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An Aristotelian Trilogy: Ethics, Rhetoric, Politics, and the Search for Moral Truth

Author(s): Christopher Lyle Johnstone

Source: Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Winter, 1980), pp. 1-24
Published by: Penn State University Press
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An Aristotelian Trilogy: Ethics, Rhetoric, Politics, and
the Search for Moral Truth

Christopher Lyle Johnstone

"The most striking characteristic of Aristotle's Rhetoric, writes
Whitney J. Oates, "is its [moral] ambivalence. On the one hand,
it attempts to tie itself in with Aristotelian logic, ethics, and
politics, while on the other it is a practical handbook for the
instruction of public speakers in ail the techniques and tricks of
the trade. . . . When he is in the mood of an author of a practical
handbook, any concern for value seems in some places to vanish,
leaving us in a realm of amoralism, if not immoralism."1 Oates,
of course, is not alone in his judgment. Since classical times,
critics of rhetoric in generai, and of Aristotle's Rhetoric in par-
ticular, hve charged that the art is devoid of any intrinsic con-
nection with the right or the good.2 In contrast to this, many
scholars perceive in Aristotle's view of the art an essential linkage
between ethics and rhetoric.3
This controversy might be of merely acadmie interest except
for the fact that it involves issues of vital importance to contem-
porary efforts at identifying and understanding the rhetorical
functions of human communication. Whether or not we conceive
rhetoric as inherently moral dtermines the conclusions we ulti-
mately form concerning the uses to which the art can and ought
to be put. Just as it was for Piato, Aristotle, Gorgias, and Iso-
crates, the morality of rhetoric is central to our conception of
ourselves, our objectives, and our obligations as students,
teachers, and practitioners of the art.
Aristotle's writings on the subjects of ethics, rhetoric, and pol-
itics advance a view in which thse arts are fundamentally interre-
lated. Moreover, this view implies some striking and significant
conclusions concerning the proper function of communication in
humanity's search for virtue and well-being. This essay explores
and seeks to clarify the relationship in Aristotle's thought among
thse arts, and argues finally for a unifying vision of moral virtue,
suasive speech, and th deliberative activities of the polis.,4 For

Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 13, No. 1. Winter 1980. Published by The Pennsyl-
vania State University Press, University Park and London.

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Aristotle, th politicai life of the human Communityis th agency

by which individuai moral visions are tested, clarified, modified,
and shared, giving rise to the particular moral truths that serve to
ground individuai conduct and social policy, and thus that serve
to guide th development of individuai character and community

The outlines of Aristotle's ethical theory are well-known and

generally acknowledged, so there is no need hre of providing an
elaborate exposition. Nevertheless, in order to appreciate fully
th intimate connection between ethics and rhetoric in Aristotle's
thought, certain key concepts in the former must be emphasized.
Aristotle's ethical theory concentrtes finally upon the applica-
tion of intelligence to the dtermination of practice. The idea of
logos merges as the foundation of moral virtue; and moral virtue
merges as the perfection of human nature. In particular, the
exercise of practical wisdom (phronesis) in choosing conduct
manifests the human capacity for dlibration and self-conscious
action;5 it manifests, in short, the essentially human power of
logos. This conception of moral virtue, moreover, centering as it
does upon th power of dlibration and reasoned choice, pro-
vides for fundamental connections between ethics and rhetoric.
It is upon th idea of reason or logos that Aristotle's moral
theory focuses. Logos is used with many shades of meaning,6 but
there appears to be a common thread running through ail of
them; namely, that a "rational principle" involves a rule or stan-
dard according to which practical dlibration proceeds and ac-
tions are judged or appraised. The concept implies, further, that
the agent knows the objective ground of his or her choices and
actions, that there is some logic underlying one's behavior, that
one can explain and justify one's judgments concerning conduct,
that one can provide a rationale for one's actions. It implies that
a person can deliberate about action and choose among compet-
ing alternatives on the basis of that dlibration. It implies, in
sum, that th individuai can act self-consciously, with an aware-
ness of what one is doing and of why one ought to be doing it.

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This conception of logos informs Aristotle's view of moral vir-

tue and the conception of practical wisdom upon which that view
turns. Practical wisdom is th power of good dlibration. It is
the excellence of the practical intellect, and its aim is to discover
through dlibration "truth" about rightness in action; it is to
determine the true or best means of desired ends.7 The objective,
of practical wisdom, therefore, is the apprhension of moral
truth, of truth in the probable and contingent realm of action.
The activity of the practical intellect is completed in the act of
choosing a course of conduci that will serve as means to desired
ends; for practical choice is th outcome of th deliberative pro-
cess of which practical wisdom is the excellence. As such, choice
(proairesis) is fundamentally a rational act. It proceeds from an
assessment of the rightness or wrongness of prospective courses
of conduct, and thus implies the application of some standard of
judgment, however valid or correct this standard might be. But
choice is a particular sort of rational act. It is one in which reason
and desire are integrated. Choice is guided by an understanding
of the relationship between conduct and desired outcomes; hence
it "involves rational principle and thought."8 But it involves, as
well, the desiring lment of the soul; and so we find in the act of
choosing an integration of reason and non-reason, a fusion of the
rational and the non-rational. Virtuous action will be guided by
reason and appetite functioning in harmony or balance precisely
because choice is conceived as "rational desire."9
Moral virtue, then, involves both rational and non-rational
aspects of the soul, insofar as both are able to participate in
logos; and this is so because man's rational faculty is capable of
influencing- "persuading" his irrational tendencies . Virtue
signifies logos and appetite (orexis) or passion (pathos) function-
ing in some sort of balance or harmony: "For virtue, we say, is
found only when rational principle, rightly conditioned, is in
harmony with the passions possessing their own proper excel-
lence, and they in turn with it. Thus conditioned, they agree
with one another, so that Principle [logos] always enjoins what
is best, and the passions, being in right condition, readily ex-
cute its behests."10
In summary, we find in Aristotle's moral theory a fundamen-

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tal connection between moral virtue and the exercise in thought

and action of man's reasoning power. the extent that logos
guides desire in establishing ends to be pursued, and thus in-
duces the disposition to desire in accordance with reason; and to
the extent that logos directs thought and action in pursuit of
desired ends: to this. extent is conduct morally sound. As Ross
observes, "the right rule is a rule reached by th deliberative
analysis of the practically wise man, and telling him that the end
of human life is to be best attained by certain actions which are
intermediate between extremes. Obdience to such a rule is
moral virtue."11 The good is just that which is expressed in and
disclosed by our powers of dlibration and understanding.
Aristotle applies the term "good" to ends and actions that are
desired in accordance with and are chosen through the exercise
of logos: to what ail things would choose "if they could acquire
"12The human
understanding and practical wisdom. . . . capac-
ity for reasoned judgment about action is at once the determin-
ing factor in Aristotle's conception of the good for man and the
characteristic that enables human beings to pursue and attain
that good.
Note the complementary relationship in Aristotle's moral the-
ory between reason and appetite, a relationship in which the
non-rational is brought under the guidance of the rational so that
both lments can work harmoniously in determining action. This
complementarity between reason and non-reason is a central fea-
ture of moral virtue. It suggests that the virtuous person is one in
whom thse two lments of the sol- the "beast-like" and the
"god-like," the impulsive and th controlied- function integrally
in determining proper conduct. The harmony between intellect
and desire in choice fulfills man's unique function; for man is
both intellect and passion, on Aristotle's view, and his proper
function must consist in the unified activity of his whole being.
The disposition or inclination to submit desire to the guidance of
reason defines th "state of character" in terms of which Aris-
totle conceives moral virtue. In the balanced union of reason and
passion- of logos and pathos - we find the foundation of Aris-
totle's moral theory and a chief connection between the arts of
ethics and rhetoric.

