Aristotle's Rhetoric
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Book III - Chapter 17

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The duty of the Arguments is to attempt demonstrative proofs. These proofs must bear directly upon the question in dispute, which must fall under one of four heads. (1) If you maintain that the act was not committed, your main task in court is to prove this. (2) If you maintain that the act did no harm, prove this. If you maintain that (3) the act was less than is alleged, or (4) justified, prove these facts, just as you would prove the act not to have been committed if you were maintaining that.

It should be noted that only where the question in dispute falls under the first of these heads can it be true that one of the two parties is necessarily a rogue. Here ignorance cannot be pleaded, as it might if the dispute were whether the act was justified or not. This argument must therefore be used in this case only, not in the others.

In ceremonial speeches you will develop your case mainly by arguing that what has been done is, e.g., noble and useful. The facts themselves are to be taken on trust; proof of them is only submitted on those rare occasions when they are not easily credible or when they have been set down to some one else.

In political speeches you may maintain that a proposal is impracticable; or that, though practicable, it is unjust, or will do no good, or is not so important as its proposer thinks. Note any falsehoods about irrelevant matters -- they will look like proof that his other statements also are false. [1418a] Argument by "example" is highly suitable for political oratory, argument by "enthymeme" better suits forensic. Political oratory deals with future events, of which it can do no more than quote past events as examples. Forensic oratory deals with what is or is not now true, which can better be demonstrated, because not contingent -- there is no contingency in what has now already happened. Do not use a continuous succession of enthymemes: intersperse them with other matter, or they will spoil one another's effect. There are limits to their number --

Friend, you have spoken as much as a sensible man would have spoken. --

"as much" says Homer, not "as well" Nor should you try to make enthymemes on every point; if you do, you will be acting just like some students of philosophy, whose conclusions are more familiar and believable than the premisses from which they draw them. And avoid the enthymeme form when you are trying to rouse feeling; for it will either kill the feeling or will itself fall flat: all simultaneous motions tend to cancel each other either completely or partially. Nor should you go after the enthymeme form in a passage where you are depicting character -- the process of demonstration can express neither moral character nor moral purpose. Maxims should be employed in the Arguments-and in the Narration too -- since these do express character: "I have given him this, though I am quite aware that one should 'Trust no man.'" Or if you are appealing to the emotions: "I do not regret it, though I have been wronged; if he has the profit on his side, I have justice on mine."

Political oratory is a more difficult task than forensic; and naturally so, since it deals with the future, whereas the pleader deals with the past, which, as Epimenides of Crete said, even the diviners already know. (Epimenides did not practise divination about the future; only about the obscurities of the past.) Besides, in forensic oratory you have a basis in the law; and once you have a starting-point, you can prove anything with comparative ease. Then again, political oratory affords few chances for those leisurely digressions in which you may attack your adversary, talk about yourself, or work on your hearers' emotions; fewer chances indeed, than any other affords, unless your set purpose is to divert your hearers' attention. Accordingly, if you find yourself in difficulties, follow the lead of the Athenian speakers, and that of Isocrates, who makes regular attacks upon people in the course of a political speech, e.g. upon the Lacedaemonians in the Panegyricus, and upon Chares in the speech about the allies. In ceremonial oratory, intersperse your speech with bits of episodic eulogy, like Isocrates, who is always bringing some one forward for this purpose. And this is what Gorgias meant by saying that he always found something to talk about. For if he speaks of Achilles, he praises Peleus, then Aeacus, then Zeus; and in like manner the virtue of valour, describing its good results, and saying what it is like.

Now if you have proofs to bring forward, bring them forward, and your moral discourse as well; if you have no enthymemes, then fall back upon moral discourse: [1418b] after all, it is more fitting for a good man to display himself as an honest fellow than as a subtle reasoner. Refutative enthymemes are more popular than demonstrative ones: their logical cogency is more striking: the facts about two opposites always stand out clearly when the two are nut side by side.

The "Reply to the Opponent" is not a separate division of the speech; it is part of the Arguments to break down the opponent's case, whether by objection or by counter-syllogism. Both in political speaking and when pleading in court, if you are the first speaker you should put your own arguments forward first, and then meet the arguments on the other side by refuting them and pulling them to pieces beforehand. If, however, the case for the other side contains a great variety of arguments, begin with these, like Callistratus in the Messenian assembly, when he demolished the arguments likely to be used against him before giving his own. If you speak later, you must first, by means of refutation and counter-syllogism, attempt some answer to your opponent's speech, especially if his arguments have been well received. For just as our minds refuse a favourable reception to a person against whom they are prejudiced, so they refuse it to a speech when they have been favourably impressed by the speech on the other side. You should, therefore, make room in the minds of the audience for your coming speech; and this will be done by getting your opponent's speech out of the way. So attack that first -- either the whole of it, or the most important, successful, or vulnerable points in it, and thus inspire confidence in what you have to say yourself --

First, champion will I be of Goddesses . . .
Never, I ween, would Hera . . . :

where the speaker has attacked the silliest argument first. So much for the Arguments.

With regard to the element of moral character: there are assertions which, if made about yourself, may excite dislike, appear tedious, or expose you to the risk of contradiction; and other things which you cannot say about your opponent without seeming abusive or ill-bred. Put such remarks, therefore, into the mouth of some third person. This is what Isocrates does in the Philippus and in the Antidosis, and Archilochus in his satires. The latter represents the father himself as attacking his daughter in the lampoon

Think nought impossible at all,
Nor swear that it shall not befall . . .

and puts into the mouth of Charon the carpenter the lampoon which begins

Not for the wealth of Gyges . . .

So too Sophocles makes Haemon appeal to his father on behalf of Antigone as if it were others who were speaking.

Again, sometimes you should restate your enthymemes in the form of maxims; e.g. "Wise men will come to terms in the hour of success; for they will gain most if they do." Expressed as an enthymeme, this would run, "If we ought to come to terms when doing so will enable us to gain the greatest advantage, then we ought to come to terms in the hour of success."

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Lee Honeycutt ( Last modified:3/15/04
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