Rhetoric That Uses Dialogue And Dialectic Played a Major Role in the Maintenance and Development of the Athenian Government
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Rhetoric is the technique of using language effectively and persuasively in spoken or written form. It is an art of discourse, which the Athenian government first started to use to persuade an audience with its methods to convince, influence and please. Rhetoric played a major role in the maintenance and development of the Athenian government at the time and was used by many in order to gain power and ascend in politics. During the Peloponnesian war, all great politicians in Athens played an influential role of leading and guiding the Athenian democracy with their rhetoric and ability to persuade the people of Athens which were composed of two groups: “public speakers […], those who made proposals and publicly argued for or against political projects, and demos, those who as a group decided on the proposals” (Yunis, 1991: 179).
The two most popular rhetoricians of this time who had the most impact on the history of rhetoric would be Plato and Aristotle. Although similar in some ways, they defined and used rhetoric in very different ways. Plato took a more classical approach with rhetoric, using it as a means to educate and provide beneficial practice and beliefs of rhetoric to his students. He believed that rhetoric had the power to educate and provoke thought for his students, thereby preserving knowledge and passing down valuable information. His used rhetoric with dialectic critical thoughts to convey already known truths to the audiences and focused on absolute truths, things that were right or wrong, black or white. Aristotle on the other hand took a modern approach in that he used rhetoric to persuade the audience of polis.
He strongly narrated and felt that the purpose of rhetoric was to persuade, to provoke emotions, and to foster the tool for logical thinking. Their differences in the teaching of rhetoric will be further discussed in depth in the following essay. Plato’s rhetoric uses dialogue and dialectic as a means of making truth known. Anthony Petruzzi says that Plato’s “Truth is neither a correspondence with an ‘objective’ reality, nor does it exist solely as a coherent relation to a set of social beliefs; rather, the truth is concomitantly a revealing and a concealing, or a withdrawing arrival” (Petruzzi 6). However, for Plato truth becomes a matter of correspondence or correctness in “the agreement of the mental concept (or representation) with the thing” (Petruzzi 7). In other words, the truths which he talked about were absolute truths.
Plato’s intention was to present a new meaning of truth which correlates between a subjective representation of an idea and the essence of an object. Therefore, “truth becomes hypostatized, separate, and outside of discourse and human activity. In other words, the truth is not a dynamic disclosure or a relationship between human beings in a historical context” (Petruzzi). Plato believed that truth was so overlooked by rhetoricians that he essentially was against rhetoric, specifically sophists who practiced it. Plato presents his criticism of rhetoric in the Socratic dialogue Gorgias. We see that Plato is against rhetoric in that it is used as a means of deception. Plato’s perspective is that rhetoric is not an art at all but rather practiced flattery. He believes this because oftentimes, in order to persuade, the truth is disregarded as expendable and whatever sounds best is used to sway an audience is instead. Because of this, Plato was critical of the idea that rhetoric could be called art. To him, rhetoric was just “cookery” of words, mockery, not the creation like the true sense of art. He finds that rhetoricians use this tactic to distort the truth.
In Gorgias, he argues for an ethical rhetoric, one that’s center is the truth. Plato believes rhetoric is not an effective method of communication, especially compared to dialectic practice. In this dialogue, he criticizes the rhetorical and political power influence of the Sophists. He says that “only the dialectic allows the man to gravitate toward a higher understanding of Ideas and Forms” (McAdon 29). In Gorgias, he argues that politics so attack the soul so that citizens can only find happiness in an Ideal State. Therefore, “Plato believes the road to truth can only be accessed by the dialectic dialogue, a kind of direct confrontation” (McAdon). Plato’s approach was dialectical which was used mainly dialogically. Dialectic is the practice of rhetoric using critical thought. Again, we see this in Gorgias. Although rhetoric was the topic of the dialogue, it seems that by the end of the dialogue, we have no exact definition of what rhetoric is, but rather, we see what it is not.
Anthony Petruzzi explains that “the refutational dialectic is a search for inconsistencies in the opponent’s argument” (Petruzzi 16). But for Plato, this refutational dialectic is an important part of the process because it works to establish the nature of truth. However, Petruzzi explains that Plato’s dialogical strategy leads to an assumption of the indeterminate nature of truth and a “philosophical rhetor who ‘knows’ that she is not able to know with any certainty” (Petruzzi 16). He insists that the primary quality of Plato’s texts is “that dialogue and dialectic express neither a technical skill nor a method, but rather a mode of being-in-the-world: Dialectic is not so much a techne-that is, an ability and knowledge as a way of being’ (Petruzzi 17).
