Aristotle, Rhetoric. Book I, Chapter 1

Translated by Thomas Taylor (1818)1; prepared by Guilherme Soares (2021)

Rhetoric reciprocates with dialectic [or logic]; for both are conversant with such particulars, as being common may after a manner be known by all men, and pertain to no definite science. Hence, all men in a certain respect participate of both these; for all men to a certain extent endeavour to examine and sustain an argument, to defend and accuse. With respect to the multitude, therefore, some of them do these things casually; but others through custom from habit. Because, however, this is possible in both ways, it is evident that these particulars may also be reduced to a certain method. For it is possible to survey the cause why some men render what they assert probable, from custom, and others from chance. But all men now will acknowledge that a thing of this kind is the work of art.

At present, therefore, those who compose the arts of orations [i. e. who unfold the art of rhetoric,] explain only a small part of rhetoric. For credibility is the only artificial part of the art; but the other parts are additions. The rhetoricians, however, of the present day, say nothing about enthymemes which are the substantial part of credibility; but their attention is for the most part directed to things foreign to the purpose. For accusation, pity, anger, and such like passions of the soul, do not pertain to the thing itself [which is to be proved,] but to the judge. Hence, if all judicial processes were conducted in the same manner as they are at present in some cities, and especially in those that are governed by good laws, these rhetoricians would not have any thing to say. For with respect to all cities, some think it necessary that the laws should thus ordain; but this method is adopted by others, and they forbid rhetoricians to say any thing foreign to the purpose, in the same manner as in the Areopagus. And in this respect they think rightly. For it is not proper to pervert the judge, by exciting him to anger, or envy, or pity; since this is just as if some one should make the rule distorted which he intends to use. Again, it is likewise manifest that the only business of the litigant is to show that a thing either is, or is not, or that is has, or has not been done. But with respect to such things as the legislator has not defined whether they are great or small, just or unjust, these ought to be known by the judge himself, and he is not to learn them from the litigants. It is especially requisite, therefore, that laws which are rightly framed should define all such particulars as can be defined, and leave very little to be defined by the judge. And, in the first place, indeed, this is requisite, because it is more easy to obtain one person, or a few, than many that are intelligent and wise, and who are able to act the part of a legislator and a judge. In the next place, the establishment of laws, is the effect of a survey from a long series of past time; but judgments are the result of a survey from recent times; so that it is difficult for those who judge to attribute what is just and advantageous in a becoming manner. That, however, which is the greatest [reason] of all is, that the judgment of the legislator is not conversant with particulars, but with future events, and universals; but the judgment of the barrister and the judge is directed to present and definite circumstances; with which love and hatred and private advantage are frequently conjoined; so that they are no longer sufficiently able to survey the truth, but their own peculiar pleasure or pain darkens their judgment. With respect to other particulars, therefore, it is necessary, as we have said, that very little should be left in the power of the judge. But with respect to the enquiry whether a thing has been done or not, or whether it will or will not take place, or is or is not, it is necessary that this should be left to the judges; for it is not possible that these things should be foreseen by the legislator.

If then this be the case, it is evident that those rhetoricians who define [other parts of an oration except credibility] such for instance as what the proem or the narration should contain, and each of the other parts, – these exercise their art in things foreign to the purpose. For in these they effect nothing else except delivering the method by which the judge may be influenced; but they demonstrate nothing respecting artificial credibility; viz. whence some one may become enthymematic [or possess the power of discovering artificial proofs of that which is the subject of controversy]. Hence, though there is the same method respecting popular, and judicial orations, and the popular is better and more political than the method pertaining to contracts, yet rhetoricians of the present day, are silent as to the popular method, but all of them endeavour to unfold the art pertaining to the judicial genus, because it is less advantageous in popular orations to assert what is foreign to the purpose; and a popular oration is less pernicious than a judicial discussion, but is more common. For in the former the judge decides about appropriate concerns; so that nothing else is necessary than to show that the thing is as the counsellor asserts it to be. In judicial processes, however, this is not sufficient, but it is requisite to pay attention to the hearer; for the decision is concerning things of a foreign nature. Hence, the judges, looking to their own advantage, and regarding their own pleasure, gratify the litigants, but do not decide with justice. Hence, too, as I have before observed, in many places the law forbids any thing foreign to the purpose to be said; and in these places this law is sufficiently observed by the judges themselves.

