Sunday, November 27, 2016

Posted for Emma Barton

Emma Barton
24 November 2016
GSI: Kuan Hwa
Rhetoric 103a

Precis: Aristotle (Hesitantly) Defends Rhetoric

The passage this paper will focus on is from Aristotle’s Rhetoric from the phrase “In the
Art of Poetry” to “perceived as soon as the words are said.” In this passage he discusses rhetoric
through the discussion of metaphor and poetry. Aristotle subtly takes the side of rhetoric.
He begins this discussion of metaphor by saying it is a fact “that metaphor is of great
value in both poetry and in prose.” This statement demonstrates the tone Aristotle will have
regarding rhetoric for the rest of the passage. He explicitly gives it value when he says
“metaphor is of great value” but he remains cautious, limiting it by only recognizing that value in
“poetry and prose.” This limitation matters because it creates boundaries for rhetoric. The
boundaries are inclusive and exclusive. Poetry and prose, things philosophers did not value, were
included and the statement is purposefully exclusive of other things, like philosophy. However,
the first undertone of taking rhetoric’s side is presented here as well: he says rhetoric is limited in
value to poetry and prose but he uses rhetoric in the work and it is not a work of poetry or prose.
Further, the rhetorical limitation of rhetoric is only necessary as a result of recognizing it’s

A few sentences later he writes “metaphor, moreover, gives style clearness, charm and
distinction as nothing else can.” This statement clarifies the value of metaphor spoken of above
— it gives clearness, charm and distinction. The tension regarding the utilization of rhetoric is
present here as well. He says it “gives… clearness.” This is an unusual comment on rhetoric
from a philosopher, given that their general opinion of rhetoric was that it was used for
deception. This gives rhetoric utilization in the realm of truth seeking, which is much more
acceptable and appealing to a philosopher. However, he says something some what contradictory
next, that it gives “charm.” Charm is the exact ‘trickery’ that philosophers accuse rhetoricians of,
it is convincing and evocative because of style rather than content. Aristotle’s rhetorical choice
to pair this immediately next to clarity serves to make charm sound a less deceptive than it would
if it were presented on its own. It should be noted that this employment of rhetoric is another an
example of him contradicting his earlier statement that rhetoric is only valuable in poetry and
prose. Last, he says it gives “distinction” which combines the previous two since “distinction”
can be interpreted in multiple ways. First, it could be interpreted as simply making things clear
and distinct, paralleling the idea of clarity. However, “distinction” in this context could also
mean distinction from other works, as in appearing unique and excellent. This definition parallels
the idea of charm. This combination is significant because it allows charm and clarity to exist in
the same role. This point, made only rhetorically, is fairly radical. He is suggesting that charm
can be used in the same realm as clarity. This advocates for the acceptance of rhetoric as a tool
for philosophers.

Later in the passage Aristotle subtly defends rhetoric from the philosophers attacks.

Under the guise of explaining good metaphors versus bad metaphors, he brings up the criticism
of poetry from “Dionysius the Brazen” who “calls poetry 'Calliope's screech.’” Aristotle
responds by saying that “the metaphor is bad, because the sounds of 'screeching', unlike those of
poetry, are discordant and unmeaning.” First, he says that this is a bad metaphor. This achieves
two things, first it establishes this as a bad example of the use of metaphor, which continues the
guise or safeguard that he is simply talking about good and bad metaphors. This allows him to
respond to it without overtly advocating for rhetoric. Second, and most importantly, it rejects the
statement that poetry is meaningless. In his rejection Aristotle says that “the the sounds of
'screeching', unlike those of poetry, are discordant and unmeaning.” This radical idea is thinly
veiled in obvious truth. He is arguing that poetry (read: rhetoric) has value and content, but he
does not say this, instead he implies it by denying that it parallels something that does not have
content. The radicalness of this is less available because it is only implied through an obvious
statement, that screeching is discordant and unmeaning. The choice to do this rhetorically is
another example of him contradicting the first statement that metaphor is of value only in poetry
and prose.

Aristotle subtly, through rhetorical choices, defends the use of rhetoric. He presents it as a
powerful tool that philosophers could use ‘for good.’ He goes as far as to imply that the rhetoric
itself, rather than the exact philosophical content, has meaning.

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