For Plato, rhetoric is an agreement between participants where its success is reliant upon them presenting opposing sides or bringing a problem under consideration. Petruzzi explains that Plato searched for a stable definition that would anchor a concept in “one’ unified and temporary intellectual position.” However, he struggled because the disclosure of truth, through dialogue and dialectic, “explicitly contains the perspectival and relational quality of Aletheia, or unconcealment” (Petruzzi 17). As we see, Plato strove for truth, but his error within thinking that there were absolute truths that don’t change. William Benoit said that Plato’s views stand in sharp relief against those of the Sophists because he believed in certain knowledge, for he declares rather bluntly in the Gorgias that ‘truth, you see, can never be refuted.’ In the Phaedrus, he declares that ‘a good and successful discourse presupposes knowledge in the mind of the speaker of the truth about his subject’ (Benoit 255).
Aristotle, on the other, believed that knowledge is imprecise since we are not all-knowing; therefore, conclusions of truth are only based on probabilities. Comparing Aristotle and Plato, we can see that Aristotle built on Plato’s views in that believed that truth was indeed important. However, it was a struggle to come to a truth that everyone could agree on as he was more for the discovery of truth through deliberative rhetoric and against the notion of absolute truths. Fundamentally, Aristotle worked on the notion that man was inherently good and rational by nature, in contrast to Plato’s antagonistic view that men were deceptive and thus needed to be told between right and wrong rather than to discover it for themselves. William Benoit explains that Aristotle believed that “things that are true and … just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites,’ there are some audiences we cannot instruct and hence must persuade, in order that -we may see clearly what the facts are, and… if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confuse him,’ and just as we ought to be able to physically defend ourselves, so too we ought to be able to do so verbally” (Benoit 254).
That being said, Aristotle was concerned that rhetoric was mere cookery or trickery, but rather a matter of probability. This is why Aristotle relied on persuasion as a means for one to choose what they believe with certainty as opposed to blindly following the status quo. He saw persuasive rhetoric as more effective than dialectic since it influenced questioning and discovery. If they were allowed to begin to understand things on their own, effective communication would then follow. Aristotle believed that the subjects of deliberation seem to present us with alternatives. Benoit explains Plato of thinking of these as “possibilities of things that might not have been, and cannot now or in the future be, other than they are, nobody who takes them to be of this nature wastes his time in deliberation’ (Benoit 257). Aristotle thought that deliberative arguments using probabilities are of great importance to part rhetoric. In Aristotle’s ‘On Rhetoric’, we read of his defense of rhetoric where he explains that he saw rhetoric as a means for comparison and deliberation rather than a tool of authority or foolery.
He concluded that concepts such as justice and the common good did not admit of precise knowledge, but rather he argued that they can understand things as a kind of knowledge whose truth holds only for the most part. He said that rhetoric is just his prime illustration of such knowledge. Mary Nichols explains that “according to Aristotle, the statesman used rhetoric in order to convey the ambiguous truths of political life” and this is why rhetoric was gaining such a bad reputation (Nichols 655). In on Rhetoric, he refuted several arguments against rhetoric. One being Aristophanes’ criticism that rhetoric allows for a man to blindly argue either side of an issue, which with hopes, will make him free of his obligations and responsibilities; another being, in Gorgias, that rhetoric is not based on the truth when Socrates shows that Gorgias does not know exactly what justice is. Mary Nichols explains that he defends rhetoric by saying that “In order to check the rhetorician’s use of speech for merely private ends, he must subordinate rhetoric to what the citizens have in common, especially their commonly held opinions about what is good, noble, and just” (Nichols 658). He employed one way for the use of rhetoric to improve, which was through enthymemes.
Based on logic, this tool contributed to revealing terms of connection of a premise and its conclusion. Robert Gaines explains that “enthymemes are not ambiguous either to the enthymeme user or the ordinary listener, thus aiding in the process of decision making and acceptance of knowledge” (199). For both rhetoricians, the end goal was truth and justice. Plato believed that rhetoric must be used for truthful purposes in order to persuade the one through discourse. He believed that persuasion without the intent or clarifying differences between good and bad was unjust and wrong and that rhetoric should always be used to instruct not just to persuade. In contrast, rhetoric for Aristotle, was that truth could be achieved by arguing and understanding both sides by fulfilling the use of knowledge and enthymemes, thus deciding in the end what is best for all. He believed that not all information could be delivered to the audience effectively and that some needed the power of persuasion. In lieu of all of their differences, both have greatly influenced the function of rhetoric in history and would change the way we view rhetoric as well.