Rereading Aristotle's Rhetoric

Rereading Aristotle's Rhetoric

Rereading Aristotle's Rhetoric

Rereading Aristotle's Rhetoric


In this collection edited by Alan G. Gross and Arthur E. Walzer, scholars in communication, rhetoric and composition, and philosophy seek to "reread" Aristotle's Rhetoric from a purely rhetorical perspective. So important do these contributors find the Rhetoric, in fact, that a core tenet in this book is that "all subsequent rhetorical theory is but a series of responses to issues raised by the central work".

Gross and Walzer do not seek to renew the ancient quarrel between philosophy and rhetoric; rather, they call for a healthy division of labor, demanding that "purely rhetorical issues are genuine and must be explored". For that purpose all three books of the Rhetoric are essential.

The essayists reflect on questions basic to rhetoric as a humanistic discipline. Some explore the ways in which the Rhetoric explicates the nature of the art of rhetoric, noting that on this issue, the tensions within the Rhetoric often provide a direct passageway into our own conflicts.

Specifically, CarolynR. Miller's exploration of topical invention within the Aristotelian tradition addresses the question: What does it mean to say that rhetoric is generative or epistemic as distinguished from instrumental or managerial? Alan G. Gross, examining the meaning of Techne, asks whether we should think of rhetoric as the basis for an art of civic deliberation. Arthur E. Walzer and Barbara Warnick discuss what it means to say that rhetoric is contextualized, culturally situated art in contrast with arts such as logic and dialectic that have more universal claims.

Jeffrey Walker reflects on the contradictions between Aristotle's account of the passions in the Rhetoric and accounts found elsewhere inAristotle's work. Similarly, Thomas B. Farrell seeks to understand what "validity" might mean in a rhetorical context. Jeanne Fahnestock examines the influences of the Rhetoric's treatment of style on subsequent understandings


Whitehead's observation that the history of philosophy is one long footnote to Plato can for us be transferred to the Rhetoric: All subsequent rhetorical theory is but a series of responses to issues raised by that central work. But the link between philosophy and rhetoric represents more than the appropriation of a convenient trope. This volume appears at a time when philosophers are beginning to show a genuine interest in the Rhetoric. This attention is both new and welcome. Half a century ago, David Ross saw the Rhetoric as "a curious jumble of literary criticism with second-rate logic, ethics, politics, and jurisprudence, mixed with the cunning of one who knows well how the weaknesses of the human heart are to be played upon" (1949, 275). the verdict at century's end could be just as dismissive. in 1995, Jonathan Barnes affirms that "modern philosophy does not greatly occupy itself with rhetoric" and justifies this neglect by affirming that despite all contention to the contrary, rhetoric is not an Aristotelian art (Barnes, 1995a, 259, 264).

Two recent collections within philosophy, one edited by David J. Furley and Alexander Nehamas, the other by Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, are far more sympathetic. But their perspective remains, no doubt appropriately, philosophical. Amélie Rorty describes the motive behind her volume in terms that speak for both collections: "to reclaim the Rhetoric as a philosophical work, to analyze its relation to Aristotle's ethics, politics, and poetics; his psychology and logic; his account of practical reasoning; his views on how styles of language affect persuasive arguments" (1996, ix). the essays in both collections reflect this emphasis. For these scholars, the Rhetoric is a minor work in the Aristotelian corpus. Though no longer an embarrassment, it is not regarded as particularly significant. Their interest lies largely in showing how the Rhetoric illuminates the corpus as a whole. Their method is systematically to interpret the more philosophically oriented passages in the Rhetoric in ways that cohere best with Aristotle's philosophy. Doctrines Aristotle advances in the Rhetoric are contrasted with those in the Ethics and Politics, or they are treasured for the light they cast on other works, such as the Topics. Where there are inconsistencies between what Aristotle says in the Rhetoric and ideas he advances in other treatises (and there are many), these latter works are given priority, and the apparent discrepancies in the Rhetoric are explained as resulting from its earlier composition or its having been written for a popular audience.

The perspective of the contributors to Rereading Aristotle's "Rhetoric," for the most part scholars in speech communication, rhetoric, and composition, contrasts markedly with those of the philosophers featured in the other two collections. Our . . .

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