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It is against this background that we must attempi to under-

stand the fll significance of the Rhetoric. This work, with the
Ethics and the Politicsy discloses Aristotle's orientation toward
the nature and acquisition of knowledge in the world of action
and Community life. As Aristotle construes it, the function of the
rhetorical art is to aid one in observing in any particular case the
grounds upon which intelligent dcision can be based. The exer-
cise of rhetorical expertise is central to the activity of the practi-
cal intellect, and thus is implicated in the application of practical
wisdom to the dtermination of conduct. As we shall see, in
Aristotle's view rhetorical excellence is essential to the exercise
of moral virtue. It is this fundamental connection with virtue,
moreover, that finally compltes the trilatral relationship among
ethics, rhetoric, and politics.
What does Aristotle teil us about rhetoric that might clarify its
relationship to ethics and to the discovery of moral truth? He
teils us, at the outset, that rhetoric is the "counterpart" of dialec-
tic. This is significant. Dialectic seeks to discover generai philo-
sophical truths, truths about the universal first principles of
philosophy.13 The counterpart of this kind of knowing, as we
have seen, concerns what is true about the realm of the probable
and contingent, particular truths about correctness in practice:
moral truths. We might reasonably conclude, therefore, that as
the counterpart of dialectic, rhetoric serves as the instrument
through which moral truths are apprehended. On this analysis,
rhetoric is conceived to have a distinctly moral function. This
interprtation of Aristotle's Rhetoric, I believe, is supported by
what he teils us about the nature and function of the art.
Rhetoric, like ethics, is a practical art.14It is a tool that guides us
in matters we deliberate upon without th aid of a definite science,
and in matters that prsent us with the necessity for deciding or
choosing.15 Aristotle proposes first, therefore, that rhetoric, like
ethics, finds its end in the dtermination of practice.16
The connection between rhetoric and ethics becomes still more
intimate when he identifies rhetoric's function as guiding practical
dcisions and hence joins it with the activities of dlibration and

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practical judgment. Aristotle thus places the art under th prov-

ince of the calculative intellect.17 Indeed, rhetoric is not con-
nected with the practical mind in merely an accidentai way. It is
properly an activity o/the practical intellect, because it serves to
lead one toward reasoned judgment about practical matters.
Rhetoric, we are told, "exists to affect the giving of dci-
sions. . . . "18 As William M. A. Grimaldi observes, "rhetoric
becomes an activity of what [Aristotle] cali the 'logistic' sol. In
other words rhetoric by its nature is an activity of the nous logisti-
kos, of the intellect working together with th appetitive lment
in the sol as man moves toward a judgment, krisis."19Rhetori-
cal activity, on this view, is an activity of that part of the human
sol upon which moral virtue centers.
Aristotle views the art of rhetoric as a faculty or capacity for
finding in any situation those factors that will be persuasive to
one who is to make a practical dcision.20 The immediate goal
of the art is to perceive in a given subject, problem, or situation
those lments that may be used to influence the process of
judging. While this conception has sometimes been construed to
mean that rhetoric "effects persuasion," this characterization
does not describe Aristotelian rhetoric. He does not speak of
"effecting persuasion," but rather of "affecting judgment." Rhet-
oric is a faculty, indeed, of discovering those factors that will
lead an auditor to give reasoned assent to a particular proposi-
tion. Clearly, this is not the way in which Aristotle has always
been understood. However, if we examine what he has to say
about the function of rhetoric and about the nature of persua-
sion, we find that rhetoric seeks properly to contribute to intelli-
gent decision-making.
Rhetoric, when it finds its end in judgment concerning con-
duct, converges with ethics in its emphasis on the opration and
pursuit of logos. Krisis is th outcome of a verbal process; and
rhetoric is, above ali else, a language art, an art of discourse. It
is, in a word, an art of logos; and insofar as that term may signify
both the activity of reason and that of speech, rhetoric is a rea-
soned as well as a discursive art.21Moreover, there is an intimate
connection between the activity of reason and the process of
judging; for judging involves the application of a standard or

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principle to an event, act, artifact, or person, and thus is guided

by logos.22
If th process of judging is essentially rational, then the stan-
dards of logos must apply to rhetorical activity itself. "Rhetoric,"
writes Grimaldi, "... approaches th subject under the formality
of communication, that is to say with the intention of presenting
the matter to an other in such a way as to make accessible to the
other the possibility of reasonable judgment. . . . Consequently
rhetoric [is for Aristotle] the study of discourse in order to dis-
cover the most effective way in which to prsent the problematic
so that an other person may reach an intelligent dcision."23
The moral foundation of rhetoric becomes clearer still when we
consider the similarity between choice (proairesis) and judgment
(krisis). The complementary relationship between reason and
non-reason so fundamental to the exercise of practical intelli-
gence and choice is also at the heart of persuasion and practical
judgment, and so is intrinsic to rhetorical activity.24 Practical
judgment, as an activity of the calculative intellect, involves an
interplay of reason and desire.
An important implication of this is that rhetorical argument-
the instrument of persuasion- must involve a fusion of logos and
pathos.25 Any kind of argumentation or dmonstration (rhetorical
argument is a "kind of dmonstration," we are told) calculated to
affect judgment concerning action must take into considration
ail the factors that make judgment possible. Aristotle's treatment
of the rle of pathos in rhetorical proof demonstrates this conclu-
sion. While he cautions against the "unfair" use of motion in
persuading, Aristotle nonetheless devotes considrable attention
to the proper use of motion in affecting th auditor's judgment.
"It is not right," he tells us, "to pervert the judge by moving him
to anger or envy or pity- one might as well warp a carpenter's
rule before using it."26One might infer from this admonition that
Aristotle intends to exclude from the proper practice of rhetoric
any use at ail of the motions in affecting th auditori decision-
making. Indeed, some of his commentators hve so concluded.27
However, this interprtation faces the difficulty of being recon-
ciled with what Aristotle says later about the rle of the motions
in persuasive speech.

