Rhetoric and Power: The Drama of Classical Greece

By Nathan Crick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Aristotle on Rhetoric and Civilization

Rhetoric is useful because (1) things that are true and things that are just
have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the deci-
sions 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 knowl-
edge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argu-
ment based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom
one cannot instruct. Here, then, we must use, as our modes of persuasion
and argument, the notions possessed by everyone, as we observed in the
Topics when dealing with the way to handle a popular audience. Further,
(3) we must be able to employ persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be
employed, on opposite sides of the question not in order that we may in
practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make people believe what
is wrong), but in order that we may see clearly what the facts are, and
that, if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confute
him. No other of the arts draws opposite conclusions: dialectic and rheto-
ric alone do this. Both these arts draw opposite conclusions impartially.
Nevertheless, the underlying facts do not lend themselves equally well to
the contrary views. No; things that are true and things that are better are,
by their nature, practically always easier to prove and easier to believe in.
Again, (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 logos, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a
human being than the use of his limbs. And if it be objected that one who

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