An Introduction to Rhetoric

Rhetoric is something that most people have a vague idea about (namely, that it involves talking or some such), but most never really bother to look into, and even fewer actually actively study it. This is an absolute shame, because for the aspiring barbaric gentleman, the ability to artfully and effectively speak to another person (or group of people) is one of the most vital skills to have.

Rhetoric makes bad ideas sound good, and good ideas sound brilliant. It, combined with elocution (which I have already written about) and proper body language (which I plan on writing about at some point), can carry the day in an argument—assuming that the opponent is not himself a rhetorician—and make a comparative dullard seem like a genius. Why else do you think politicians and businessmen study rhetoric without imparting these secrets to us common rabble?

As someone who struggled for many years with interpersonal relationships and public speaking, the study and practice of rhetorical techniques, both ancient and modern, have benefited me tremendously. This article will be the first of surely many articles to come in dealing with this lost art, and we can begin our study by looking at the oldest treatise on rhetoric.

Aristotlean Rhetoric

Aristotle is, of course, somebody that shouldn’t need introduction to any man of the West, and most men from other cardinal directions either. An ancient Greek polymath, Aristotle wrote on many subjects and is considered the father of Western philosophy. Realizing that the culture of his time (and its direct democratic government) heavily involved public speaking, Aristotle wrote this treatise to enhance the free man’s ability to do his civic duty.

Aristotle defined rhetoric as “techniques of argumentative persuasion”, to speak effectively and convince people that your position is correct, and theirs’ is wrong.

He distinguishes rhetoric from dialectic by defining dialectic as objective fact and truth, and stating that rhetoric is an “in between” between pure logic and sophistry (which is to say manipulating words to lie). Rhetoric is ideally using emotional and convictive techniques to convince people of objective facts, and only in using it for deceit and other bad purposes does rhetoric become sophistry.

The rest of his treatise is largely those actionable rhetorical techniques, and long discussions of examples of those techniques, and the many intricacies of emotional response. This article will seek to summarize as simply as possible.

Persuasive Rhetorical Techniques

Bearing in mind that dialectic can itself be a persuasive technique (typically in a court of law, ie: presenting evidence that proves a case is persuasive), Aristotle begins by subdividing rhetoric into three broad categories of persuasive technique:

1)The speaker’s power of evincing personal character that makes him credible—in other words, either being a trustworthy person, or successfully PRETENDING to be a trustworthy person. This is called ethos. Ethos is essential because, of course, people believe a good man more than a liar. This can be achieved through building a reputation, but that takes too long. You can create the idea of ethos by acting a certain way in the here and now, and this is also where proper elocution and body language come in (a guy who looks good and speaks clearly will be taken much more seriously than some unkempt slob who mumbles)

2) The ability to stimulate an emotional response in the listener. This is called pathos , and is quite obviously useful—as a glance at the political scene would illustrate. To convince people to do something, it is much easier if they are in the emotional state you want them to be in.

3) The ability to prove the truth or an apparent truth, with a persuasive and properly constructed argument, which is called logos. In other words, facts and evidence for those facts.

(One might notice that “objective truth” is the lowest on the list. A glance around at the world shows that emotional response outweighs truth, and that was likely true in Aristotle’s time as well).

Beyond those three, there are several types of persuasive argument, including:

1) The example, corresponding to the induction in the dialectic (objective fact). Having knowledge of the subject you are discussing, or appearing to have knowledge, is one of the best methods of persuasion.

2)The enthymeme, corresponding to syllogism. Syllogism being an argument in which the conclusion is supported by two premises. The major premise contains the term that is the predicate of the conclusion (ie: what is acting upon the conclusion), the other containing the term (minor premise) that is the subject of the conclusion. Example: All A is C, all B is A, therefore All B is C. “This guy held a world record in such and such, therefore he is better than another guy”

3) Apparent enthymeme, corresponding to apparent syllogism. Apparently syllogism is essentially an unfinished “if-then” statement, a syllogism in which the conclusion is unexpressed due to it being obvious. IE: “Hero is an Olympic Winner” is the syllogism, and the unexpressed conclusion is “He has a laurel crown”-because everyone knows that’s what an Olympic Winner gets.

Beyond those, he goes into the various types of emotional responses you want to target and/or evoke in your audience, and if any Aristotlean techniques can be seen being used today, these are them:

1) Appealing to the self-interest of the listeners (ie: telling them that what you’re suggesting will be good for them), typically in the form of the political orator appearing to have an eye to their happiness, wealth, honor and prestige, etc.