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He spends a major part of Book Two considering the nature of

the motions and th ways in which they can be aroused and
allayed. This is important, he tells us, because it is not enough
that one's argument be demonstrative. The speaker must also
attempt to put th auditor in the proper emotional state: "Since
rhetoric exists to affect the giving of dcisions . . . the orator
must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstra-
tive and worthy of belief; he must also . . . put his hearers, who
are to decide, into the right frame of mind. Particularly in politi-
cai oratory, but also in lawsuits, it adds much to an orator's
influence that ... his hearers themselves should be in just the
right frame of mind."28
The motions must be employed in persuading precisely be-
cause, as Aristotle recognizes in both the Ethics and the Rhet-
oric, they are intrinsic to the process of judging. "The Emo-
tions," he observes, "are all those feelings that so change men
as to affect their judgments. . . . "29If the orator, accordingly,
is to address himself to the whole person, and if he is truly to
lead another to a dcision concerning action, then his discourse
must seek to engage both the rational and the non-rational l-
ments of the auditor's sol. The rhetorical art focuses upon the
application of reason to desire in the dtermination of conduct.
In this respect, it concides again with the interests and ends of
moral philosophy.
This conclusion, if it is to be accepted, must somehow be
squared with the seemingly contradictory passages in the Rhetoric
that warn against the use of motion to "pervert" or "warp"
judgment. What must be borne in mind is that, when he admon-
ishes his readers not to abuse the rhetorical art by employing it to
arouse unduly the auditor's motions, Aristotle was reacting to a
trend among other writers on the subject. As he remarks in the
first chapter of the work, other authors of rhetorical handbooks
had concentrated exclusively upon the arousal of motions, at the
expense of any treatment whatever of artistic proofs- that is, of
the proper modes of persuasion. "The only question," he writes,
"with which these writers here deal is how to put th judge in a
given frame of mind. About the orator's proper modes of persua-
sion they have nothing to teil us. . . . m3This opening admoni-

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tion against the improper use of motion, taken in context, re-

flects Aristotle's dissatisfaction with th state of the art as it had
been practiced and taught by other rhetoricians. It does not re-
flect a commitment to a purely rational rhetoric in which the
non-rational in human beings has no place. To assume otherwise
is to be faced with the apparently contradictory nature of the
Rhetoric when it devotes such great attention to the use of the
motions in persuasion.31
An alternative interprtation of Aristotle's treatment of the
motions in persuasion is that he advocates subversion of reason
by the passions. The emphasis in his treatment of the motions is
upon putting the judge in "a certain" or "the right" frame of
mind. Now Cope takes this to mean that th orator must try to
work on the feelings of the audience "so as to bring them to that
state of mind which is favourable to the orator's purpose. . . ."32
The speech, on this view, is to direct the motions of th auditor
"into a Channel favourable to the designs of the orator."33This
suggests that, if the orator's goal is merely to win the assent of
th auditor, and if an appeal to the motions is a proper rhetori-
cal device, then the standards of intelligent judgment may be in
some cases subordinated to expediency. It suggests a view of
rhetoric that permits manipulation of the motions in affecting
This interprtation, however, fails to view the Rhetoric in the
context of its companion work, the Nicomachean Ethics. When
he wrote of virtue being a "harmonious relation" between logos
and pathos in the act of choosing, Aristotle indicated that in
order for this relation to be morally sound, the passions must be
in the "right condition." "Right condition" hre means that ap-
petite must be rceptive to the guidance of rational principle. It
indicates the morally right condition, th state in which motion
is amenable to rational guidance. When the same phrase in the
Rhetoric is understood in this light, it is quite unambiguous. Pre-
cisely because krisis is an activity of the practical intellect, and
thus one directed by logos and pathos functioning in a comple-
mentary relationship, persuasion must direct itself toward both
dimensions of the mind. "The right frame of mind" can only be
taken to refer to that emotional state that, when joined with

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reason in the process of judging or deciding, makes intelligent

and responsible choice possible.34 When he wams against the
"warping of the rule" of reason, Aristotle is concerned to main-
tain the proper balance between reason and appetite in the judg-
ing process.
What merges from Aristotle's treatment of rhetoric, when it
is viewed in the context of its connections with his ethical the-
ory, is a vital link between the exercise of moral virtue and
excellence in persuading. The fusion of reason and passion in
the dtermination of conduci that is central to Aristotle's con-
ceptions of practical wisdom and moral virtue is also at the
heart of his ideas concerning the nature and function of rhet-
oric. This linkage between the two arts is explicit when Aristotle
characterizes rhetoric in terms of its moral purpose. The art is
useful, he tells us, because it can help the true and the just
prevail over their opposites, in order that the dcisions of our
judges might be "what they ought to be."35 Rhetoric serves the
cause of truth and justice because it enables one to discover and
expose specious or unfair arguments, and thus to advance argu-
ments that will provide a sound basis for judging: ". . . we must
be able to employ persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be
employed, on opposite sides qf a question, not in order that we
may in practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make
people believe what is wrong), but in order that we may see
clearly what the facts are, and that, if another man argues un-
fairly, we on our part may be able to confute him."36Moreover,
the proper practice of rhetoric commits one, not to seek success
in persuasion at any cost, but to corne as near such success as is
possible using "real" rather than "apparent" means of persua-
sion. Rhetoric's function, Aristotle writes, "is not simply to suc-
ceed in persuading, but rather to discover the means of coming
as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case
The action of the rhetor, properly so-called, is constrained by
his commitment to use only the "real" means of persuasion: ar-
guments upon which intelligent dcisions can be based. Thus do
we find Aristotle distinguishing rhetoric from sophistry on the
basis of moral purpose: ". . . it is plain that it is the function of

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one and the same art to discern the real and the apparent means
of persuasion, just as it is the function of dialectic to discern the
real and the apparent syllogism. What makes a man a 'sophist' is
not his faculty but his moral purpose. In rhetoric ... the term
'rhetorician' may describe either the speaker's knowledge of the
art, or his moral purpose."38
To say, therefore, that a piece of discourse is "rhetorically
sound" is to say that it is truly persuasive; that is, that it effec-
tively prsents such arguments allowed by the available facts of a
case as will enable an auditor to make a reasoned and informed
dcision. And insofar as the disposition and capacity to make
such dcisions are constituents of moral virtue, good rhetoric
fonctions to encourage the formation and exercise of virtue.
Speech that is sound rhetorically, then, is also sound morally.
The standards of moral virtue and rhetorical excellence are, in-
deed, the same.
What does all this lead to? It enables us to conclude first that,
rather than being immoral or even amoral, Aristotle's theory of
rhetoric is grounded in and guided by the ethical principles devel-
oped in his moral theory. The proper practice of rhetoric is in-
trinsically ethical because the nature and function of th art are
conceived against the background of Aristotle's ethical theory.
He links the two arts intimately.
More significantly, we must conclude that the activity of the
practical intellect is essentially rhetorical in nature, and that
practical wisdom and rhetorical expertise are in some respects
identical. Recali that Aristotle defines the particular excellence
of the practical intellect as the ability to deliberate well about
action. Practical wisdom, which dtermines in any particular in-
stance the standard by which conduci is to be appraised and
chosen, is a capacity to deliberate well and a disposition to
choose according to the conclusion attendant upon such dlib-
ration. Now rhetoric, as we hve seen, is a practical faculty/
and it is concerned with such matters as we deliberate upon.
Furthermore, since rhetoric aims properly at facilitating rea-
soned judgment about such matters, we can say that it aims at
excellence in practical dlibration. In seeking to lead auditors
to intelligent decision-making, rhetoric also seeks implicitly to

