Northern Illinois University Press

Aristotle on Political Reasoning

A Commentary on the "Rhetoric"

Larry Arnhart

"An admirable account."—American Political Science Review

"The clearest, most helpful, least pedantic, and most accurate commentary on Aristotle's Rhetoric in English.... A superb monument to the revival of classical rhetoric."—Philosophy and Rhetoric

Larry Arnhart’s thoughtful commentary gives new life to the classical theory of rhetoric as an essential part of political life. Although modern political philosophy tends to regard rhetoric suspiciously, the ancients considered the art of public speaking an important tool of statecraft. Rhetoric formed a point of contact between the political philosopher and the community; hence, the “art of rhetoric” was part of the education of a statesman.

Arnhart’s case for the classical view rests on his careful and scholarly analysis of the Rhetoric. Following the order of text, he brings to light Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric as a rational form of discourse—to be distinguished from appeals to the emotions by using fallacious arguments. Analysis of the rational structure of rhetoric centers on Aristotle’s concept of the enthymeme as the form of political reasoning. Although it lacks the rigor of philosophical demonstration, political speech— characterized by the enthymeme—operates according to rules of reason. Extending Aristotle’s theory of the rationality of rhetoric to the problems of general political discussion, Arnhart points up the pattern of logic in ordinary political speech.

For political scientists, philosophers, and specialists in communication arts, this new commentary provides useful answers to old questions: Is rhetoric rational? Or is it merely a sophistical tool for verbally manipulating citizens through fallacious arguments and appeals to irrational impulses? In its reliance upon ordinary political experience, does rhetoric provide a foundation of political thought?

(1981) 239 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-537-5
paper $15.00

Larry Arnhart is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of political science at Northern Illinois University and author of several books, including Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature.

Table of Contents

One: Introduction
Two: Rhetoric, Dialectic, and Sophistry
Three: Deliberative Rhetoric
Four: Epideictic Rhetoric
Five: Forensic Rhetoric
Six: The Characters and Passions of Men
Seven: Elements and Structures of Rhetorical Inference
Eight: The Style and Arrangement of Speeches
Nine: Conclusion

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-537-5
paper $15.00