Definitions of rhetoric

  • “’Rhetoric’ has come down to us today simply as high-flown, windy and empty talk. It had a completely different meaning to the Greeks. Rhetoric was a crucially important technical discovery of the way language actually works and can be manipulated: ‘What is it that makes language so persuasive to us?’ Rhetoric was the investigation of this question, related to logic and the foundation of semiotics (in Greek, the ‘study of signs’) that we still use today” (Robinson and Groves, Introducing Plato 157).
  • “Rhetoric: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols. . . . the basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents” (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 43 & 41).
  • “Rhetoric is a form of reasoning about probabilities, based on assumptions people share as members of a community” (Lindemann).
  • “In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action” (Bitzer, The Rhetorical Situation).
  • “The faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (Aristotle, Rhetoric 181).
  • “Rhetoric, taken as a whole, is an art of influencing the soul through words, not merely in the law courts and all other public meeting places, but in private gatherings also” (Plato, Phaedrus 48).
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