Last modified on 18 March 2012, at 22:27

Historical Rhetorics/The Big Aristotle/Newman, Sara J. “Aristotle’s Definition of Rhetoric in the Rhetoric: The Metaphors and their Message.”

Newman investigates Aristotle’s definitions of rhetoric in the Rhetoric using his own theory of metaphor to scrutinize these definitions. She identifies the following four definitional statements in Book I:

  • Aristotle’s opening assertion that “Rhetoric is an antistrophos to dialectic.”
  • The statement at the beginning of chapter 2: “Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion.”
  • Metaphorically (to Newman): “rhetoric is a certain kind of offshoot [paraphues] of dialectic and of ethical studies (which it is just to call politics). (Thus, too, rhetoric dresses itself up in the form of politics, as do those who pretend to have a knowledge of it.)”
  • Metaphorically (to Newman): “rhetoric is partly [morion ti] dialectic, and resembles it . . . for neither of them is identifiable without knowledge of any specific subject, but they are distinct abilities of supplying words.”

Individually, Newman finds the metaphors to enhance Aristotle’s discussion of what rhetoric is—in her words an art with a particular use to “discover just arguments and to defeat unjust ones by means of its central feature, the enthymeme” (21). However, she also argues that Aristotle’s metaphors defining rhetoric do not function according to Aristotle’s own criteria for heuristic metaphors. For example, they never clearly define how rhetoric and dialectic relate “as antistrophos to strophe, as part to whole, or as species to species” (21). As a result, none of the metaphors leave the definition of the term “rhetoric” clear, and ironically Aristotle does not supply the textual evidence to elucidate his own definition of rhetoric according to his own criteria for metaphor.