Rhetoric (aristotle)

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The rhetoric ( Greek τέχνη ῥητορική téchnē rhētorikḗ ) is one of the main works of the philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC). It contains a systematic presentation of rhetoric , the art of convincing through speech.


Function of rhetoric

Like dialectics, rhetoric is an interdisciplinary basic knowledge, because it deals with “topics, the knowledge of which can be assigned to all areas of science”. It is understood as an argumentative technique (or artistry; Greek τέχνη téchnē ) that is used by all people - intuitively or professionally. Rhetoric is defined as the ability to find “what is convincing inherent in every thing”, “convincing and apparently convincing”, “truth and what is close to the truth” about any object (εὕρεσις héuresis ), to order and to use language skillfully to design.

Rhetoric is an art of persuasion , not persuasion . The sophistic persuasion, according to Aristotle, is intentionally and ethically incorrect and has nothing to do with the ability to produce conviction by means of one's ability and knowledge.

The central term is therefore the probable (εικός eikós ) or believable (πιθανόν pithanón ). "To hit the probable means in the majority of cases as much as hit the truth", that is, something that is true in most cases. The rhetorician does not have to worry about the "truth of things", but makes use of generally accepted opinions (δόξα dóxa ), closest reliabilities and probable sentences. So it is not a philosophical method, but a systematic teaching of a social practice.

The three types of speech

(1st book, 3rd chapter)

Overview of the three types of speech and their characteristics
Expression task purpose audience refers to:
génos dikanikón / genus iudiciale (e.g. court speech ) Prosecution / Defense Just / Unjust Judges / jurors past
génos symbouleutikón / genus deliberativum (e.g. parliamentary speech ): Advise / advise against Benefit / harm People's Assembly (respective political decision-maker) future
génos epideiktikón / genus demonstrativum (e.g. festive speech) Praise / blame honorable / dishonorable someone who "enjoys" (all people) Present past)

The effect of Aristotle's division of speeches could hardly be overestimated.

The rhetoric γένος δικανικόν génos dikanikón ( Latin genus iudiciale ), often shortened to “court speech ” in German, refers to past actions that must be judged according to their legality. The speaker is either a prosecutor or a defense attorney.

In the γένος συμβουλευτικόν génos symbouleutikón ( Latin genus deliberativum ), which in modern times can be called “parliamentary speech”, the audience that is to be influenced is a group or an individual decision-maker. The speaker advises certain actions, which are usually in the future.

The rhetoric γένος ἐπιδεικτικόν génos epideiktikón ( Latin genus demonstrativum ), often also called “eulogy” or “festive speech”, however, refers fundamentally to the present, whereby actions from the past are also mentioned. This “solemn speech”, which can also be a funeral speech, is aimed at all people, so in this case the audience is very vague.

This division of the rhetoric established by Aristotle determines the rhetoric to this day and is thus to be regarded as one of the most powerful parts of Aristotelian rhetoric.

Means of persuasion

Aristotle distinguishes three means of persuasion, i. H. three ways a belief can come about:

  1. The character of the speaker (ἦθος ē̂thos )
  2. The emotions of the audience (πάθος páthos )
  3. The argument (λόγος lógos )

He considers the argument to be the most important means of persuasion. These three types are skillful means of persuasion (πίστεις ἔντεχνοι písteis éntechnoi ), i.e. H. those that belong to the speech itself. According to Aristotle, there can be no other artistic means of persuasion besides these three. There are, however, non-art means of persuasion (πίστεις ἄτεχνοι písteis átechnoi ), i. H. Means of persuasion that are not part of the speech itself. This includes, for example, testimony, precedents, written testimonies, citations, oaths and torture.

Aristotle writes little about the means of persuasion of character. The speaker convinces with his character, in that he appears credible to the audience due to his speech. The speaker appears credible if he appears virtuous, clever and benevolent to the audience.

Arguments: enthymeme and example

Aristotle distinguishes two types of arguments: the example - a form of induction - and the enthymeme , which he deals with in more detail and considers to be the more important. He defines the enthymeme as a proof (ἀπόδειξις apódeixis ) in rhetoric. Thus, the enthymeme is a deduction (συλλογισμός syllogismós ) or a kind of or something like a deduction (συλλογισμός τις syllogismós tis ). The form of the enthymem can vary, but it is always an assertion with a reason. It is characteristic of the enthymeme that the premises consist of sentences that are generally accepted opinions (ἔνδοξα éndoxa ), i.e. H. those believed to be true by all or most of the people. According to Aristotle, the speaker therefore primarily convinces his audience of a certain statement by formulating a proof in which his substantiating statements are shared by his audience. The widespread, curious view that the enthymeme is a syllogism in which one of the two premises is missing is not represented by Aristotle ; it is based on a misunderstanding of the statement that the speaker should not overtax his audience, as evidenced in the ancient commentary.


Aristotle criticizes the rhetoric of his time, which was often aimed solely at emotions.

“Now those who have previously written the rhetorical textbooks have only managed to achieve a small part of it. Because only convincing is in accordance with art, the others are gifts. But they have said nothing about the enthymemes that form the body of conviction; for the most part, they deal with what is outside the matter. Namely, accusation, pity, anger and such emotions of the soul are not part of the matter, but are aimed at the judge. "

- Aristotle : Rhetoric I, 1,3–4 1354a12–18

Thus Aristotle does not criticize every use of emotion in rhetoric. He criticizes the sole use of emotions without argumentative elements and a use of emotions that is not factual. His theory of emotions is therefore primarily aimed at evoking emotions in the listener by causing them to arise from the negotiated facts themselves. Such arousal of emotions supports factual rhetoric.