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foster th capacity to deliberate well; for intelligent judgment

rests upon this ability.
Finally, we find that practical dlibration itself involves a no-
table exercise of rhetorical skills; it is an activity guided by rhe-
torical principles and reprsentative of rhetorical excellence. For
excellence in dlibration is excellence in the discovery and as-
sessment of the grounds of reasoned choice.39 Practical dlibra-
tion is a process of finding and evaluating justifications for, and
objections to, alternative courses of conduct. It embraces the
capacity to disco ver in any particular case- that is, with respect
to any possible course of action- grounds upon which reasoned
judgment can be based. It involves the capacity for finding argu-
ments for and against any possible line of conduct. It involves, in
sum, the faculty for observing in any particular case the available
means of persuasion.
The activity of the practical intellect, therefore, insofar as it
implies the capacity to deliberate well about practical matters, is
rhetorical in character. The "man of practical wisdom," when
he dlibrtes about conduct with a view toward choosing
among competing alternatives, employs a kind of internai rhet-
oric. As Isocrates tells us, "the arguments by which we convince
others when we speak to them are the same as those we use
when we engage in reflection. We cali those able to speak to the
multitude orators, and we regard as persons of sagacity those
who are able to talk things over within themselves with discern-
ment."40 If we can reasonably visualize dlibration as a sort of
internai dialogue,41 then th practically wise person, when he or
she dlibrtes, functions as both rhetor and auditor. The "right
rule" or "rational principle" of practical wisdom is none other
than the faculty for apprehending or observing valid justifica-
tions for actions. As an ability to recognize th "ground of
action," and as "argument or reasoned discourse," logos unifies
practical wisdom and rhetoric where dlibration enters the
scheme. If logos is the human capacity for understanding why
actions ought to be performed, then it is common to both prac-
tical wisdom and rhetoric. Thus are practical reasoning and
moral goodness grounded in the rhetorical art; and thus is rhet-
oric at the heart of moral virtue.

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When we consider thse conclusions in the light of what we

hve discovered about the nature of moral truth, and when we
inquire into the relationship between ethics and politics in Aris-
totle's philosophy, we are led to a unifying vision of the arts of
ethics, politics, and rhetoric.
Moral truth is the proper object of knowledge concerning the
realm of practical affairs. It provides the basis upon which practi-
cal dcisions are made and it is apprehended through the process
of dlibration and judging.42 The hearing of rhetoric upon the
apprhension of moral truth is obvious. Moral truth admits only of
probable knowledge; rhetorical argument deals almost exclusively
with probabilities. Moral truth is grasped through the process of
practical judging; rhetoric aims at bringing about such judging,
and thus at articulating the grounds of moral truth. Moral truth is
apprehended through inquiry and dlibration; excellence in d-
libration consists in the exercise of rhetorical expertise. Moral
truth is apprehended by the practical intellect; the activity of the
practical intellect is rhetorical in character. Moral truth, finally, is
the counterpart of scientific truth, whose instrument of discovery
is dialectic; rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic.43
Knowledge of the moral realm, then, which serves to ground
dcisions concerning what ought to be done in order to attain
well-being, is a function of the rhetorical process. There appears
to be an implicit commitment in Aristotle's views to th idea that
probable knowledge of the realm of action is acquired through
the process of assessing and choosing among competing rhetorical
arguments. It is the fundamental rationality of the rhetorical pro-
cess itself that serves to warrant the knowledge to which it leads,
knowledge of the proper means to desired ends.
Aristotle is committed also to th idea that the processes of
judging and of arriving at moral knowledge are ideally collective in
nature; and this commitment establishes the link between rhetoric
and politics in Aristotle's philosophy. The greater the extent to
which a practical proposition withstands th criticai scrutiny of
other minds, the greater the probability that it is true. Aristotle
says in the Rhetoric that "that which would be judged, or which

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has been judged, a good thing, or a better thing than something

else, by ail or most people of understanding, or by the majority of
men, or by the ablest, must be so; either without qualification, or
in so far as they use their understanding to form their judgment."44
If this is so, then a way must be found for "people of under-
standing" to share in the process by which moral truths are ap-
prehended. And this is precisely the function fulflled by public
dlibration in the polis. "Man," Aristotle tells us, "is by nature
a politicai animai. And therefore, men, even when they do not
require one another's help, desire to live together. . . ,"45The
polis is brought into being, on this view, in order that people
might satisfy their social needs. But the politicai Community also
has a moral function; for "if ali communities aim at some good,
the state or politicai community, which is th highest of ali, and
which embraces ali the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than
any other, and at the highest good."46
The highest good, we have learned from the Ethics, is the life
lived according to logos. This, at least, is the highest good for th
individuai. But, as Aristotle tells us, "the same life is best for
each individuai, and for states and for mankind collectively."47
Moreover, "the happy state may be shown to be that which is
best and which acts rightly; and rightly it cannot act without
doing right actions, and neither individuai nor state can do right
actions without virtue and wisdom."48 The politicai community
would seem, on this analysis, to have a decidedly moral function.
There are several passages in the Ethics that link it explicitly
with the Politics, and that describe the relationship between the
two works. The defining excellence of moral virtue, we have
learned from the Ethics, is practical wisdom: the capacity to de-
liberate well about practical matters. It is precisely this capacity
that is essential to the legislatori art, for "politicai wisdom and
practical wisdom are the same state of mind, but their essence is
not the same. Of the wisdom concerned with the city, the practi-
cal wisdom which plays a Controlling part is legislative wis-
dom. . . ,"49Later in the same passage, Aristotle identifies prac-
tical wisdom most especially with "that form of it which is con-
cerned with a man himself - with the individuai." But he char-
acterizes as "other kinds" of practical wisdom such things as

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household management, lgislation, and politics. It would seem,

therefore, that politicai wisdom is a particular application of prac-
tical wisdom, and that the activity of the good citizen must coin-
cide with that of the good person generally.50
The last chapter of Book X of the Ethics is essentially a
transition to the Politicsy and thus demonstrates that in Aris-
totle's mind the two works were intimately related. Noting the
importance of training and habituation in the cultivation of vir-
tuous character,51 Aristotle concludes his ethical treatise by dis-
cussing th "compulsive power" of law, and by noting that
"laws are as it were th 'works' of th politicai art."52A mech-
anism must be found, consequently, that will enable the legisla-
tive actions of th state to be guided by the principles of right
conduct; that is, by the dterminations of practical wisdom. So
Aristotle's conception of the workings of the ideal politicai com-
munity rests finally upon the principles that unify his views of
ethics and rhetoric.
The mechanism that he offers is, of course, the deliberative
assembly, "th supreme lment in states,"53whose function is to
deliberate about "public ffairs": "The deliberative lment has
authority in matters of war and peace, in making and unmaking
alliances; it passes laws, inflicts death, exile, confiscation, elects
magistrates and audits their accounts."54 Since "th end of the
state is the good life,"55 the proper end of public dlibration
must be to frame laws and social policies that will make such a
life possible for the members of the Community. And the instru-
ment of that dlibration is rhetoric.56Aristotle offers a unifying
vision of ethics, rhetoric, and politics in which public dlibration
over politicai questions is the process through which are revealed
the moral truths that ought to guide our collective and individuai
In public debate over social policy and law, th advocacy of a
particular position discloses, in the justifications advanced, a par-
ticular apprhension of the moral principles that ought to govern
human conduct. It reveals a vision of moral truth to which a
single mind, by its own private dlibration, has been led. But
rhetorical activity does more than articulate an individuai vision
of moral truth; it is more than merely a disclosure of one's practi-

