Aristotelian Rhetoric: Progression of Sophists' Nascent Teachings

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Scholars and historians of rhetoric consider the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, one of the great contributors to our present understanding of this art which, since its early origins and until present, has been a controversial field of study because of its association with persuasion and influence. However, readings of the many ancient and contemporary texts and analyses of the origins and the developments of this ancient art marginalized the role of the Sophists, who were the first to introduce rhetoric to Greece, and usually associated them with the bad reputation rhetoric has acquired over the years. Undoubtedly, Aristotle developed rhetoric in a more comprehensive and systemized explanation than what the Sophists offered, but an examination of how this great philosopher reached his findings, and what elements formed his theory on rhetoric points out that the Sophists, who initiated this art, deserve a re-evaluation of their role and an explanation of their “unethical” perspectives. In this essay, I consider the Aristotelian rhetoric to be a progression of the Sophists’ nascent teachings in rhetoric. Arguably, the “disdained” Sophists introduced a novel field of study that constituted a base for Aristotle’s theory. My argument is based on a chronological reading of the origins and development of rhetoric and recent studies on the Sophists and their discredited achievements almost since the great philosopher, Plato, staged his battle against them. I also regard the platonic versus sophistic approach to the definition of rhetoric, its goals and purposes, and its relation with the public as consequential factors of development of this art. Accordingly, I assume that this rivaling situation could not have existed without the sophisti... ... middle of paper ... ...e’s concern of ethos was closely related with what he considered abuses of previous orators, including the sophists, who exaggerated the use of ethos and gave “rhetoric a bad name” (p. 89). However, Allen (1994) had another interpretation: Aristotle “infuse(d) ethos with a strong recognition of kairos: the speaker…adjusts his/her character to fit the moment, in order to establish a sense identification – of credibility as a member of the community” (p. 7). Aristotle is undoubtedly a great philosopher whose contributions in many fields, including rhetoric, constitute a foundation of our modern education and research. However, many scholars suggested that his theory was an evolution of a preliminary sophistic rhetoric that developed through the years by a group of travelling teachers who formed this art and played a major role in reinforcing democracy in Greece.

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