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Aristotle's Rhetoric
Aristotle's Rhetoric
Aristotle's Rhetoric
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Overview

This model from Ancient Greece has helped define the art of persuasion for over 2,000 years and continues to serve as a guide for impactf ...

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. A quibus propter discendi cupiditatem videmus ultimas terras esse peragratas. Duo Reges: constructio interrete. An dubium est, quin virtus ita maximam partem optineat in rebus humanis, ut reliquas obruat? Quae quidem sapientes sequuntur duce natura tamquam videntes; Atque ab his initiis profecti omnium virtutum et originem et progressionem persecuti sunt. Vitae autem degendae ratio maxime quidem illis placuit quieta. Disserendi artem nullam habuit. Quodsi ipsam honestatem undique pertectam atque absolutam. Si stante, hoc natura videlicet vult, salvam esse se, quod concedimus;

Nam ante Aristippus, et ille melius. Facete M. Piso igitur hoc modo, vir optimus tuique, ut scis, amantissimus. Dulce amarum, leve asperum, prope longe, stare movere, quadratum rotundum. Verum tamen cum de rebus grandioribus dicas, ipsae res verba rapiunt; Potius ergo illa dicantur: turpe esse, viri non esse debilitari dolore, frangi, succumbere.

Sic vester sapiens magno aliquo emolumento commotus cicuta, si opus erit, dimicabit. Facit igitur Lucius noster prudenter, qui audire de summo bono potissimum velit; Aliud igitur esse censet gaudere, aliud non dolere. His singulis copiose responderi solet, sed quae perspicua sunt longa esse non debent. Quod ea non occurrentia fingunt, vincunt Aristonem; Quo plebiscito decreta a senatu est consuli quaestio Cn.

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Actionable Takeaways
  • Deeply understand your audience. 

What are their current ...

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Eaedem res maneant alio modo. Quos nisi redarguimus, omnis virtus, omne decus, omnis vera laus deserenda est. Summus dolor plures dies manere non potest?

Et quidem illud ipsum non nimium probo et tantum patior, philosophum loqui de cupiditatibus finiendis. De hominibus dici non necesse est. Progredientibus autem aetatibus sensim tardeve potius quasi nosmet ipsos cognoscimus. Eiuro, inquit adridens, iniquum, hac quidem de re; Duo Reges: constructio interrete. Nam quid possumus facere melius? Quid ei reliquisti, nisi te, quoquo modo loqueretur, intellegere, quid diceret? Ergo hoc quidem apparet, nos ad agendum esse natos.

Beatus sibi videtur esse moriens. Praeterea sublata cognitione et scientia tollitur omnis ratio et vitae degendae et rerum gerendarum. Nam memini etiam quae nolo, oblivisci non possum quae volo. Id enim volumus, id contendimus, ut officii fructus sit ipsum officium. Ut in voluptate sit, qui epuletur, in dolore, qui torqueatur. Nam et complectitur verbis, quod vult, et dicit plane, quod intellegam; Habent enim et bene longam et satis litigiosam disputationem.

Limitations

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, was critical of persuasion techniques, seemingly to rally against the form and emotional element winning arguments over a logical case as an example of manipulation. Aristotle did counter this, suggesting that the art of persuasion was a necessary but neutral tool and that it should be used ethically. 

Other criticism of the model tends to be in its application, as it sets a broad framework but potentially lacks more practical application. In other words, while a useful guide, the model still takes considerable skill to apply effectively and consistently. 

In Practice

Legal application. 

This 2014 research paper describes how Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle is a crucial tool in the courtroom. The author explains: 

“Logos, ethos, and pathos, a persuader’s logical, credibility-related, and emotional appeals, when used in concert, create a whole argument. This argument is one which takes into account the human element as well as the rational and logical needs of the law in its pursuit of justice. Classical Aristotelian rhetoric, thus, must not be dismissed by the advocate hoping to most effectively represent his client. Nor should it be dismissed by the legal community as form over substance.As I have demonstrated, the end result of an attorney utilizing Aristotle’s three modes together is the fairest result possible in a given situation, so substance is not sacrificed, and effective form is still maintained.”

“I have a dream.” 

I could have chosen an analysis of any modern speech based on Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle, I went with Martin Luthor King’s classic. 

This article breaks it down, including noting the following: 

Ethos

  • By way of establishing his intentions, “In his speech, King frequently looks back at moments in American history and refers to the leaders who laid the foundation of free America.” 

Pathos

  • Given the moment of anger and frustration he was speaking in, there’s no wonder that Pathos was a main ingredient. “His speech keeps growing more dramatic and engaging. King tries to make the frustration visible that years of neglect have caused.” 

Logos

  • King paints the future state, the ‘dream’, and lays out a path to achieve it, heavily referencing American history. 

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Origins & Resources

Aristotle’s Rhetoric was set out in his book On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse. I say 'book' because it has been published as such but, like his other works, seems to have been a collection of his student’s notes in response to his lectures. His body of work on persuasion did progress and shift over his life, though these three appeals remained consistent. 

Other modern sources to dive into this model include the work of Carmine Gallo, see his HBR article on the topic; and Sam Leith’s Words Like Loaded Pistols. For a more in-depth albeit slightly academic view of this model, you can also visit the entry in Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy.    

My Notes

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