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cal reasonings. It is, in addition, a submission of those reasonings

to the scrutiny of others. It invites a process of testing- and so of
confirming or disconfirming- the insights, calculations, and
knowings of a single, private mind. It is th sharing of a vision of
reality and possibility, and so a contribution to the cration of a
common vision.
We do more than attempt to influence when we seek the assent
of others for our conclusions; we seek, because of the uncertainty
that must attend our thinking, confirmation of our own minds.
We seek assurance that the understandings, the insights, the rea-
sonings that hve led us to the positions we advocate are accu-
rate, important, and valid; and that assurance cornes, Aristotle
can be taken to suggest, from th agreement of others "who use
their understanding to form their judgment." When we prsent
for the considration of others the conclusions of our own practi-
cal dlibrations, we do more than manifest our essential beings;
we risk those beings, we render them vulnrable to the criticism
of other intellects. This criticism, moreover, is not to be feared;
rather, it is to be welcomed, for through the process of articula-
tion and response we learn about ourselves. When we honestly
submit to others the conclusions and justifications that are cons-
quent upon our own practical reasonings, we implicitly recognize
the possibility of our own error. To speak in this context, then, is
fundamentally an act of humility.
It is also one of courage; for to consider and prsent arguments
is to disclose to others what is finally one of our most personal
and treasured possessions: the wisdom to which we hve been led
by our own exprience. When I prsent to another the justifica-
tions that I believe will provide compelling grounds for intelligent
judgment, I articulate my own vision of the moral truths that
ought to guide our conduci. Moreover, in presenting this vision
for another's appraisal, I invite a response that will help me
clarify or modify the standards according to which I choose my
own behavior. And the other, when he prsents his counterargu-
ments to me, does the same. Rhetoric, as the counterpart of
dialectic, functions to promote a dialogical exchange of moral
perspectives, and thus to establish a common moral perspective
upon which cooperative behavior can be based. The moral truths

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thus discovered and clarified become a basis upon which genuine

Community can be founded.
This is the portrait of rhetoric that merges from the Nicoma-
chean Ethics, the Rhetoric, and the Politics. These companion
works delineate a unified conception of the mechanisms by which
human beings must work to establish and maintain the communi-
ties upon which their well-being dpends. The deliberative func-
tions of rhetoric identify it as the instrument whereby individuai
moral visions are shared, modified, and fused into the communal
moral principles that regulate our shared undertakings. Out of
individuai knowings we create communal moral truths; rhetoric is
the instrument of that cration.

Department of Speech Communication

The Pennsylvania State University
Delaware County Campus

Whitney J. Oates, Aristotle and the Problem of Value (Princeton, N.J.: Prince-
ton University Press, 1963), p. 335. He adds that for Aristotle, "rhetoric . . .
becomes nakedly the study of that which will practically produce persuasion.
'Anything goes,' if only persuasion merges" (p. 341).
2See J. Robert Olian, "The Intended Uses of Aristotle's Rhetoric" Speech
Monographs 35 (1968), 137-48. Olian summarizes many of the ethical criticisms of
the Rhetoric. See also . A. G. Fller, History of Greek Thought: Aristotle (New
York: Holt, 1931). Fller remarks (p. 294) that "rhetoric [according to Aristotle]
is good or bad according as it wins its case." Likewise Parke Burgess, in "A
Concept of Social Responsibility in Rhetoric," (Doctoral Dissertation, Northwest-
ern University, 1965), p. 128: ". . . [rhetoric] is considered by Aristotle as
amoral, as an art. . . ."
3See, for example, Lawrence J. Flynn, "The Aristotelian Basis for the Ethics of
Speaking," The Speech Teacher 6 (September 1957), 179-87; William M. A. Gri-
maldi, Studies in the Philosophy of Aristotle's Rhetoric (Wiesbaden, Germany:
Franz Steiner Verlag, 1972); Richard McKeon, "Aristotle's Conception of Lan-
guage and the Arts of Language," Classical Philology 41 (1946), 193-206 and 42
(1947), 21-50; and Lois S. Self, "Rhetoric and Phronesis: The Aristotelian Ideal,"
Philosophy and Rhetoric 12 (1979), 130-45.
4Readers of Philosophy and Rhetoric will recali the rcent essay by Self (see n. 3)
in which similar daims were made concerning the relationship between ethics and
rhetoric in Aristotle's philosophy. The prsent essay seeks to broaden the concep-
tual linkages illuminated by Self, and to extend them so as to clarify the rle of
politicai activity in Aristotle's ethical theory. In arguing for the "trilogy" thesis,
the prsent essay goes beyond Selfs narrower inquiry. This writer finds that,
though her argument is interesting and compelling, Self does not explicate with
sufficient clarity the theoretical framework within which the Ethics, Rhetoric, and
Politics must be viewed and understood.

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5Phronesis or practical wisdom is the pivotai concept in Aristotle's dfinition and

discussion of moral virtue. See Ethica Nichomachea, trans. W. D. Ross, in The
Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKeon, d. (New York: Random House,
1941), 1106b 36-1 107a 3. Ail subsquent rfrences to the Ethics will be to this
dition unless otherwise noted.
It is upon the concept of practical wisdom that Self concentrtes in her explica-
tion of Aristotle's views. However, she fails to give adequate emphasis to the
"rational principle" (logos) that is at the heart of the concept. This oversight leads
Self to neglect what I believe is the central link between moral virtue and rhetori-
cal expertise. This link will be discussed shortlv.
6In the various translations of Aristotle's ethical writings, the term logos is ex-
pressed variously as "reason," "rationality," "rational principle," "rational stan-
dard," or "right rule." In other contexts, this term can be taken to mean such
things as ratio, judgment, proportion, order, reason, word, formula, rule, stan-
dard, account, computation, reckoning, valuation, relation, correspondent, and
as inward debate of the sol- thinking, reasoning, reflecting, both as faculties and
as acts. Significantly, the term can also refer to the explanation or rationale for
conduct, to th ground of action, to dlibration, and to argument and discourse.
See Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, ed., A Greek English Lexicon, 2
vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), II, 1057-59.
Several writers, in discussing the concept as it pertains to Aristotle's moral
theory, hve suggested that such translations are too narrow. They contend that
logos describes man's capacity for self-understanding, for conceiving and follow-
ing a plan of action, for being able to provide a rationale or justification for his
actions. Ross, for example, observes that "in man, as we hve learnt from the De
Anima, there is superimposed on thse faculties [of growth and sensation] a
higher faculty, which Aristotle hre calls to logon ekhon, 'that which has a plan,
or rule.' Within this there is a sub-faculty which understands the plan, and one
which obeys it. Well-being must be the life of this faculty." W. D. Ross, Aristotle
(London: Methuen, 1923), p. 191. In a key passage, Aristotle himself refers to the
"rational part of the sol," the part guided by logos, as "being [able] to deliberate
on action." Aristotle, Magna Moralia, trans\ G. Cyril Armstrong (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1935), 1196b 18-20.
Hardie interprets Aristotle in the same way, remarking that it would be
4great folly' not to 'hve one's life organized in view of some end.' Perhaps it
would be better to say that it is impossible not to live according to some plan, and
folly not to try to make the plan a good one." W. F. R. Hardie, "The Final Good
in Aristotle's Ethics," in J. M. E. Moravcsik, ed., Aristotle (Garden City, New
York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 302. Burnet, too, finds such a construction the most
useful interprtation of Aristotle's meaning. He explains his views in several
passages: "The only kind of life which is peculiar to man is the life of rational
activity, that is the life which knows th ground (logos) of its activities and can
give an account of them (logon ekhei)" Burnet, The Ethics f Aristotle (London:
Methuen, 1900), p. 3. Similarly (p. 4), "happiness is 'an activity of the sol,' that
is . . . of that part of the sol which 'knows what it is doing' (logon ekhei)."
Again (pp. 63-64), "we find a generally received distinction between a 'rational'
and an 'irrational' part of the sol, that is to say between a part of the sol which
can give an account of itself and a part of the sol which can not."
7As Ross observes (p. 216), "the object of reason in its scientific form is truth;
the object of reason in its calculative form is truth corresponding to right desire,
i.e., truth about means to the satisfaction of right desire."
Selfs discussion of the rle of phronesis in determining right conduct further
clarifies thse ideas. See Philosophv and Rhetoric, 12 (1979), 133-34.
8Aristotle, Ethica, 1139a 31-32.

