Aristotle and Persuasion -
In cases where the opposition has many proofs for supporting its case, Aristotle suggests that thespeaker should begin with those and demolish them and only after then present his own. Whendelivering arguments, it is crucial to choose the right emotions to attack or defend. It is crucialfor the speaker who is trying to persuade, to properly ascertain the mental condition and attitudesof the listeners in order to use it to the best advantage. It is important to know when to use theinfluence and inflict on the audience fear, shame, pride, confidence, love, hatred, pity,indignation and envy in order to demolish the opposition.The proper and effective use of the spoken word, when delivering the arguments insupport of its own right or in an attempt to demolish the opposition's proofs, is very importantand Aristotle dedicates considerable space in his
by giving detailed guidelines on howto make the most of it. The way in which the thoughts of the speaker are expressed is dividedinto three parts, namely the choice of words, syntax and delivery.In the beginning of his Book 3 of the Rhetoric, Aristotle suggests:"... since it is not enough to know
to say-one must also know
to say it."The next point, the importance of
to state facts in a language, is given a little less attention but the third component of a successful speech, its delivery, receives the most attention. Aristotlesuggests:"the art of delivery has to do with the voice: with the right management of it to expresseach several emotion-as when to use a loud voice, when a soft, and when theintermediate; with the mode of using pitch-high, low and intermediate; and with therhythms to be used in each particular case. These are, in fact the three things that receiveattention: volume, modulation of pitch, and rhythm. And it is contestants who look after these points that commonly win the prizes in the poetical competitions; further, just asthere the performers now count for more than the authors, so it is with the delivery of speeches in the contests of public life-because of our corrupt institutions.[That is, heredelivery exerts more influence than the substance of the speech.]"In conclusion, I feel that Aristotle had a clear understanding of the importance the proper and planned use of the language plays in the practice and act of persuasion. His division of thelistening audience into two groups, the judges and the general audience is still used in courtsystems in democratic societies throughout the world, proving that regardless of all our technological and scientific advances since the times of Aristotle, we are the still the onlyspecies which can be persuaded just by listening to well-crafted thoughts, delivered by our most important communication tool, the spoken word.
© 1995 Tibor Spiegel