Since, however, it is evident that the artificial method is conversant with credibility; but credibility is a certain demonstration; for we then especially believe in a thing when we think it is accompanied with demonstration; and a rhetorical demonstration is an enthymeme; and this in short possesses the greatest authority of all credibilities; but an enthymeme is a certain syllogism, and it is the providence either of the whole, or of a certain part of dialectic to pay attention similarly to every syllogism; this being the case, it is evident that he who is eminently capable of surveying this, viz. from what propositions and how, a syllogism may be made, he will be especially enthymematic, in consequence of assuming what the particulars are with which enthymemes are conversant, and what differences they possess with respect to logical syllogisms. For it is the province of the same power to perceive truth, and what is similar to truth; and at the same time, men are by nature sufficiently adapted to [the perception of] truth, and for the most part obtain it. Hence, he who sagaciously conjectures probabilities, is disposed similarly to him who perceives truth. That others, therefore, artificially discuss things foreign to the purpose, and why they especially incline to judicial precepts, is evident [from what has been said].

But rhetoric is useful because things true and just are naturally more excellent than their contraries; so that unless judgments are formed according to what is fit, what is more excellent will be vanquished by its contrary; and this is a thing worthy of reprehension. Farther still, though we should possess the most accurate science, it is not easy when we speak to persuade some persons, by employing that science. For a scientific oration proceeds from discipline, and it is impossible from this [to persuade the unlearned,] but it is necessary [when addressing these,] to procure credibility, and frame arguments from such things as are common; just as we have asserted in the Topics, respecting a conference with the multitude. Farther still, the power of being able to persuade contraries, [or the ability of disputing on each side of a question] is necessary, in the same manner as in syllogisms, not in order that we may do both; for it is not proper to persuade to what is base; but that we may not be ignorant how contraries subsist, and that when another person employs those arguments unjustly, we may be able to solve them. No one, therefore, of the other arts syllogistically concludes contraries; but this is alone effected by dialectic and rhetoric; for both of them are similarly conversant with contraries; though the things which are the subjects of their consideration do not subsist similarly, but always, as I may say, things which are true, and naturally more excellent, are more syllogistic, and adapted to procure persuasion. Besides, it is absurd, that it should be shameful for a man not to be able to give assistance to his body, and that it should not be shameful for him not to be able to assist himself by the reasoning power, which is more the peculiarity of man, than the use of the body. If, however, it should be objected that he who uses unjustly the rhetorical power, may injure others in a great degree, this objection is common to every thing that is good, except virtue, and especially to the most useful things, such as strength, health, riches, and military command. For he who uses things of this kind justly, may benefit others in the greatest degree, and by using them unjustly may effect the greatest injury.

That rhetoric, therefore, is not conversant with one certain definite genus, but resembles in this respect dialectic, and that it is useful is evident. It is likewise evident, that the employment of rhetoric is not to persuade, but to perceive on every subject what is adapted to procure persuasion, in the same manner as in all other arts. For it is not the business of medicine to produce health, but to do every thing as much as possible which may procure it; since the healing art may be well exercised upon those that are incapable of being restored to health. In addition likewise to what has been said, it is the province of the same power to perceive what is persuasive, and what appears to be so, just as it is province of dialectic to discern what is a [true,] and what is only an apparent syllogism. For the sophistical art does not consist in the power [of reasoning,] but in deliberate choice; except that here indeed [viz. in the rhetorical art,] one man will be a rhetorician from science, but another from deliberate choice. There, however, [viz. in dialectic or logic,] the sophist, indeed, is from deliberate choice, but the logician is not from deliberate choice, but from the power [of reasoning].

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  1. The Rhetoric, Poetic, and Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor (1818).