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Aristotle and Persuasion

Aristotle and Persuasion

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Published by Tibor Spiegel
My take on Aristotles persuasion model
My take on Aristotles persuasion model

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Tibor Spiegel on Dec 02, 2009
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Aristotle and Persuasion -1 1 of 3

Aristotle and persuasion
Did the basic rules and patterns of human oral communication change from the times of Aristotle to the present day? What do you think? According to Aristotle, audiences can be persuaded basically in three ways. One of them is by awakening emotions in the hearts of the listeners (called pathos), the other one is by showing the character of the speaker itself in a favorable light (called ethos) and the third is by process of reason and logic (which he calls logos) . Using his words: " ...for we have seen that persuasion can be effected only (1) by working on the emotions of the audiences [judges], or (2) by giving the audience the right impression of the speaker's character, or (3) by convincing them all with proof. " Since the most important tool in communicating with others is the spoken word, it is no surprise that Aristotle considered its use very important in the practice of persuasion. In the opening paragraph of Book 3 of his Rhetoric, Aristotle suggests that: "The provinces of a speech are three:(1) the means of affecting persuasion; (2) the style [language, diction]; (3) the right ordering of the several divisions of the whole." At the time when Aristotle wrote these words, it was considered that the main purpose of any public speaking was to persuade the listening audience, by proofs, that the speaker is right and that his point of view, his assessment of the situation being discussed and his character is correct and rightful. This persuasion by proofs, Aristotle also called the Argument, which according to him, is the second most important part of any speech. "The speech has two parts. Necessarily you state your case, and prove it. Thus we can not state a case and omit to prove it, or prove a case without first stating it; one who proves must have something to prove, and one who advances a statement does so for the sake of proving it." But here Aristotle warns us of the dangers of how the audience will react if a speaker is overemphasizing his positive and the opponent's negative character in order to persuade its audience. He states: "There are things which, if you say them of yourself, will bring you dislike, or will be tedious, or will arouse contradiction; and things which, if you say them of another, will make you appear abusive or ill-bred. Such things, if said, should be put into the mouth of a third person." Aristotle also lays down the fundamental principles of how a persuasive speech should be constructed. "In Deliberative speaking, as well in court, if you are the first speaker you should first present your arguments, and then meet the opposing arguments by direct refutation or by pulling them to pieces in advance."

© 1995 Tibor Spiegel

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In cases where the opposition has many proofs for supporting its case, Aristotle suggests that the speaker should begin with those and demolish them and only after then present his own. When delivering arguments, it is crucial to choose the right emotions to attack or defend. It is crucial for the speaker who is trying to persuade, to properly ascertain the mental condition and attitudes of the listeners in order to use it to the best advantage. It is important to know when to use the influence 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 in support of its own right or in an attempt to demolish the opposition's proofs, is very important and Aristotle dedicates considerable space in his Rhetoric by giving detailed guidelines on how to make the most of it. The way in which the thoughts of the speaker are expressed is divided into 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 what to say-one must also know how to say it." The next point, the importance of how 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. Aristotle suggests: "the art of delivery has to do with the voice: with the right management of it to express each several emotion-as when to use a loud voice, when a soft, and when the intermediate; with the mode of using pitch-high, low and intermediate; and with the rhythms to be used in each particular case. These are, in fact the three things that receive attention: 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 as there 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, here delivery 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 the listening audience into two groups, the judges and the general audience is still used in court systems 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 only species which can be persuaded just by listening to well-crafted thoughts, delivered by our most important communication tool, the spoken word.

© 1995 Tibor Spiegel

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Campbell, George. The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press-Feffer & Simons, Inc., 1963) Cooper, Lane. The Rhetoric of Aristotle: An Expanded Translation with Supplementary Examples for Students of Composition and Public Speaking. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1960) Kennedy, A. George. Aristotle on Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. (New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)

© 1995 Tibor Spiegel

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