Chapter One from:  Conley, Thomas.  Rhetoric in the European Tradition.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Conley begins by highlighting two important details from a scene in Homer’s Odyssey: 1) public discussion – with debate and consensus – was the traditional method for making decisions in ancient Greece; and 2) the ethos of the speaker is instrumental in the resolution of conflict/problems.
  • Conley also highlights how language is used as an instrument of power in another example from Classical Greece.  In this situation the appearance of two-sided dialogue was important; however, the existence of real dialogue in this example was absent; instead, this was threats couched in argumentative terms.
  • This chapter is about 4 different approaches to the tensions that surround: 1) the role of discourse in the resolution of problems; 2) the criteria for authority; 3) proper activities of those who are, generally speaking, practicing the “art of persuasion.”  (4).
  • Changes in Athenian politics – notably the reforms of Kleisthenes and Ephialtes – created the exigency for powerful speech as men were now capable of occupying positions of power if their peers felt they possessed the necessary qualities.
  • Two strains of Sophistic rhetoric:  1) Protagorean (responsible for antithesis and relative truth – bilateral consideration of issues toward resolution); and 2) Gorgias (power of discourse to sway minds – unilateral transaction between speaker and a passive audience).
  • Both strands of Sophistic thought rely on doxa to function and are, therefore, anti-foundationalist.
  • Plato – advocated for foundational, idealist considerations of political and philosophical matters.  The world of the forms should inform the consideration of vulgar doxa.  Plato indicts not only rhetoric but also democracy (eudaimonia) because both are contextual, not always attendant to true forms.  Plato’s rhetoric persuades, but it only persuades toward the true.
  • Diaeresis – rhetorical technique that forces an interlocutor to select one of two possible choices.  Elenchus – dialogue wherein one interlocutor attempts to trap or catch another in contradictions in order to bring them “to the light.”
  • Aristotle differed from Plato on the nature of dialectic vs. rhetoric.  For A. dialectic meant arguments from absolutes while rhetoric involved the “grey areas” of popular opinion.  C. goes on to discuss the nature of proofs – both artistic and inartistic – and also the topoi in Aristotle.  Epistemologically, A. is somewhat relativist, basing knowledge on what “happens usually.”
  • Isocrates provides a community-based rhetoric with ethics – he’s sophistic but also acutely concerned with what is “right.”  In other words, Isocrates creates a rhetoric that is ethical, political, literary and both private/public.  Isocrates was also centrally concerned with kairos.

Notes from Class:

Four characterizations of ancient rhetoric:

  • Isocrates – controversial and educational
  • Sophists – possible and motivistic
  • Plato – ideal and dialectical
  • Aristotle – problematic and actual

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