Aristotle’s Definition of Rhetoric

Aristotle defines the fine art of persuasion. A rhetorician pursues witnesses, contracts, and the like in his pursuit of presenting an argument. However, not all forms of persuasion are rhetoric in nature. It is through persuasion that many arguments are won or lost. Aristotle talks in depth about what is right and what is wrong. He has meticulously defined terms like good, goodwill, judge, judgment, and litigation that form a crucial part of any judicial process. The reason is, according to Aristotle, laws are made after long consideration. On the other hand, decisions in the courts are given at a short notice.
This makes it hard for those who try to present an argument and win the case based on the decision of the lawgiver. It is important that the lawgiver does not get influenced by matters of friendship or hatred, and lose vision of the truth. This paper will outline Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric and identify the role rhetoric plays in the judicial process. Aristotle’s Definition of Rhetoric Aristotle equivalents rhetoric to a formal system of reasoning that strives to arrive at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments. Argument is the key to the art of persuasion. A rhetorician will be able to convince a person by persuasion.
People use rhetoric “either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. ” That is, while some speakers succeed to persuade through practice, others achieve it spontaneously. Aristotle closely relates rhetoric to dialectic. Both rhetoric and dialectic deal with arguments from accepted hypotheses. A rhetoric person can use dialectic tools in defense of his arguments. While dialectic is useful for arguments relating to private or academic matters, rhetoric is for arguments relating to public matters. This is because rhetoric considers that the opponents are intellectuals or persons who are familiar with the subject being argued about.

