Rhetoric, as a form of communication, was offered by Aristotle and Plato from different views, perceptions and interpretations of words they used. While Plato was pointing upwards, showing that everything is eternal, Aristotle was pointing at the real world. Trying to imitate the teacher (Phaedrus), Aristotle wrote his dialogues (Grullos), and, in general, their writings have formed the key concepts of ancient philosophy on the one and rhetoric on the other hand. Yet, as all other theorists and philosophers, they avoided a common practice of rhetoric, stressing on the widespread error of placing arguments and demagogy instead of public speech.
Both Plato and Aristotle have found rhetoric to be rather deceitful, though, they had been using it in their writings, speeches and lectures; for Plato was right, when he noticed that it could be used by philosophers and scholars, because they know how to use it to bring good for a whole society, without deceitful intentions; while all previous teachers offered rhetoric as a craft to arouse emotional mood of audience – these were audience’s distractions from the point, rather than rational judgments. Aristotle had dedicated the whole book to rhetoric and its influence, and at Grullos he agreed with Plato that it is an art. An ongoing struggle of Plato with rhetoric is increasing all through his dialogues: his theories of ultimate ideas and forms of reality have echoed in Republic’s idea of poetry as a part of rhetoric, where the authors were presenting their goods to the greatest audience possible in order to gain reputation and manipulation.
Just like Plato, Aristotle had been warning the audience on the influence of rhetorical speeches, their negative and advantageous impacts, good and bad outcomes. Using the speech alone, they argued, we can accuse or defend, be just and unjust. Both of them viewed rhetoric as a method to “detect aspects of a given subject which are causally connected with the intended emotion” (Aristotle’s Rhetoric, para.21). Aristotle’s and Plato’s rhetorical rule was: speaker must address his subject to the specific hearer, but not to his own mind.
“Aristotle vs. Plato”
Plato has considered rhetoric to be dangerous from the facts of words’ manipulation of public opinion. For him, it was a social threat, for it contradicted religious notions of eternal and unchangeable concepts. Plato antagonized rhetoric, believing that justice and truth should be based on facts, rather than on person’s ability to influence society; nevertheless, as the time was passing by he accepted rhetoric as a reasonable and legal tool to address the people. In Gorgias, Plato denied rhetoric to be an art, because it could not be related to a specific subject, yet, later he viewed it as art that could be described in terms, based on reason and method. This is what we find in his dialogue Phaedrus: “the rational investigation of futurity […] as it is an art which supplies from the reasoning faculty mind (nous) and information (istoria) to human thought (oiesis).” (Phaedrus, p.13).
On the other hand, Aristotle viewed rhetoric as something, which is not an object and, therefore, is not related to a certain science, or its principles. Aristotle offered syllogisms to prove that rhetoric is related to dialectic, yet “alludes to Plato’s Gorgias where rhetoric is ironically defined as a counterpart to cookery in the soul” (Aristotle’s Rhetoric, para.6). But, contrary to Plato, he observed objects first and, afterwards, using rhetoric (logic) and other studied subjects to gain other goods from them in practical and social ways. For Plato, real world was an imperfect shadow of perfect form; while for Aristotle, it was the world that could be observed, full of technical descriptions. Rhetoric was effective for him; it had such forms as deliberative, epideictic and judicial speeches. Yet, most of Aristotle’s principles originated and were adapted from Plato’s concepts.
For both Plato and Aristotle, rhetoric has not been offering real knowledge and was targeted at intellectual audience to reach persuasion without specific arguments. But their core rhetoric difference lies in their audience: Plato was addressing students (viewing it from the eternal perfect form’s perspective), Aristotle – politicians (looking from material world, composed of forms).
Plato. “Phaedrus”. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. The Intenet Classics Archive. March, 15,
2008 < http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html>
Rapp, Christof. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. May, 2, 2002.
March, 15, 2008 < http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/>