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Why Do We Need Rhetoric?

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  • Why We Need Rhetoric

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    What we refer to as persuasion or argument is what the ancients called rhetoric.  Early rhetors (teachers of rhetoric or speaking), including Socrates and Plato developed what we call "rhetorical techniques."   Aristotle documented these devices in his book, Rhetoric.  In his text, Aristotle treats rhetoric systematically.  He defines the essence of rhetoric as "the means of persuasion" and pointed to the necessity of thorough awareness of the audience.   It is literally about how to use language to persuade an audience.  These components are central to our writing persuasively and in our speech making.

    So, why do we need rhetoric?

    Often, the terms "rhetoric" and "rhetorical devices" are met with negative connotations.  Rhetoric implies an ability to manipulate language -- therefore, many politicians, for example, are accused with simply using rhetoric to manipulate an audience.  Aristotle  acknowledged this aspect and regarded his system of rhetoric as something useful, but as something that can be misused.  So, it could be posited that rhetoric is only useful for those who want to outwit their audience and conceal their true aims. 

    However, Aristotle's point of view asserts that "Even those who just try to establish what is just and true need the help of rhetoric when they are faced with a public audience." 

    In the discussions that follows, be prepared to discuss your thoughts. Do you think we need rhetoric?

    Image source:

    Aristotle Head Sculpture. Sculpture image.