"On Distinctions between Classical and Modern Rhetoric" by Andrea A. Lunsford and Lisa S. Ede

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Abstract taken from the Education Resources Information Center:

The emergence of a modern or "new" rhetoric has been characterized by its attempt both to recover and reexamine the concepts of classical rhetoric and to define itself against that classical tradition. The distinctions that are persistently drawn between classical and modern rhetoric fall under four related heads: images of man and society, logical argument, speaker-audience relationship, and persuasion versus communication. The first two distinctions, which view the classical image of man as a rational being and the logical proofs as supreme, discount classical rhetoric as too rationalistic. The latter two, which present the speaker-audience relationship in classical rhetoric as antagonistic and unidirectional and its goal as persuasion, discount classical rhetoric as being too dependent upon emotional manipulation and coercion. These distinctions reflect two major problems: (1) a failure to relate Aristotle's "Rhetoric" to the rest of his philosophy, and (2) serious, persistent misunderstandings about the nature and function of the "pisteis" and of the "enthymeme" in Aristotelian rhetoric (For "pisteis" and "enthymeme" see Glossary).

A much more accurate way to describe Aristotle's concept of the goal of rhetoric is as an interactive means of discovering meaning through language. Such an approach demands that rhetoric be reinstated at the center of the curriculum, as the art of using language in the creation--and sharing--of knowledge and belief. One way to begin this task is by eschewing the false distinctions that have been drawn between classical and modern rhetoric and by building instead on their powerful similarities. (HOD)

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Andrea A. Lunsford & Lisa S. Ede


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