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Posted on June 1st, 2012, by

Aristotle and Plato are apparently very influential philosophers who defined the development of philosophy not only in ancient Greece but also in the further development of Western civilization at large. At the same time, it should be pointed out that both Aristotle and Plato paid a particular attention to the problem of rhetoric which they analyzed meticulously in their works and attempted to better understand its essence and place in the life of ancient Greek society. In spite of the fact that Plato is considered to be a mentor, a teacher of Aristotle, their views on rhetoric differed considerably, though certain similarities in their views on rhetoric were also inevitable. In this respect, it is necessary to discuss the position and views of both philosophers in order to better understand the extent to which their views on rhetoric were similar or different. In such a situation, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon their works such as Plato’s “Phaedrus”¯ and Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”¯.


Speaking about the views of Plato and Aristotle on rhetoric, it is primarily necessary to point out that their attitude to rhetoric was quite different, though it should be said that both highly appreciated rhetoric. In actuality, Plato and Aristotle had quite a different attitude to rhetoric in terms of its significance to the ancient Greek society. To put it more precisely, Plato did not really believe that rhetoric should be widely spread in the ancient Greek society because he stood on the ground that it basically affected human emotions and did not permit people to make their judgments on the basis of actual facts and knowledge (). Basically, he argues that rhetoric may produce quite a contradictive impact on people because, on the one hand, it can be really a very powerful tool that can be used by orators to convince the audience in their righteousness. On the other hand, Plato underlines that basically rhetoric influences human feelings and emotions and a skillful orator can misuse his rhetoric skills to mislead the audience and convince people in his righteousness, even though in actuality the orator is not right. In such a way, rhetoric is a powerful but, at the same time, very dangerous tool if used by an orator in his own interests. However, it is worthy of mention that such an attitude to the power of words and rhetoric, as an art of the skillful use of words in order to convince the audience or shape certain opinion that an orator wants to create in the audience, is to a significant extent defined by the negative attitude of Plato to sophists whose rhetoric he viewed as absolutely useless and misleading.

In this respect, Aristotle probably agreed with his mentor but, in spite of his negative attitude to sophists, Aristotle, in contrast to Plato, insisted that rhetoric should be widely applied and he emphasized that rhetoric should be based on knowledge and, what is more important, it should be used as a tool to share this knowledge with the audience (Aristotle, 25). Even though Plato agreed with Aristotle in his views that knowledge is an important and constituent part of rhetoric still he did not really believe that it could be used effectively if it is based on knowledge solely. As it has been just mentioned above he warned about danger of the possible use of rhetoric to influence the audience emotions without regard to actual knowledge.

As for Aristotle, in this regard, he underlines that rhetoric may be used effectively on the basis of knowledge that could be supported by proofs. He distinguishes three kinds of proofs logos, logical proof that comes from the line of argument in the speech; ethos, ethical proof that is the way the speaker’s character is revealed through the message; and pathos, emotional proof that is the feeling the speech draws from the hearers (Aristotle, 126). In this respect, it should be said that Aristotle basically tends to emphasize the power of logos, or logical proof, while Plato rather indicates to the possibility of the dominance of pathos in rhetoric. As a result, the effect produced by rhetoric on the audience may be quite different from the point of view of Plato compared to the point of view of Aristotle. Obviously, Aristotle emphasizes the impact of rhetoric on logical thinking of the audience while Plato ”“ on the emotional state of the audience.


At the same time, on analyzing Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on rhetoric, it is hardly possible to avoid the analysis of their views on its style because it differs dramatically. To put it more precisely, Plato underlines that the style of rhetoric or the presentation of the argument is traditionally focused on its artistic characteristics (Plato, 67). In fact, Plato states that orators using their rhetoric skills and experience tend to play a kind of a role in order to capture the attention of the audience and provoke the desirable emotions in order to convince people in his righteousness. In such a way, the presentation of the argument is just a kind of artistically organized performance where logical arguments and other proofs are used in the emotionally overshadowed context.

In contrast, Aristotle stands on the ground that rhetoric should primarily be cogent and coherent while artistic skills of an orator are secondary. He argues that the major goal of the presentation of the argument is to convince the audience in the righteousness of an orator and it is important that the conviction of the audience was based on logical proofs and judgments (Aristotle, 161). In such a situation artistic presentation of the argument turns to be inferior compared to its logical presentation.


Arrangement also may play a very important role in rhetoric. In this regard, it should be said that Plato argues that the speech and arguments of an orator could be organized spontaneously without the strict order. Plato believes that an orator may wander from topic to topic depending on the effect his speech and arguments produce on the audience. It is important to underline that the switch of topics or sudden change of arguments may contribute to the change in the emotional state of the audience that may lead to the support of orator’s arguments and, therefore, his major goal will be achieved. In such a way, the arrangement of the speech and arguments basically depends on the goal of the presentation and the effect the speech and arguments should produce on the audience but not the factual contents of the speech.

As for Aristotle, he believes that the arrangement plays a very important role in the effectiveness of the speech and arguments, but, unlike Plato, he insists that the speech and arguments should be properly arranged and an orator should argument systematically relying on effective profs which affect the mind but not only emotions of the audience. In such a way, the logically arranged speech and arguments are determinant for the success of an orator, according to Aristotle.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Plato and Aristotle have quite a different view on rhetoric. It should be said that Aristotle tends to view rhetoric as a kind of art where logic and clear presentation of arguments is of a paramount importance. However, Plato does not share such a view on rhetoric since he traditionally criticized sophists for the use of rhetoric to mislead people in their judgments. In such a situation, Plato was quite skeptical about the potential use of rhetoric in the ancient Greek society and did not really view it as an art.

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