in Homework, Philosophy, Politics

If only Aristotle had a radio talk show…

Success requires wisdom and eloquence.

This statement from my COM theory text is one that really struck me. I think a brief refresher in Greek history is in order to articulate this!

In the time of Aristotle and his mentor Plato, there were these travelling speech ‘teachers’ called Sophists, who were essentially the original FOX news anchors, just dressed for frat parties. They went around Athens offering public speaking lessons for aspiring politicians, lawyers and the like, and they were known for their technique of showboating; elevating style over content. One might accuse any presidential candidate of sophistry. It’s just too easy, and can make you sound educated in Greek history! But these days if you explained what that meant, the moderate voter might reply “And what’s wrong with that? It’s how this thing works.” In a culture run by mass media we are not only taught that this is a good thing, but we are conditioned and controlled by this technique. If you have ever been to a grocery store, been in a job interview, or bought a MacBook, then you’re a sucker. And so am I. (Except for the MacBook. I can’t afford it. Still, props to Apple for making me lust for inanimate objects!)

Neither Plato nor Aristotle liked these Sophist guys too terribly much. Plato viewed rhetoric as deceitful at best, and found no value in it. He said it “makes the lesser appear greater” and saw its fraudulent potential. We often share his skepticism when we say that a speech was “mere rhetoric”. Aristotle, noting this, saw the potential for using such means to stand up against “opponents of truth”, countering falsity with any means of persuasion necessary. Certainly many claim to be doing things the Aristotelian way in modern times, when really they they’re taking him out of context and into vagueness enough to fit [insert agenda here]. This, ladies and gentleman, is pretty slick sophistry.

To help figure out what the Hellenism is going on……….   Aristotle  developed what are referred to as the “Three Musketeers of Rhetoric”. Lets break it down:

  • Ethos, or appeal to credibility. Basically, you can be right all day long, but if you’re not credible, it Is useless. Light bulb. Hello dirty politics.
  • Pathos, or appeal to emotion. This is of course very powerful and instant, but it doesn’t last. Of the three, this is the first in which its effect fades away. So in order to persuade someone on an appeal to emotion, you must be relentless. Soundbites, calls for emergency patriotism and constant breaking news alerts, anyone?
  • Logos, or appeal to logic and reasoning. This one, once it settles, has the strongest persuasion… though it takes the longest to set in, and therefore doesn’t boost any ratings. So if you’re an aspiring journalist, you can just toss this one right into the trash bin. Just kidding?

I’ve grown pretty bitter when it comes to mass media. I’m still a sucker, but I’m an cynical one. However, as much as I would like to think my philosophy minor is going to effectively turn me into a logic-crunching KO-machine of oratory dominance… well it isn’t. At least not in this society. (Besides, I suck at philosophy.) No, in order to realistically stand a chance of persuading anyone around me in this circus of Western culture of what I perceive to be good and true and valuable, I’m going to need to get over my cynical scoffing and properly employ some persuasive rhetoric. My ultimate goal is to communicate Logos. But lets be practical, it is going to take some Pathos, and with any luck a hint of Ethos. Is this called having your cake and eating it too? Or is that an annoyingly idiomatic false analogy? How about, having your need-for-attention-appeal-to-emotion-cake and being epistemologically responsible too?


Thanks Aristotle!

Write a Comment