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9Ibid., 1139a 33-1 139b 5: "Choice cannot exist without reason and intellect or
without a moral state. . . . Hence choice is either desiderative reason or ratiocina-
tive desire, and such an origin of action is a man."
W. W. Fortenbaugh, in his analysis of Aristotle's conception of moral virtue,
argues a similar point, but with a somewhat diffrent interprtation. Of Aris-
totle's view he writes that "moral virtue ensures a correct goal, while practical
wisdom as a perfection of man's logicai side is responsible for correct means-end
dlibrations." Fortenbaugh, Aristotle on Emotion (New York: Harper & Row,
1975), p. 77. Similarly, (p. 75), "while moral virtue makes th goal correct,
practical wisdom makes the means correct." Fortenbaugh construes Aristotle to
mean that "moral virtue" is a correctness of desire that exists apart from the rule
of practical wisdom. Moral virtue is "a perfection of man's emotional side" (p.
75), and thus can be exercised even in the absence of reasoning (see pp. 73-74).
Although it is beyond th scope of this essay to dispute Fortenbaugh's interprta-
tion, I will note that it seems to be at variance with what Aristotle says at Etnica
1144b 24-28, and 1144b 30-1 145a 2.
'"Aristotle, Magna Moralia, 1206b 10-15. Armstrong, in his introduction to this
work, puts it in similar terms (p. 429): ". . . . it [eudaimonia] is an 'Activity of the
Soul in accordance with its own Virtue or Excellence.' Now the Soul is partly
rational, partly irrational; and each part has its proper virtues. . . . The Moral
Virtues . . . consist in the control of irrational feelings or passions by a rational
Rule or Standard (logos)."
"Ross, Aristotle, p. 221. Likewise, Hardie (p. 311) finds that, on Aristotle's view,
"rationality is what makes a man ideally good." He concludes (pp. 320-21) that
Aristotle's ethical theory connects "the concept of moral worth with the fact that
man is not just the plaything of circumstances and his own irrational nature but
also the responsible planner of his own life." Likewise, McKeon concludes
("Aristotle's Conception of Language," p. 196) that "moral action dpends on
the rule of right reason (orthos logos). ..."
McKeon summarizes Aristotle's view well: "Directly or indirectly, reason is
essential to the virtuous life. Happiness implies reason and cannot be without
reason (logos); and moral virtue is defined as a mean determined in accordance
with a rational principle (logos) or as a prudent man would determine it. There-
fore, to live as one should is to live according to reason, for the standard of virtue
is right reason, and the excesses of incontinence and of vice are both contrary to
right reason." McKeon, "Aristotle's Conception of Language and the Arts of
Laneuaee," Part I, 205.
I2Aristotle, Rhetorica, W. Rhys Roberts, trans., in McKeon, ed., Basic Works,
1363b 14-16. Ail subsquent rfrences to the Rhetoric will be taken from this
dition, unless otherwise noted.
13Aristotle, Topica, W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, trans., in McKeon, 104b 1-35.
The problems to which dialectic is properly applied seem to be of this sort. They
are problems "on which either people hold no opinion either way, or the masses
hold a contrary opinion to the philosophers, or the philosophers to the masses, or
each of them among themselves." They are not questions concerning particular
courses of action to be pursued in particular situations, as are the questions to
which dlibration and rhetoric are applicable.
l4In the Rhetoric (1359b 10-15), Aristotle tells us that "rhetoric is a combination
of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics; and it is partly like
dialectic, partlv like sophistical reasonine."
l5The function of this faculty, says Aristotle (Rhetorica, 1357a 1-8), "is to deal
with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or Systems to guide us, in the
hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or
follow a long chain of reasoning. The subjects of our dlibration are such as

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seem to prsent us with alternative possibilities. ..." Again, (1357a 24-27),

