Essay. Resolved: Rhetoric Is a Sham Art

Rhetoric is mostly defined as a technique of persuasion usually by the means of language. An opinion exists that rhetoric is an art, whereas another opinion suggests that rhetoric cannot be considered an art other than sham art due to the reasons of ethics and morality. To establish the credibility of the latter opinion one would need to investigate upon the meanings of truth and art and the way rhetoric deals with these concepts.

Help With Essay On Rhetoric
Help With Essay On Rhetoric

It is evident, at the same time, that no generally accepted definitions exist of both concepts which makes any conclusion dependent on the philosophic scheme of the one’s considerations. Nevertheless, guidance by the common sense and principles of justice and ethics permits to draw an inference upon the most complex subjects according to the norms of the society and the examples of the demonstration of the premises provided.

Therefore, for the sake of the argumentation it would be safe to assume that rhetoric is an art of “finding all of the available means of persuasion” (Aristotle, 350 BC) and consider if such a statement reflects fully upon the meaning and role of rhetoric in the modern world. Thus, the art here would be closer to the meaning of a craft or a tool, and the persuasion part is an integral and fundamental of rhetoric. Rhetoric serves the goals of persuasion at a time when one has to make the others believe or accept their point of view, to represent their own conviction, theory or proposal in such a way that those who receive the message would yield to the arguments of the presenter. Thus, rhetoric deals with searching for the arguments to serve the point of view of the speaker or writer regardless of the relevancy, appropriateness and fairness of this point of view. The question arises if such a practice may be considered just by itself and, therefore, as applied to the definition given above.

From the point of view of Sophists, truth is relevant and there is no generally accepted truth for them as they consider that everybody may have and advocate their own truth (Romilly, 1992). At the same time, they as well accept the theory of axioms, those notions that do not need to be proved. In fact, such a view seems to be just in reference to the freedom of speech and self-expression that every human being possesses. However, acceptance of such a view as a guiding principle would lead to various manipulation of other people who lack knowledge of some kind of subject presented and do not possess the same skills of persuasion to understand their influence on them and to be able to defend their own point of view. Thus, such a proposition, e.g. that truth is relevant and could be turned to serve one’s own purposes, practically would lead to the most disagreeable manipulations and probable chaos in the society, as any kind of the society is based on some principles of commonly accepted justice system. The freedom of those who are more successful in representing their opinions would limit the freedom of choice of those who may lack the same skills. Such a manipulation suppresses other people and serves the selfish purposes of the orator.

The advocates for the rhetoric insist upon the progressive and righteous results of the rhetoric. For example, Cicero argued that, “How could it have been brought to pass that people should learn to keep faith and observe justice and become accustomed to obey others voluntarily and believe not only that they must work for the common good but even sacrifice life itself unless some had been able by eloquence to persuade their fellows?” (Cicero, 2001). The commanders encourage the warriors before the battle and it often helps to win the battle. The advocate defends the accused ones to win the case. Many other examples can be brought forth. In all instances, the question is not in whether what they say is true or false but in their ability to influence the situation. Such a view encourages to abstract from the concept of truth and observe the pure manifestation of the skill to persuade and to make others believe something. But if one abstracts from moral or ethics, one abstracts from the reality of life itself as every manifestation of life is life itself. Moral is nonetheless an integral part of every human’s life and following Aristotle’s way of thought (though he used it to defend rhetoric) it can be assumed that, paraphrasing, what is bad for the part is bad for the whole. Is rhetoric bad for the moral? On one hand, one may assume that if a person firmly holds certain moral principles nothing will be able to deny that person from them, and thus he or she will be able to discern truth from false. But on the other hand, a speech built competently so much veils and confuses the most simple issues that it can lead to immoral outcomes. For example, the court may declare the killer-maniac to be innocent after a good speech in his favor, or a corrupt official may win the elections because he can fool everybody well enough, or dishonest advertising using subconscious archetypes to influence one’s choice as mentioned by McLuhan (1964) etc. The best example here would be the rise of Hitler which happened partly due to his oratorical skills based on the high emotionality. And that is another issue that rhetoric uses every means for its sake whether it is a true argument or bare emotion. Of course, Hitler is more of an exception and such rhetoricians do not happen that often. However, no matter if the vice is smaller or bigger it still remains to be a vice.

Another argument for the sake of rhetoric states that rhetoric is closely associated with dialectic, and some people combine the two concepts into one. However, though those concepts have indeed a lot in common, there is one particular difference between them that does not permit to make such a conclusion. Dialectic is used to question and to answer, to search for the truth and knowledge unbiased, without trying to impose this or that opinion, rather to find the real and only answer on some question. But rhetoric does not care about anything like that. Rhetorician persuades and does not look for unbiased answer, their goal is to prove their position no matter whether such a position is true or false as a matter of fact. To avoid the possible misuse, “rhetoric should be in the service of dialectic—i.e., be led by wisdom” (Luecke, 1986).

Once again, something that is obvious, axiomatic, does not to be proved. Those ideas or concepts that require any external proof by words or other symbols rather than by obvious facts are therefore highly questionable.

Summerizing all of the above, rhetoric is used in most cases for manipulation and proof of what is not necessarily truth. In present times, rhetoric serves often immoral ideas and people not worthy enough to do what they do not have any moral right to do. Connection and comparison with other areas of arts or sciences is only possible with certain admissions and cannot be established de facto. That all means that if rhetoric is to be considered an art, it should be then considered a sham art. “Thus rhetoric is a sham art designed not to find the truth of justice, but to help generate an “agendized” “good” relative to the desires of the strongest speaker” (Plato V Sophists, 2006).

Works Cited
1. Aristotle (350 BC). Rhetoric. Translated by W. Rhys Roberts
2. J. de Romilly (1992), The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens (French orig. 1988; English trans. Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 1992)
3. M.T.Cicero. On Invention. Michael Grant. Penguin Classics, 2001.
4. R. Luecke (1986). The Rhetoric of Faith. Word & World, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, p. 306
5. McLuhan (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill.
6. Plato V Sophists (or, philosophy v rhetoric). Retrieved on 6 October 2006 from Rhetoric web site http://www.uwplatt.edu/~ciesield/platovsoph.htm

Bibliography
1. Aristotle (350 BC). Rhetoric. Translated by W. Rhys Roberts. J. Barnes, 2003.
2. J. de Romilly (1992). The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens. French orig. 1988; English trans. Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press.
3. M.T.Cicero. On Invention. Michael Grant. Penguin Classics, 2001.
4. McLuhan (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill.
5. Plato V Sophists (or, philosophy v rhetoric). Retrieved on 6 October 2006 from Rhetoric web site http://www.uwplatt.edu/~ciesield/platovsoph.htm
6. R. Luecke (1986). The Rhetoric of Faith. Word & World, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

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