task of a rhetorical scholar, then, is to remain open to the universal sense of rhetoric, as well as to the transformative power of a particular culture on the practice of rhetoric”(3).
As a result, the question, “is it possible to really understand the rhetorical tradition of another culture”, breaks down to, “is it possible to really understand another’s culture”. The problem of comprehending Eastern culture from a Western standpoint is amplified by Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism and the inconstancy of Hermeneutics (interpretation). According to Said, Orientalism is “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’(1997). Furthermore, Orientalism produces “distorted and inaccurate views of non-Western people, ideas, and traditions” projecting “a narrow view of Oriental cultures that has helped perpetuate racism and cultural stereotypes”(Lu, 15). Thus, Orientalism depicts a negative view of the East from the West. Because we often arrive at definitions through opposition, this negative view further separates the Orient from the Occident, leading to problems identifying with the other culture.
Hermeneutics, in general, “from the Greek hermeneia, meaning ‘interpretation’, is a discipline concerned with the interpretation of historical texts”(Lu, 19). Thus, rather than arriving at word-to-word translations of texts from different cultures, hermeneutics is an active process of reconstructing texts by the translator. As a result, many texts interpreted cross-culturally are subject to misconception. More clearly, “interpretation does not take place in an ideological vacuum but is subject to the preconceptions of the interpreter who see things through certain ideological lenses, revealed in his or her choice of and approach to the texts”(Lu, 20). These “ideological lenses” skew the interpretations, since the “ideological lens” looked through by the author of the original text can never be known to the interpreter.
As a result of Orientalism, false notions regarding the Orient from the Occident have been internalized. Thus, when Eastern texts are interpreted by Western translators, the result is skewed interpretations. Clearly, the West is frequently twice removed from Eastern texts and their implicit rhetorical practices. Thus, is it possible to really understand the rhetoric of another culture? Yes, if one is able to do so. Although this seems to be a safe answer, it is the best I am able to conclude. It is possible to understand Eastern rhetoric but the requirements for cognition are intensely demanding. For example, understanding another culture and its texts “is not a cognitive function of the mind, but a re-experiencing of the world as lived and experienced by the original author”(Lu, 20). Thus, one most clear their mind of preconceptions and open up to the possibilities of another culture, an extremely difficult, if possible, task. Once one develops an understanding of another culture, they may then move to interpreting their rhetoric. In regards to Eastern rhetoric, rather than an isolated ideology rhetoric is fused within multiple disciplines. Thus, in order to understand Eastern rhetoric, we must first recognize it within Eastern discourse then represent it honestly in meaningful ways without destroying its true nature. This seems to be a difficult task to say the least.