rhetoric /aristotle_terms.html

Selected Key Terms in Aristotle’s Theory of Rhetoric

This page contains notes on selected key terms in Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric.

Translation: For the purpose of drawing attention to the act of translating classical Greek, I have juxtaposed the translations of W. Rhys Roberts and George Kennedy. Roberts's translation is from the Oxford University translations of the complete work of Aristotle, an 11-volume series completed in 1931, and until recently was regarded as the standard English translation. George Kennedy’s translation (1991) is gradually replacing that of Roberts as the standard.


On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse [Oxford UP, 1991] is displacing Roberts’s text). A little knowledge of Greek, however, will clarify several of Aristotle’s concepts and, thus, help in acquiring a better understanding of his theory of rhetoric. The complete text of Roberts’s translation available at Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

Transliteration: My present transliteration of the Greek is not entirely accurate. What you see is what happens when you copy text from a word-processing program with a Greek font. Because of the current limitations of character sets available in HTML, transliteration of Greek words on Web pages must follow traditional Latin conventions (unless one uses images). I'll get around to making the corrections one of these days.

Greek Definitions: My source for definitions is the Greek-English Lexicon, compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, 9th ed. (Oxford UP, 1968). “Liddell-Scott-Jones,” or the “LSJ"as it is usually called, was originally published in 1843 and is the standard lexicon for ancient Greek (dictionaries for ancient languages are typically called “lexicons” ). In addition to providing definitions for Greek words, the LSJ also cites passages from ancient texts in which each word is used.


TITLE: The “Art” of Rhetoric

The traditional title of Aristotle’s text is Tekhnês Rhetorikês, which is typically translated into English as The “Art” of Rhetoric. Scare quotes are used with “Art” because English has no single word that adequately translates the Greek tekhnê. Also, it's important to keep in mind however, are two passages from Aristotle’s Metaphysica, which provide a better sense of how he used this term:

1. “The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art [tekhnê] and reasonings” (689; 980b).

2. “Now art [tekhnê] arises when from many notions gained by experience [empeiria] one universal judgement about a class of objects is produced” (689; 981a).



Chapter 1

1. “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic.” (19;1354a)

counterpart [antistrophos] turned so as to face one another, correlative, coordinate, counterpart

Dialectic [dialektikê] see the page, Aristotle’s “Art” of Rhetoric and the Idea of Dialectical Reasoning <>


2. “The modes of persuasion are the only true constituents of the art: everything else is merely accessory.” (19; 1354a)

modes of persuasion [pisteis entekhnon]. This phrase consists of two important terms:

pistis: means of persuasion, argument, proof. See Solmson’s Note 3 (19);

entekhnos: within the range or province of art.
From the root tekhnê: an art or craft, e.g., a set of rules, system or method of making or doing, whether of the useful arts, or of the fine arts.


3. “Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated.”

demonstration [apodeixis] in Aristotle’s logic, a deductive proof by syllogism, opp. inductive proof [epagg epogvgh]


4. “Hence the man who makes a good guess at truth is likely to make a good guess at probabilities.” (22; 1355a)

probabilities [endoxa]: resting on opinion, probable, generally admitted; from doxa: expectation, notion, opinion, judgment. In both Plato and Aristotle, doxa is opposed to epistêmê, or knowledge, thus setting up a key conceptual binary in traditional Western philosophy: belief-knowledge. In his lectures on classical rhetoric, the French critic Roland Barthes associates the ancient idea of doxa with the modern, Marxist conception of ideology (see “The Old Rhetoric: An Aide-Mémoire,” The Semiotic Challenge, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill & Wang, 1988), 11–93; trans. of “L’Ancienne rhétorique—aide–mémoire,” Communications 1 (1970): 172–229.


Chapter 2

5. “Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (24; 1355b)

faculty [dynamis] power, faculty, capacity.


6. “Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not.” (24; 1355b]

With this sentence, a more literal translation is more helpful: “As for proofs [pisten], some are nontechnical [atekhnoi], others technical [entekhnoi]."


7. “I call the enthymeme a rhetorical syllogism, and the example a rhetorical induction.” (26; 1356b)

enthymeme [enthymêma]: thought, piece of reasoning, argument. Related to thymos: soul, spirit, as the principle of life, feeling, and thought; also the heart, as seat of the emotions. This etymology suggests that the enthymeme, unlike the syllogism, is constructed from premises that rest on audience’s belief [doxa] rather than knowledge [epistêmê].

example [paradeigma]: pattern, model; precedent, example; lesson; argument, proof from example.


Chapter 3

"From this it follows that there are three divisions of oratory—(1) political, (2) forensic, and (3) the ceremonial oratory of display.” (32, 1358b)

political symbouleutikos: of or for advising; often in opp. to biastikos forcible, violent.

forensic dikanikos: judicial, belonging to trials;
from dikê custom, usage, order, justice, right, judgment.

ceremonial oratory of display epideitikos: fit for displaying or showing off, deomonstration; declamation. Also, the prefix epi– carries the sense of “place,” or “occasion."