"most of the things about which we make dcisions, and into which therefore we
inquire, prsent us with alternative possibilities. For it is about our actions that we
deliberate and inquire, and ail our actions hve a contingent character; hardly any
of them are determined bv necessitv."
l6Grimaldi summarizes this point well: "In this area of reality the human person is
faced not with incontrovertible and unchanged absolutes but with factual prob-
lems, questions, situations which are subject to changes and which while
grounded in reality are yet limited by the very nature of this reality. The constitu-
tive lments of this environment admit neither absolute knowledge nor absolute
assertion since their very contingency asserts that change is possible and that this
very fact of change may very well condition what can be known or said about
them. Such factual vidence and such contingent situations admit a probable
knowledge about themselves, and they demand dlibration and considered dis-
cussion consquent upon which we are able to assent to their probable truth.
"Quite clearly this is th area in which the intelligent and prudential course of
responsible action . . . will be determined in each instance by the spcifie vi-
dence which carries the greatest validity." Grimaldi, Studies, p. 23. Similarly,
McKeon writes of Aristotle's view that "rhetorical reasoning is directed to a
choice between alternatives for action. ..." McKeon, "Aristotle's Conception of
Language," Part II, 43.
17As Grimaldi writes (p. 25), "the moment Aristotle decided that the art of
rhetoric directs its major effort upon the world of contingent reality and th area
of the probable, and calls into play dlibration and judgment he places it under
the domain of what he calls the practical intellect rather than th speculative
18Aristotle, Rhetorica, 1377b 21-23. Similarly (1391b 7), "the use of persuasive
speech is to lead to dcisions." "We may say," he concludes (1391b 12-14),
"without qualification, that anyone is your iudge whom you hve to persuade."
19Grimaldi,Studies, p. 26. The dominant idea hre is the rle of th auditor as
judge. As judge, th hearer must first deliberate and then exercise practical
judgment on the basis of the vidence presented. "It might be well to note," says
Grimaldi (p. 25), "that the concept of the audience as judge is underlined
throughout the Rhetoric by frquent rfrences to the fact that ail rhetoric is
directed toward krisis, or judgment, as its final goal." Likewise, Cope, in his
commentary on the Rhetoric, concludes that "all Speeches which hve persuasion
for their object are addressed to, or look to, a dcision of some kind." Edward M.
Cope, The Rhetoric of Aristotle, 3 vols. (Cambridge: The University Press, 1877),
II, 174. Finally, as Edwin Black tells us, "whatever else rhetoric meant to Aris-
totle, it was a faculty that realized its end in the act of judgment." Edwin Black,
Rhetorical Criticism (New York: MacMillan Co., 1965), p. 108.
^Aristotle, Rhetorica, 1355b 26-28.
21Indeed, the connection between reason and language is no accident; for, as
McKeon notes, "the use of discourse [is] one of the marks which differentiate the
rational from the sensitive powers of the sol. ..." McKeon, "Aristotle's Con-
ception of Language," Part I, 194.
^"Judging is a rational process," as Edwin Black observes of Aristotle (Rhetorical
Criticism. d. 117).
^Grimaldi, Studies, p. 3. Later (p. 27), he adds that rhetoric "crtes an attitude
in another's mind, a sens of the reasonableness of the position proposed,
whereby th auditor may make his own dcision. The art, or technique, of rhet-
oric is the ability to perceive and to prsent vidence which makes dcision, a
definite dcision, possible . . . Rhetoric, then, is prparatory for judgment and

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24"Themoment Aristotle decided that the art of rhetoric directs its major effort
upon the world of contingent reality and th area of the probable," Grimaldi
concludes (p. 25), "and calls into play dlibration and judgment he places it
under the domain of what he calls the practical intellect rather than th specula-
tive intellect. . . . The speculative intellect moves toward Being, or ultimate real-
ity, in itself whereas the practical intellect moves toward Being, or reality, insofar
as this Being is to issue in human action. Owing to this diffrence one might say
that th role of th appetitive . . . is comparatively negligible in ... the activity
of th speculative intellect compared with its role in the action of the practical
intellect. . . . The practical intellect . . . demands th appetitive lment in the
Dsvehe as an essential comnonen for its activitv. ..."
^Grimaldi writes (p. 24) that "for Aristotle, the very essence of the rhetorical art
is constituted by an intimate fusion of the intellectual and appetitive lments in
the soul." He states elsewhere (p. 16) that "Aristotle . . . displays a sharp awre-
ness that reason alone does not necessarily speak to the other, something which
discourse in its effort to communicate must do. Reason does not possess the
power of persuasion. Thus Aristotle introduces into the syllogism, the instrument
of reason, his The enthymeme as the main instru-
psychology of human action.
ment of rhetorical argument incorportes the interplay of reason and motion in
Similarly, Fortenbaugh observes that, for Aristotle, the emotional dimension
of the human psych is accessible by reasoned argument. He remarks (p. 30),
"Emotion, that is to say the alogical behaviour of human beings, involves judg-
ment and therefore is open to reasoned persuasion and is properly classified
amone cognitive Dhenomena."
26Aristotle, Rhetorica, 1354a 24-26.
^Grimaldi discusses this interprtation of the Rhetoric in the first chapter of his
^Aristotle, Rhetorica, 1377b 20-28. Lane Cooper translates this passage in a like
way when he finds Aristotle saying that the speech must "bring the judge or
audience into the right state of feeling." Lane Cooper, The Rhetoric of Aristotle
(New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1932), p. xlii. Again (p. 91), the speech
aims at "producing the right attitude in the hearer."
In a rcent critique of Cooper's translation of the Rhetoric, Thomas M. Conley
seems to dispute the conclusion that the speech must influence the dispositions of
the auditore. He daims that "Aristotle is simply taking note of the fact that
persuasion takes place only when, among other things, an audience 'has felt a
certain way.' " "The Greekless Reader and Aristotle's Rhetoric" Quarterly Jour-
nal of Speech, 65 (February 1979), 77. Still, it must be the speech itself that
induces the audience to feel as it does, as is suggested by J. H. Freese's transla-
tion in th Loeb Library dition of the Rhetoric (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press: 1926), p. 345: "for in ail cases persuasion is the resuit either of the judges
themselves being affected in a certain manner, or because they consider the
speaker to be of a certain character." My italics. Conley himself observes that this
translation is "more accurate" than Cooper's (p. 77).
^Aristotle, Rhetorica, 137a 20-21. And since one is always in some "frame of
mind," one's motions are always a factor in iudging and choosing.
^bid., 1354b 18-21.
31Such an interprtation, Grimaldi argues (pp. 20-21), misconstrues Aristotle 's
purpose in the opening chapter: "When Aristotle presumably refuses to situate
the art of rhetoric within anything remotely resembling a non-logical environment
he is engaged in an obvious polemic. The polemic character of the chapters has
never been denied. In his first chapter, he takes preceding technographers to task
for th fact that they are totally unconcerned with logicai dmonstration of the

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subject under discussion.. . . Against this position Aristotle urges the need for
th logicai dmonstrationof the subject-matterand connectsthis dmonstration
with th syllogism of rhetoric which he calls th enthymeme. In so doing he
conveysthe impressionthat the art of rhetoricfor him pertainsexclusivelyto the
intellect and concerns itself quite simply with merely th logicai proof of the
subject under discussion. Any polemic tends toward emphaticstatement, but
particularlydoes it do so when the subjectconcernsa stronglyfelt issue. Conse-
quentlywhen immediatelyfollowingupon the firstchapterAristotleadmitsethos
andpathos as lments co-equalwith reason in art of rhetoricit wouldseem that
we would more reasonablyinquire whether or not this position is possible for
"To accuse him of contradictinghimself and thus compromisinghis presumed
intentionto prsenta theoryof rhetoricgroundedexclusivelyin the intellectand
reason is to give too much weight to a brief passage of arms in the opening
chapterand to ignore the rest of his study. The opening remarksare obviously
directedagainstthe existingsituation.Of far more importanceis the factthat they
mustbe viewed withinthe context of the whole Rhetoric."
32Cope,TheRhetoric f Aristotle,III, 2.
33Ibid.,II, 175.
" Aristotle understoodthis," writes Grimaldi
(p. 5), "andto cali his Rhetorica
'rhetoricof persuasion'with the understandingof 'persuasionat any cost' is
wrong. He was aware of the fact that personspeaksto the person, to the 'other'
in whom rsides the tension between self-possessionand its possible loss which
may be incurredin any dcisionmadetowardfurthergrowthin understanding.In
this matterof 'persuasion'Aristotle'sthesisis simplythatgood rhetoriceffectively
places before the other person ail the means necessaryfor such dcisionmaking.
At this point the person must exercise his own freedom."
35Aristotle, Rhetorica,1355a21-23.
^Ibid., 1355a29-34. Italicsadded.
Ibid., 1355b9-12. This passageis admittedlysomewhatambiguous,but if "per-
suasionat any cost" were indeed the objectiveof Aristotelianrhetoric,then there
would seem to be no need to work withinwhat is allowedby "the circumstances
of each particularcase." If one is going to employ false vidence and specious
reasoning,then one will not be confinedby particularcircumstances.ThatAristo-
tle recognizesthe constraintsof the situationsuggeststhat one mustemployonly
those meansof persuasiongenuinelypermittedby the particularcase.
^Ibid., 1355b 14-20. In his interprtationof this passage, McKeon says that
" 'rhetoric'. . .
may refer not only to the knowledge of an art but also, like
'sophistic,'to the moral purpose with which the art is used" (McKeon, Part I,
9Aristotle,in the Ethica, describesdlibrationas a kind of inquiryor search,
involvingcalculationand reasoning.See 1112b20-23:"Forthe personwho dlib-
rtes seems to investigateand analyse. . . ." Also 1142a31-32: "... dlibra-
tion is inquiryinto a particularkind of thing."And 1142b8-13: "... excellence
in dlibration. . . is correctnessof thinking"about actionsviewed as means to
desiredends. There is no rigorousanalysisin the Ethicaof practicaldlibration,
even though Aristotle promises one (1142b 17-18). Nonetheless, we can infer
(from 1142b 22-26) that it is a process of reasoningcorrectlyfrom probable
premisesto conclusionsabout the best (meaningmostexpdient,honorable,tem-
perate- in short, virtuous)means to desiredends.
Self, in her analysisof the relationshipbetween practicalwisdomand rhetoric,
notes "the importanceof practicalwisdom to the rhetorician"(137). My point
hre is just the reverse:we findin Aristotle'swritingsthe implicationthat rhetoric
is pre-eminentlyimportantin the exerciseof practicalwisdomand reasoning.

