Description: The history of rhetoric speaking and its effectiveness when used correctly. Essay was completed for Oral Communication as part of my final exam.
The classical tradition of rhetoric is dated back to being with a teacher in ancient time named Corax in around 476 B.C. Though rhetoric teachings did not only stop with Corax, during the fifth century B.C. in Greek city-states rhetoric teaching was becoming a popular thing. The Greek people called these speech teachers sophists, which basically meant wisdom bearer. These teachers were Antiphon, Lysias, Protagoras, and Gorgias. The most famous sophist was named Isocrates because he not only taught rhetoric, but he also taught people how to be statesmen.
These men were not the only rhetoric speakers: “…the most severe critic of the Sophists was the great Greek philosopher Plato” (Burkholder). Plato believed that the proper way of using rhetoric was to be used to influence the minds of the listeners, in other words to be persuasive. Plato’s view on this was influenced by his understanding of the truth in the world and the things around him. Plato thought that of rhetoric as “…a means of influencing the very souls of listeners, thus making them more virtuous” (Burkholder). As the author of this selection stated, Plato thought people didn’t have what it takes to achieve true knowledge in the first place.
Plato placed on his ideals to his student Aristotle who happened to be one influential cookie. However Aristotle has his own ideals and he thought of rhetoric as a form of art that could be taught to anyone. In the article Aristotle was said to define rhetoric as, “…the faculty of discovering, in any given case, the available means of persuasion” (Burkholder). Basically there are the three means of which Aristotle spoke of ethos, logos, and pathos. Through the things Aristotle would teach about speech making it was pretty clear that he was using an audience centered approach.
Aristotle along with other ancient Greeks and Romans created many of the theories to speech making that we still use today. In chapter seventeen of the book it discusses the methods of persuasive that can be used for public speaking. Like I previously stated, Aristotle “…defined rhetoric as the process of discovering the available means of persuasion” (Beebe). Well what chapter 17 does is explain the means of persuasion that Aristotle was talking about. These means of persuasion help to make the speech effective and memorable.
The article on the classical tradition of rhetoric and chapter 17 both share the same belief, that in order to be effective when being persuasive then you must tell the truth. Chapter 17 of the book starts of discussing how you have to have credibility to what you’re saying. In order to be persuasive you can not just base your knowledge on your own opinion. Whatever you are trying to be persuasive has to be supportive with facts or opinions from experts. The chapter also discusses various types of reasoning you should use when being persuasive and the dangers of fallacy. This is when the chapter starts to basically agree with Aristotle because using false information in your speech is a big mistake.
Aristotle was the first to really make it a point to be truthful when being persuasive. When giving a persuasive speech evidence obviously needs to be used, but the evidence can not be made up. Chapter 17 makes it a strong point to know about fallacies because, “you will be both a better and more ethical speaker and a better listener…” (Beebe). Plato, along with other future sophists, believed that the population was basically ignorant to see the truth. So in a sense they believed that the population was basically being persuaded by people using fallacies. This assumption makes sense because after all they were teaching to be rhetoric using truth as a basis.
Both Aristotle and chapter 17 stress the fact that there are other truthful methods to use to have an effective speech. One of the most effective ways is to use emotion in the speech and this also causes the speech to become a memorable one. Aristotle referred to this as pathos, but it is the same concept of using emotion to capture the audience. The chapter also goes into detail about some of the ways to use emotion to persuade:
“Use concrete examples that help your listeners visualize what you describe. Use emotion-arousing words. Use nonverbal behavior to communicate your emotional response. Use visual images to evoke emotions. Use appropriate metaphors and similes. Use appropriate fear appeals. Consider using appeals to several emotions. Tap audience members’ belief in shared myths” (Beebe).
Most of these approaches were used by a very important man in history in the single most known speech to America. That man was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with his speech I have a dream.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech famous speech “I have a dream” in 1963 and since that time there has not been such a remarkable speech. The speech uses emotion on so many levels and that is why it is so memorable. Dr. King constantly uses metaphors and similes; like for example when he said “…justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (King). This speech, in my opinion, is the best example of a rhetoric speech in history so far. Every single sentence of this speech is full of emotion and it connects with so many people. As I mentioned before, Dr. King used varies approaches in his speech, from metaphors to shared audience beliefs. Most importantly he never used one once of falsehood in his speech and that is what rhetoric speech making is all about.
- Beebe, Steven A., and Susan J. Beebe, comps. “Using Persuasive Strategies.” Public Speaking. Pearson Education, 2006.
- Burkholder, Thomas R. “The Classical Tradition of Rhetoric.” Public Speaking. Pearson Education, 2006.
- King, Martin L. Speech. Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. 28 Aug. 1963. 20 Mar. 2007 <http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm>.