Aristotle and Burke on Rhetoric and Persuasion

[be sure to hit the "back" button and return here after looking at the passages]

For Aristotle, rhetoric is about PERSUASION. Aristotle's rhetoric is concerned with gaining audience assent. It is audience centered.

Passage from Book One, Chapter Two of THE RHETORIC:

An example of persuasion as discovering all of the available means of persuasion for the given case may be seen in President Clinton's 1996 State of the Union speech. Here Clinton combines:

"Our first challenge is to cherish our children and strengthen America's families. Family is the foundation of American life. If we have stronger families, we will have a stronger America. Before I go on, I would like to take just a moment to thank my own family, and to thank the person who has taught me more than anyone else over 25 years about the importance of families and children -- a wonderful wife, a magnificent mother and a great First Lady. Thank you, Hillary.

All strong families begin with taking more responsibility for our children. I have heard Mrs. Gore say that it's hard to be a parent today, but it's even harder to be a child. So all of us, not just as parents, but all of us in our other roles -- our media, our schools, our teachers, our communities, our churches and synagogues, our businesses, our governments -- all of us have a responsibility to help our children to make it and to make the most of their lives and their God-given capacities.

To the media, I say you should create movies and CDs and television shows you'd want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy. I call on Congress to pass the requirement for a V-chip in TV sets so that parents can screen out programs they believe are inappropriate for their children. When parents control what their young children see, that is not censorship; that is enabling parents to assume more personal responsibility for their children's upbringing. And I urge them to do it. The V-chip requirement is part of the important telecommunications bill now pending in this Congress. It has bipartisan support, and I urge you to pass it now.

To make the V-chip work, I challenge the broadcast industry to do what movies have done -- to identify your programming in ways that help parents to protect their children. And I invite the leaders of major media corporations in the entertainment industry to come to the White House next month to work with us in a positive way on concrete ways to improve what our children see on television. I am ready to work with you."

(full text of Clinton's speech)

(back to Aristotle notes)

For Burke, rhetoric is about a new way to look at persuasion, as IDENTIFICATION, a process which is more broad than merely gaining audience assent. Rhetoric, for Burke, is still audience centered.

(for a passage in the Burke notes on Persuasion and Rhetoric)

An example of persuasion via identification can be found in Bob Dole's farewell speech to the Senate [Bob Dole leaves the Senate to "look to America," May 15, 1996).

"Therefore, as the campaign for the president begins in earnest, it is my obligation to the Senate and to the people of America to leave behind all the trappings of power, all comfort and all security.

So today I announce that I will forego the privileges not only of the office of the majority leader but of the United States Senate itself, from which I resign effective on or before June 11th. And I will then stand before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man. But I will be the same man I was when I walked into the room, the same man I was yesterday and the day before, and a long time ago when I arose from my hospital bed and was permitted by the grace of God to walk again in the world. And I trust in the hard way, for little has come to me except in the hard way, which is good because we have a hard task ahead of us."

(full text of the Dole Speech)

(back to Burke notes)