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^Isocrates, To Nicholes, section 8, quoted in Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-

Tyteca, The New Rhetoric (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969),
p. 41.
^Guided by logos, which also signifies "inward debate of the sol, dlibration,
42Aristotle never defines the term "moral truth," but his account of the diffrent
states by which "the soul possesses truth" (Ethica, 1139b 14-1141b 22) gives us a
clear idea of its nature. Practical wisdom, by which the soul apprehends truth
about the moral realm, is a "true and reasoned state of capacity to act with
respect to the things that are good and bad for man" (1140b 5-6). By this concep-
tion, truth concerning good action- moral truth- must be expressible as a propo-
sition maintaining that a particular course of action is best and ought to be
pursued. The idea here is that in any given case, there is a certain course of action
that is in fact better than any other- meaning that it lies at the mean between the
extremes of excess and deficiency, and that it will procure the good ends we seek.
In any given instance, there is a "point of modration," a single course of action
that is morally best. This is the truth that is to be apprehended through practical
reasoning. Such truths are probable because they cannot be apprehended with
certainty; and they are contingent because they vary as circumstances vary. The
task of practical dlibration, and thus of rhetoric, is to bring us as close as
possible to a correct apprhension of such moral truths.
^The parallel between dialectic and rhetoric is made even more explicit when, in
the Rhetoric (1356b 1-10), Aristotle likens rhetorical proof to dialectical dmon-
stration: "With regard to the persuasion achieved by proof or apparent proof: just
as in dialectic there is induction on the one hand and syllogism or apparent
syllogism on the other, so it is in rhetoric. The example is an induction, the
Enthymeme is a syllogism, and the apparent Enthymeme is an apparent syllo-
gism. I cali the Enthymeme a rhetorical syllogism, and the example a rhetorical
"Ibid., 1364b 11-13.
45AristotIe, Politica, Benjamin Jowett, trans., in McKeon, ed., Basic Works,
1278b 19-21.
""Ibid., 1252a 3-6. Randall, in his examination of Aristotle's philosophy, sees a
close link between ethics and politics: "Any function is well performed when it is
performed in accordance with its own proper excellence or 'virtue.' Hence the
good of man- human welfare - is the functioning of man's various powers under
the guidance of intelligence, and in accordance with their own proper and respec-
tive excellence or 'virtue'. . . . Social organization, the polis, provides the means
of training in thse individuai excellences, and it also furnishes the field in which
they can operate: it provides the materials and conditions for training in, and for
the exercise of, the good life. Ethics and politics are hence two aspects of the
same 'architectonic' science. The excellences or aretai of th individuai are formed
in the polis, in society, and they can function only in th polis." John Herman
Randall, Jr., Aristotle, Columbia Paperback Edition (New York: Columbia Uni-
versity Press, 1962), pp. 253-54.
Aristotle, Politica, 1325b 31-32.
^Ibid., 1323b 31-34. McKeon concludes, on this basis, that "ethics and politics
approximate each other only in th ideai case, for in th perfect state the good
citizen would coincide with the good man." McKeon, "Aristotle's Conception of
Moral and Politicai Philosophy," Ethics, 51 (April 1941), 264-65. Similarly, Aris-
totle observes (Politica, 1288a 38-39) that "the virtue of the good man is neces-
sarily the same as the virtue of the citizen of the perfect state."
"Ethica, 1141b 23-25.
^Rackham, in his translation of the Ethica, notes that "Politicai Wisdom is not a

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special sort of Prudence but a special applicationof it, for though the term
'Prudence'is in ordinary usage confined to practicalwisdom in one's private
affairs, it really extends to the affairsof one's family and of the community."
Aristotle, NichomacheanEthics, trans.H. Rackham(Cambridge,Mass.:Harvard
UniversityPress, 1934), p. 346.
Again, Self notes the overlap of the Ethicsand Politics, but fails to note the
essentiallymoralfunctionof politicaiactivity(135-36).
52Ibid.,1180a 14-24, 1181a25. In the formerpassage, Aristotlenotes that law is
"a rule proceedingfrom a sort of practicalwisdomand reason."
53Aristotle, Politica, 1299a2. Aristotle's discussionof the natureand functionsof
th deliberativeassemblyfollows upon a discussionof the variouskindsof consti-
tution that states might hve (Politica, III, 6-18), then of the variationsof thse
(IV, 1-10), and finally of the "best politicai community,"which is a mean be-
tween oligarchyand undisciplineddemocracy,and in which the middle class is
supreme (IV, 11). As th supreme lment in th ideai state, the deliberative
assemblyis tasked to applypracticalwisdomto legislativeand other publicques-
tions. Since "the form of governmentis best in whichevery man, whoeverhe is,
can act best and live happily"(Politica, 1324a24-25), we can concludethat the
ideal communityand its deliberativelmentare foundeduponethicalprinciples.
%InEthica, 1141b 33-34, Aristotle subdivides"politics,"which is identifiedas a
"kind"of practicalwisdom, into th "deliberative"and the "judicial."These
subdivisions,of course, correspondto two of the threedivisionsof rhetoricidenti-
fied in Rhetoricaat 1358b 6-8. In Book I, Chapter5 of Rhetorica,Aristotle
considers the sorts of premises from which th politicai orator proceeds, and
continues to discuss this division of oratory prominentlythroughoutthe work.

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