Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western tradition.
Kenneth Burke once wrote that people “build their cultures by huddling together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of an abyss”; and he defined rhetoric as “the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols.” These statements are modern renditions of ideas that have reverberated through the history of rhetoric for more than 2500 years.
Over 2300 years ago, Aristotle laid the groundwork for modern public communication. His teacher, Plato, hated the way that public speakers skillfully manipulated audiences with no apparent regard for truth. Plato saw little value for the mere rhetoric used by the fast-talking speakers of his day.
Realizing the verbal relationships between the two realms allows us to understand all language and eventually all symbol systems -- including the electronic ones-more effectively. Perhaps most significantly, classical rhetoric provides a means for individual production of discourse in speaking, in print, and in electronic form.
Since Aristotle places emphasis upon rhetoric as an art of discovering the available means of persuasion, and not the effect of persuasion, his theory stresses the methodological aspects of rhetoric. He is the first theorist to specify what rhetoric's method is.
Aristotle, however, saw great potential in rhetoric (one person addressing many). He believed it was an art that could and should be studied and that good rhetoric was not only persuasive, but also ethical. He stated that all public presentations are some balance of three rhetorical proofs: ethos (ethical), pathos (emotional), and logos (logical).
An important preliminary question needs to be asked. Why should anyone bother to study classical rhetoric? What benefits can this very old material offer us? The presence of electronic forms of discourse, including computers and video forms, compels any writer in rhetoric and composition to ask if reasons for studying ancient rhetoric still exist.
Gorgias was a Sophist who invited random questions and gave refined impromptu replies. He used paradoxes to make the absurd seem logical. Gorgias was known for embracing nonexistence, either as a worldview or common topic for oration. If his arguments about existence are accepted, a rhetor is able to talk endlessly about anything – there are no limits when nothing exists and all is incomprehensible and incommunicable.
Gorgias (ca. 480-ca. 376 BC) was a Greek sophist and rhetorician. He believed that prose should rival poetry as a vehicle of persuasive and lofty expression and made important contributions to the development of epideictic, or ceremonial, oratory.
Humans have studied and praised rhetoric since the early days of the written word. The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians both valued the ability to speak with eloquence and wisdom. However, it wasn’t until the rise of Greek democracy that rhetoric became a high art that was studied and developed systematically.
In its long and vigorous history rhetoric has enjoyed many definitions, accommodated differing purposes, and varied widely in what it included. And yet, for most of its history it has maintained its fundamental character as a discipline for training students 1) to perceive how language is at work orally and in writing, and 2) to become proficient in applying the resources of language in their own speaking and writing.