Because of their importance for rhetoric, Aristotle treats the emotions in detail in Book II, often arranging them in pairs. Reproduction in German terms is often difficult. So φιλία philía is mostly represented with friendship, but also includes emotionality towards relatives. It is also translated as (not erotic) love . He also treated hatred (μῖσος miso ), shame (αἰσχύνη aischýnē ), indignation (νέμεσις Némesis ), envy (φθόνος phthonus ), anger (ὀργή Orge ), gentleness (πραότης praótēs ), fear (φόβος Phobos ), gratitude (χάρις Charis ), Compassion (ἔλεος éleos ) and zeal (ζῆλος zē̂los ).


In connection with his remarks on emotions, Aristotle deals with the different ages, since the motivations for action are very different in older and younger men. The elderly act more out of calculation and greed for money, their affective impulses are rather weak. Aristotle characterizes youth with rashness and heat. The men at the “height of their lives” have the right measure. The right age is (physically) between 30 and 35 years and the soul reaches its prime around 49 years.

Topic (in rhetoric)

The Topik is on the one hand an independent work by Aristotle, see: Topik . On the other hand, the topic is also dealt with in the context of rhetoric. Here as there, it is a matter of systematically finding arguments. Since the topic was mainly used in the dialectical disputes of the academies, it is understood more as a tool of dialectics in the work of the same name. Nevertheless, it is also of great importance for the rhetorician, which is why references to this work can be found in the rhetoric.

Style issues

Since Aristotle is very concerned with the methods of influencing the hearers' beliefs, the means of persuasion play a central role. Nevertheless, it is not the means of persuasion that represent the real realm of rhetoric. Geometry does not need rhetoric, logic also comes to the truth through its methods. Speech, however, needs words and thus leaves the realm of certain knowledge. But although there is no reliable knowledge, knowledge, theoretical reflection, is also possible on the actual area of ​​rhetoric, on language. This reflection on the language is a reflection on the style of the language in prosaic (unbound) speech. There are two aspects that serve for methodical reflection: the successful choice of words and the clever arrangement of words and parts of speech. These two aspects are called elocutio and dispositio in the later theory of rhetoric .

Choice of words

First of all, the expression must be sufficiently clear, i.e. understandable for the listener. In addition, an “appropriate” choice of words with regard to the style level of the words is essential. This is usually the middle level of style. The sublime poetic (bound) language should be avoided as well as the vulgar language. The metaphor is expressly declared appropriate by Aristotle. However, the subject of the speech, the speech situation or the position of the speaker can also make it necessary to leave the middle level of style. It is crucial that the choice of words does not appear artificial, but rather expresses the topic of the speech in a credible manner. The speech should neither be superficial nor incomprehensible, it should “bring something to mind” to the listener and thus create an impression. The speech should instruct and be witty through the appropriate choice of words and metaphors. Aristotle also goes into the difference between a written text and a spoken speech.

The linguistic arrangement

Basically there are two parts of the speech: the presentation of the facts and the evidence. Aristotle criticizes rules that are too precise about the structure of speech (he calls them "ridiculous"!). Then he shows examples of parts of speech as used by Gorgias or Isocrates . To clarify this, Aristotle gives many examples from Greek literature and mythology, but analogies from art and music also show the artistic relationship between reflection on language.


  • Aristotle: rhetoric . Greek / German. Translated and edited by Gernot Krapinger. Reclam Stuttgart 2018.
  • Christof Rapp : Aristotle. Rhetoric. Translation, introduction and commentary. 2 half volumes, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2002.
  • Aristotle: rhetoric. Translated with a bibliography, explanations and an afterword by Franz G. Sieveke, Munich 1980.


  • Evangelos Alexiou: The rhetoric of Aristotle. In: Bernhard Zimmermann , Antonios Rengakos (Hrsg.): Handbook of the Greek literature of antiquity. Volume 2: The Literature of the Classical and Hellenistic Period. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-61818-5 , pp. 761-772
  • Josef Kopperschmidt : Rhetoric as a medium of political deliberation: z. B. Aristotle. In: Josef Kopperschmidt (Ed.): Politics and Rhetoric. Opladen 1995.
  • Markus H. Wörner: The ethical in the rhetoric of Aristotle. Munich 1990.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Aristotle, Rhetoric I, 1,1. Translation from Aristotle: Rhetoric. Translated and edited by Gernot Krapinger. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-018006-6 , p. 7.
  2. ^ Aristotle, Rhetoric I, 2.1. Translation from Aristotle: Rhetoric. Translated and edited by Gernot Krapinger. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-018006-6 , p. 11.
  3. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik I, 1.
  4. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik I, 1,11 1355a7f.
  5. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik III, 1,1 1403b10.
  6. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik I, 2,4 1356a5–11; II, 1.5-6 1378a6-16.
  7. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik I, 1,11 1355a6ff.
  8. Christof Rapp: Aristoteles. Rhetoric. Vol. 1, Berlin 2002, pp. 226f.
  9. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik I, 2,12 1357a7ff .; Christof Rapp: Aristotle. Rhetoric. Vol. 1, Berlin 2002, pp. 229f.
  10. Christof Rapp: Aristoteles. Rhetoric. Vol. 1, Berlin 2002, p. 38 and Vol. 2, Berlin 2002, p. 364.
  11. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik II 1390a.
  12. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik II 1389b.
  13. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik I.
  14. Cf. Aristoteles, Rhetorik II, 23,9; III, 18.5.
  15. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik 1404b.
  16. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik 1413b.
  17. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetorik 1414a.