Rhetoric is for Everyone

One of the important ideas that I took away from my time with the Honors Scholars / IMPACT at BGSU was the importance of rhetoric in any academic discipline and in civic life in general. As a physics major steeped in the culture of modern science (empirical evidence, falsifiability, repeatable results, and logical arguments), the concept of rhetoric was relatively far removed as a practice one should understand or master. The evidence should stand on its own merit, right? Socrates and his student Plato would certainly agree.

Yet, as Aristotle understood, we are not homo economicus – purely rational beings. The effectiveness of our arguments cannot rest entirely upon logical foundations since we are not trying to convince purely logical beings. We – yes, even scientists – are a bundle of emotions. As Hume reminds us in the strongest sense: “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” Unfortunately and far too often, rhetoric remains associated only with politicians, lawyers, and philosophers – who are (unfairly in many cases) identified with the Sophist interpretation of rhetoric as do-whatever-it-takes-to-win.

I took the recommendation from a previous Ice in the Head post and signed up for the free Classical Wisdom Weekly newsletter, which recently provided a brief commentary on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It was another reminder to me for why rhetoric is not solely the domain politicians, lawyers, and philosophers. The concept that rhetoric as important for everyone did break the ice in my head as an undergraduate, so perhaps this teaser on Aristotle’s Rhetoric can do the same for others.


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