Aristotle on the centrality of proof to rhetoric

Jamie Dow


Arguably Aristotle was the first in the Western tradition to insist explicitly on a constitutive connection between logic and rhetoric. Aristotle claimed that “rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic”. By this it seems he meant that central to the expert orator’s expertise was a knowledge of the validity of arguments. Indeed, Aristotle insists further that the only essential component of an expertise in rhetoric is an ability to produce proofs. Such a conception of what rhetoric is differed greatly from how his predecessors (we briefly consider Gorgias and Plato) thought about rhetoric. How radical and distinctive Aristotle’s conception of rhetoric was has not been properly recognised in recent work on the Rhetoric. Nor has it been recognised that Aristotle spends much of the first chapter deploying arguments to defend his distinctive, proof-centred view of rhetoric. Here, we consider one argument in which Aristotle’s distinctive conception of rhetoric is deployed, from which it is clear how pivotal to Aristotelian rhetoric the role of proofs is. Then we will attempt to elucidate Aristotle’s argumentative strategies for explaining and defending this distinctive view.

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