2) Appealing to past history, whether it be in the sense of “it worked once, it’ll work again” or in the sense of the desire for revanchism amongst your constituents

3) Selective truths, and emphasizing specifics rather than the “big picture”: “Those who praise a man will make it a ground of praise that he acted honorably, even though it ended up bringing ruin upon him-the key is to find something to praise. They do not consider whether his actions were correct—look at Achilles, to die fighting for his friend Patroclus was the honorable thing, but the expedient thing would be to fight another day. Thus, one would praise him as a man of honor”. Or, as Aristotle also puts it “there is a thin line between virtue and vice, and a sophist can easily turn one into the other”. Stupidity can be easily interpreted as honesty, caution for cowardice, courage for recklessness, and so forth.

4) Comparisons. If you can’t find anything to say about a man, compare him to somebody worse, especially if that latter person is famous. To say that X is better than Famous Y is a great rhetorical device, because everyone knows about Y.

5) Appealing to various types of authority, as a sort of higher objective power. Without going into too much detail, this can be the letter of the law, a sense of proper morals, expert witnesses, and so forth.

False Enthymemes

In addition to proper rhetorical devices, Aristotle also points out sophistries that sound legitimate but are not (however, he also implies that if push comes to shove you might find these of use, though they are dishonorable):

1) Using particular types of words can nullify an enthymeme’s meaning. IE: “Therefore, so and so is not true.”, you are saying it as a fact when it is actually an assumption. “The form of wording causes the illusion”. Thus, to properly speak you need to use facts, such as “he saved some-others he avenged”, but the facts are collated into a conclusion

Another variety is using similar words to mean different things. Or false comparison: The mouse is the root word of Mysteries, and thus the mouse is a holy creature. Or if you are talking about a dog, mention the dog-star, “the hound that follows Olympus”. These sound logical, but are wrong.

2) Another false enthymeme is to assume that what is true of the parts is also true of the whole, or what is true of the whole is also true of the parts. IE: If one knows the letters of the alphabet, you do not necessarily know the meaning of a word. But this logical fallacy would say that you would.

3) Loud indignant language can make people feel one way without actually proving it to be that way. In court if the prosecutor goes into a loud tirade, your instinctive reaction is to assume he is right and the defendant is guilty—but that’s not always the case.

4) Using one example as evidence sounds good, but that is not a valid logical device. You need multiple examples, you need to establish a trend.

5) “Representing the accidental as essential”, ie: “Polycrates said that the mice ate through the bowstring and came to the rescue, saving him”. That is a nice accident, but on the whole mice are harmful.

6) “Argument from consequence”. Paris lived alone on Mount Ida, lofty people do this, therefore Paris had a lofty soul-that’s wrong. It’s a false comparative, a fallacy by omission. If a man goes out at night wearing nice clothes he is a playboy, because playboys go out at night wearing nice clothes.

7) Assuming that something is a cause of something else just because they happened one after the other. In other words, Because B happens after A, therefore A caused B to happen. That’s not always true.

8) Leaving out circumstances. You can say that it is never right for a man to hit another man, but sometimes it is.

9) Confusing the absolute and general for the particular. Example: some things are more probable to happen than others. But sometimes the improbable does happen, and one could argue that “the improbable is probable”, but that’s wrong. It is wrong to assume that because something happened once it will happen regularly.

How To Beat An Argument

You can either use a syllogism (see above) to counter it or an objection.

There are multiple types of objection

1) Attacking the original statement. Example: Your opponent says, for example, “love is always good”. You can object by citing Caunian love (ie: incest) as an example of love not being good

2) By putting forward an alternative statement. The opponent says what makes a good man is that he does good to his friends. You can object by saying “A bad man also does not do evil to his friends”.

3) Citing a previous example, or a well known person. If the opponent says “You should be lenient towards drunken offenses”, say “Pittacus prescribed severe penalties for drunkenness and they’ve worked so far”.


Realizing that rhetoric can be used for positive or negative goals (ie: to convince people to do something or NOT do something), Aristotle seems to feel that the key to good rhetoric is to start with an actual base of knowledge of what you are discussing, form an opinion based on those facts, and then utilize the various rhetorical devices above to convince your audience of that opinion—just knowing the facts OR the rhetorical devices cannot take you as far as an expert knowledge of both can.

In other words, just like the SJWs believe of themselves, feel free to use any of the rhetorical devices given above to manipulate your audience towards the truth. Anything goes, it’s all for a good cause, correct?

Sarcasm aside, you may notice that many of those techniques are still used today in all sorts of rhetorical salles, and many of them are still taught in today’s rhetorical classes. Thus, it is imperative that you learn them, both to convince others of your argument, and (perhaps more importantly in an age of abundant bullshit) to identify when somebody is using them against you.