Historical Rhetorics/The Big Aristotle/McAdon, Brad. "Reconsidering the Intention or Purpose of Aristotle's Rhetoric."

McAdon, Brad. "Reconsidering the Intention or Purpose of Aristotle's Rhetoric." Rhetoric Review 23 (2004): 216-34.

McAdon engages two contemporary views as to the authorial purposes of the Rhetoric. Advocates of one view (referred to as the “prevailing view”) maintain that Aristotle valued democracy and understood rhetoric to be a form of positive civic or democratic discourse and that the Rhetoric was written to express this view, while others (those of the “historical approach”) suggest that Aristotle’s purpose in writing the Rhetoric was to instruct members of the Academy and Lyceum in the “necessary evil” of using rhetoric to deal with the ignorant masses. In response, McAdon demonstrates that the first view (that Aristotle valued democracy and understood rhetoric to be appositive form of discourse) is clearly not supported by the Aristotelian texts and that the second view (rhetoric a tool to deal with ignorant masses) needs to expand the contexts within the Rhetoric in understood to include the long and complex transmission and editorial history of Aristotle’s works before any purpose or intent can be ascribed to Aristotle. (218)

McAdon first dismantles the idea that Aristotle was in favor of democracy and that rhetoric was the most useful way to engage in it: “In addition to characterizing [democracy] as ‘very inferior’ (1312b36, 1310b4) and made up of primarily lowly working classes, Aristotle elsewhere characterizes it as undisciplined, lawless, despotic, vulgar, hostile to upper classes, and unstable. He also claims that the things that ‘occur in connection with the final form of democracy are favorable to tyranny’ and that this form of democracy is, in fact, tyranny itself because it necessitates the sovereignty of the ordinary working people over the wealthy” (McAdon 222).

McAdon then points out that, despite moving in the right direction, Susan Poster's argument of reading the context more closely is inadeuqate: McAdon asserts that “it is not enough to try and capture the intent or purpose of the Rhetoric within the contexts of the Academy and the Lyceum alone when we know that the Aristotelian texts had a turbulent life of their own for almost three hundred years after Aristotle’s death before they were edited in something like their present form by Andronicus. Therefore it is problematic to limit the contexts of determining the purpose of the composition of the Aristotelian texts to Aristotle’s lifetime” (McAdon 229).

Thus, although McAdon disassembles the two previous perspectives on the intent or purpose behind the Rhetoric, he does not put forth any fresh perspective of his own beyond calling for deeper scholarhsip into the long and problematic editorial history of the text - a necessary requirement if we are to truly understand the inetion or purpose behind Aristotle's Rhetoric.