The Essence of Rhetoric. (A Dime A Dozen)

by SC


The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis Davis.

These following submissions are part of my Rhetoric course at the University of Sydney, I’m required to submit around 80-100 words every week as a requirement to pass my course. (obviously my submissions completely broke this word ‘limit’…) Hopefully, this is an enjoyable read as it details my thoughts on rhetoric, it’s uses and how it effects society.

Friends, Romans, lend me your ears!

Has Rhetoric Sinned?

Is Rhetoric inherently bad or good? Is Rhetoric simple persuasion? A gentle nudge towards a certain stance or is it blatant manipulation where the strong orators reign supreme and unchallenged? There was a belief that rhetoric often failed to add anything of value and instead a rhetorician would just twist the truth for self-gain. However I see the study of rhetoric as a beautiful field of knowledge which like any skill or information can be used for positive or negative causes (extreme amounts of pathos incoming), much like how a bird watcher doesn’t study birds so they can shoot them down.

I feel like some of the greatest moments in history are have been blessed by rhetoric, Martin Luther King’s skillful manipulation of rhetoric to promote civil rights for citizens of colour. The spectacular and elegant writing found in the American Declaration of Independence to haunting words that Socrates uttered just before his execution are held up to the pinnacle of rhetoric. All of which have left a mark on mankind because of the elegance of the speaker or the sophistication of the chosen words.

Is manipulation really so bad? Isn’t that exactly what any text or any piece of literature does? Movies are deceptive because the audience assumes the camera to be their window into another world, so camera angles and lighting which all evoke different emotions within the audience are subconsciously accepted. One of my favourite quotes in V for Vendetta is “Artist use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up”, one could argue that the I Have a Dream speech adds no new information, but I would disagree, rhetoric unlocks the potential found within language, turning it into a tool for good or bad. The question is with any information…How will society use this tool?

How Far Can You Take Relativism? 

Context is everything. The third tutorial focused primarily upon the referent and signified and signifier and how the omnipresent context which surrounds every individual affects all interpretations. If the meaning of words and phrases can be altered based on their subjective context, then why can’t this view can be extended towards morals and beliefs?

Plato’s cave is a fantastic example of this which highlights how meaning of a word, event, action etcetera will be based on one’s position. Applying this relative position onto morals could you argue that ‘evil’ things like murder and human sacrifice are can be deemed ‘okay’ or ‘understandable.’ Unless we were to conclude that there wasn’t a single person who was moral during the Aztec empire or prior to the Thirteen Amendment. Whilst I believe theoretically you cannot claim authority on subjective matters like what is morality? What constitutes evil? I believe that relativism is impractical for building a society upon, as acts like murder, rape and thief must be punished. I guess that begs the question, if philosophy and human thinking was given a choice, should it walk down the path of pure idealistic logic or practicality?

Love, Hate Relationship.

Intimidation and integration are two rhetorical methods both with their positives and negatives and their specific uses for an orator. Both are heavily intertwined with ethos and one must consider their ethos and purpose before applying either of those tactics. Intimidation is the tactic of building up authority and using that sense of power and knowledge to belittle one’s opponent. Generally it can be said that orators who attempt to use intimidation will have to be more aggressive, and will have to actively assert their status on the argument. Thus one’s status must be considered before attempting this tactic since there are heavy consequences if implemented incorrectly. For an example, if a person with low status or with a history of being a ‘push over’ used this tactic, this will be very ineffective.

Ingratiation can be considered the opposite of intimidation, where instead of trying to actively push one’s authority onto the audience, integration is supposed to build a connection through pathos. Other ways to create a connection between the audiences include “As we all know” and “I think we’ve all felt …” Likewise ingratiation should generally not be used by people with high status, since it blurs the line between the audience and their level of ‘professionalism.’ Ingratiation can sometimes empower the audience whilst ‘dis-empowering’ the speaker since the orator aims to portray themselves as one of the majority.