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Public Rhetoric, and The Rhetoric of Aristotle

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1. “Aristotle defined rhetoric as ‘an ability . . . to see the available means of persuasion.'” So begins the section of the textbook on Public Rhetoric. Rhetoric has a deep and fascinating history, as it was once considered essential to survival in a world without television or printing presses, let alone the internet. Today, we still can benefit greatly from well-developed public speaking skills, and a strong understanding of logic, argumentation and ethics. However, because of technology, we tend to hear much more from a small fraction of society that has direct access to the various channels of broadcast communication, and the tendency is to think our voice cannot be heard, or worse, our opinion doesn’t matter. We now often here the word rhetoric spoken to mean something negative; “Ah, that senator is just spouting rhetoric.” Aristotle provided the denotative meaning of the word rhetoric, but what is today’s commonly accepted annotative meaning? That’s question one — what does the word rhetoric mean to you when you here it?

2. What do at least four of the five divisions of rhetoric require a speaker to do? (Third paragraph)

3. How did Plato feel about rhetoric?

4. What was the relationship between Plato and Aristotle (how did they know each other?)

5. How did Augustine rationalize being a persuasive religious rhetorician?

6. Is it ethical to put great effort into designing religious speeches that are as persuasive as possible? How about political speeches? What is gained by persuading someone of a religious or political belief? What is the danger?

7. At the heart of rhetoric is ethics. If we lose sight of the truth, or our own integrity, while trying to persuade, then we cross a line. Can you think of any examples of people who have placed a desire to persuade over a commitment to be truthful or ethical?

Chapter 22, The Rhetoric of Aristotle

1. Why did Plato criticize the Sophists?

2. Plato had no interest in rhetoric, but as his student, Aristotle did. What was Aristotle’s general attitude toward rhetoric? (paragraphs 1-3)

3. Briefly list and describe the three types of rhetoric (page 284).

4. Briefly list and define the three “artistic proofs” page 284).

5. The sub-section on page 285, Logical Proof: Lines of Argument That Make Sense, give some simple insight into Aristotle’s genius. I want you to do two things. First, explain what a enthymeme is, and second, explain why Aristotle taught that the speaker should leave out the middle part of the enthymeme (the premise that is already accepted by the audience.)

6. How did Martin Luther King employ this teaching on logical proof in his I have a Dream speech? (page 286)

7. Is making a strong logical argument enough to persuade people? (bottom of page 286). What else is needed?

8. What are the three qualities that contribute to the answer for #7?

9. Aristotle was critical of overt emotional appeals, which were common in the public rhetoric of his time. How did he resolve including a specific teaching on “emotional proof?”

10. Of the five canons of rhetoric (page 288-290), which one requires a willingness to do research, say, for a speech in your public speaking course?

11. Of the five canons, which one(s) might motivate you to take that course in the first place?

12. Did Martin Luther King deliver the I Have a Dream Speech from memory, or did he use notes? You might feel motivated to watch the speech. It is only 17 minutes long. (Links to an external site.)

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