Dialectic is concerned with general questions that apply to “untrained thinkers” (Rhetoric I. 2). In rhetoric, three things comprise an argument—first is the speaker (ethos), second is the listener (pathos), and the third is the argument itself (logos). (Rhetoric I. 2). First, the audience will give importance to an argument if the speaker is a trustworthy person. The speaker must display practical wisdom and should be able to reason logically. He or she should have an upright character and goodness in its various forms, and should possess the good will to understand emotions.
Second, the emotional state of the audience is important in the interpretation of the argument. If the listener is in a good or bad mood, then the argument takes the shade of his mood. The speaker should be persuasive enough to motivate and arouse the right mood in the listener. Third, the speaker persuades by the argument itself. There are two types of arguments: induction and deduction. An inductive argument in rhetoric argues with an example. It takes a statement and shows other statements that are similar to it. A deductive argument in rhetoric is the enthymeme, which is an argument achieved by proof or demonstration.
Speeches that rely on examples are persuasive in nature; however, those that rely on enthymemes induce applause from the audience. Determined by the class of listeners, rhetoric falls into three divisions. It is the listener who determines the objects of the speaker and the speech. The listener may either be a judge, who takes a decision of things past or future, or a mere observer. A jury member decides on future events and the man who waits on the jury decides on past events. Observers are people who merely decide based upon the orator’s skill.
From this idea branches the three divisions of oratory—political, forensic, and the ceremonial oratory of display. A good orator must have the appropriate prepositions at his commands. The prepositions of rhetoric are complete proofs, probabilities, and signs. According to Alain Lempereur, “today, it is necessary to circumscribe the respective fields of logic and rhetoric in the language of law, while showing how they are sometimes complementary in the resolution of legal problems. ” The Role of Rhetoric in the Judicial Process Rhetoric is a faculty used for providing judgment.
Every man should comply with the rules of the law, and the law varies with each form of government. Hence, one of the important qualifications for a good judge is that he or she should understand all forms of government, since the interest of men lies in the maintenance of the established order. According to Aristotle, the supreme right to judge always remains “with either a part or the whole of one or other of the(se) governing powers” (Rhetoric I. 8). So it is important that the judge should be a man of good intellect. The four forms of government are democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and tyranny.
The ends of each of these governments vary. For example, “The end of democracy is freedom; of oligarchy, wealth; of aristocracy, the maintenance of education and national institutions; of tyranny, the protection of the tyrant” (Rhetoric 1. 8). Rhetorical persuasion is not only obtained by demonstrative but also by ethical argument. Hence it is important for a rhetorician to understand the moral qualities characteristic of each form of government. Since a legal verdict is a decision, it is particularly important for a political speaker to maintain integrity of his character in the interest of his audience.
He should entertain the right feelings and he should, in turn, induce the right feelings in his audience. In delivering judgment, rhetoric seeks the use of ethos and pathos, in addition to logical proofs. John Rainold, in Oxford Lectures on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, states that as far as possible what is good or bad “must be settled by the ruling of the Lawgiver, since it is easier [to find] one man [of good sense capable of framing laws and pronouncing judgments] than many men. ” Law is either special or general in nature. A special law is a written law, one that regulates the life of a particular community or the law of a state.
A general law is an unwritten law, the principles that are supposed to be acknowledged everywhere or the universal law. Individuals or an entire community may affected by the law. A wrongdoer either understands and intends the action, or does it without an understanding. Aristotle defines that there are seven causes of human action that the law has to consider. They are involuntary actions like chance, nature, and compulsion, and voluntary actions like habit, reasoning, anger, and appetite. Aristotle describes accusation and defense in detail in Book I, Chapter 10 of Rhetoric.
He describes that “wrong-doing” is an injury that one person voluntarily inflicts on another contrary to law. There are three things that a prosecutor should ascertain: “first, the nature and number of the incentives to wrong-doing; second, the state of mind of wrongdoers; third, the kind of persons who are wronged, and their condition” (Rhetoric I. 10). Judgment can happen in two senses—broad and narrow. In its broad sense, it involves decisions that one takes in everyday activities, wherever there is more than one possibility. In its narrow sense, it involves judgment taken in assemblies and law courts.
Judging involves two people—the one who speaks and persuades, and the other who listens and judges. It also involves two mutually contradictory arguments that the judge has to listen and judge. A judge should be prudent in judging whether something is important or unimportant, or just or unjust. They should never take instructions from the petitioners and should decide for themselves. Aristotle emphasizes that “the whole business of rhetoric is with opinion” (Rhetoric, III. 1). Similarly, a litigant should show that the alleged fact is so or is not so and that it has happened or has not happened.
The duty of argument is to challenge conclusive proofs. An argument in forensic oratory can be categorized as the fact, the amount of injury, the existence of injury, and the justification. An argument in ceremonial oratory is taken on the basis of trust and the speaker will maintain the nobility of the actions in question. An argument in political oratory presents if something is possible or impossible, just or unjust, good or bad as the orator thinks. The general lines of argument common to all oratory are: the possible and the impossible, past fact, future fact, and degree.
The possible and impossible considers that any two contraries are equally possible. Aristotle says that “if a man can be cured, he can also fall ill; for any two contraries are equally possible, in so far as they are contraries” (Rhetoric, II. 19). Past fact argues that in two things, if one of the less likely things has happened, then there is a possibility that the more likely thing should also have happened. For example, if a man has forgotten a thing, then it is likely that he has once learnt it. Future fact considers that a thing will be done if there is the power and wish to do it.
If the means to the end has happened, then the end will soon follow. For example, if there is a foundation, there will be a house. Degree considers the greatness and smallness of things. One has to apply prudence in judgment since there is also a flip side to rhetoric. People might use their persuasive skills in making the judge believe in what is wrong and they might use it for unjust reasons. Aristotle comforts by telling that it is easier to prove and believe in things that are true. And, every virtue has its negative side. It is left to the individual to either benefit by using them right or to inflict great injuries by using them wrong.
1. Alain Lempereur, in his paper presented at the International Symposium “Argumentation, Logic and Cognition,” Ghent University, 6–8 December 1989.
2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
3. John Rainold’s Oxford Lectures on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, by John Rainolds, Lawrence D.’s+rhetoric+in+the+judicial+process;source=web;ots=vDL0uMCFaz;sig=e9RjGNwjy64EDGfMrfSSvt9P-RU;hl=en;sa=X;oi=book_result;resnum=2;ct=result#PPA129,M1

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