Appendix: Definitions of Rhetoric

Plato:  Rhetoric is “the art of moving the soul (psyche) by means of speech.”

Aristotle: Rhetoric is “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.

Cicero:  “Rhetoric is one great art comprised of five lesser arts:  inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronunciatio.”  Rhetoric is “speech designed to persuade.”

Quintillian:  “Rhetoric is the art of the good man speaking well.”

Francis Bacon:  Rhetoric is the application of reason to imagination “for the better moving of the will.”

George Campbell:  [Rhetoric] is that art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end.  The four ends of discourse are to enlighten the understanding, please the imagination, move the passion, and influence the will.

I.A. Richards:  Rhetoric is the study of misunderstandings and their remedies.

Kenneth Burke:  “Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols.” ALSO: “Wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric, and wherever there is rhetoric, there is meaning.”

Richard Weaver:  Rhetoric is that “which creates an informed appetition for the good.”

Erika Lindemann:  “Rhetoric is a form of reasoning about probabilities, based on Assumptions people share as members of a commununity.”

Andrea Lunsford:  “Rhetoric is the art, practice, and study of human communication.”

Francis Christensen:  “Grammar maps out the possible; rhetoric narrows the possible down to the desirable or effective.”  “The key question for rhetoric is how to know what is desirable.”

Sonja and Karen Foss:  “Rhetoric is an action human beings perform when they use symbols for the purpose of communicating with one another . . , [and it] is a perspective humans take that involves focusing on symbolic processes.”


  1. Boethius: Confessions (Howell’s translation)

Rhetoric treats of and discourses upon hypotheses, that is, questions with a multitude of surroundings in time and place, and if at any time it brings up a thesis, it uses it in connection with its hyposthesis. These are its surroundings: Who? What? Where? By whose help? Why? In what manner? At what time?

  1. James J. Murphy: “One Thousand Neglected Authors”

A rhetorician is someone who provides his fellows with useful precepts or directions for organizing and presenting his ideas or feeling to them. (20)

  1. Marc Fumaroli: “Rhetoric, Politics and Society”

Rhetoric appears as the connective tissue peculiar to civil society and to its proper finalities, happiness and political peace hic et nunc. (253-4)

  1. Kenneth Burke: A Rhetoric of Motives

The most characteristic concern of rhetoric [is] the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends….the basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents. (41)

  1. Covino and Joliffe: Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries (1995)

Rhetoric is primarily a verbal, situationally contingent, epistemic art that is both philosophical and practical and gives rise to potentially active texts.

  1. Paolo Valesio: Novantiqua (1980)

I specify now that rhetoric is the functional organization of discourse, within its social and cultural context, in all its aspects, exception made for its realization as a strictly formal metalanguage–in formal logic, mathematics, and in the sciences whose metalanguages share the same features.  In other words: rhetoric is all of language, in its realization as discourse.

  1. George Kennedy: “A Hoot in the Dark” (1992)

Rhetoric in the most general sense may perhaps be identified with the energy inherent in communication:  the emotional energy that impels the speaker to speak, the physical energy expanded in the utterance, the energy level coded in the message, and the energy experienced by the recipient in decoding the message.

  1. Francis Bacon (1561-1626): Advancement of Learning

The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.

  1. Bender and Wellbery:

…that sea of communicative transactions…the impersonal drama of what occurs among us, unnoticed and without deliberation or grandeur…the dense tangle of our triviality.

  1. Lloyd Bitzer: “The Rhetorical Situation” (1968)

In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action.

  1. Edward T. Channing: Lectures Read to the Seniors at Harvard College  (c. 1856)

[Rhetoric is] a body of rules derived from experience and observation, extending to all communication by language and designed to make it efficient. It does not ask whether a man is to be a speaker or writer, –a poet, philosopher, or debater; but simply,–is it his wish to be put in the right way of communicating his mind with power to others, by words spoken or written. If so, rhetoric undertakes to show him rules or principles which will help to make the expression of his thoughts effective.

  1. Douglas Ehninger (1972):

[Rhetoric is] that discipline which studies all of the ways in which men may influence each other’s thinking and behavior through the strategic use of symbols.

  1. Gerard A. Hauser: Introduction to Rhetorical Theory (1986)

Rhetoric is an instrumental use of language…. One person engages another person in an exchange of symbols to accomplish some goal. It is not communication for communication’s sake. Rhetoric is communication that attempts to coordinate social action. For this reason, rhetorical communication is explicitly pragmatic. Its goal is to influence human choices on specific matters that require immediate attention.

  1. C. H. Knoblauch: “Modern Rhetorical Theory and Its Future Directions” (1985)

…rhetoric is the process of using language to organize experience and communicate it to others. It is also the study of how people use language to organize and communicate experience. The word denotes…both distinctive human activity and the “science” concerned with understanding that activity.

  1. John Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

[Rhetoric,] that powerful instrument of error and deceit.

  1. McCloskey:

…merely speech with designs on the reader.

  1. Bazerman, Charles: Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science. Madison U of Wisconsin P, 1988. 6.

The study of how people use language and other symbols to realize human goals and carry out human activities . . . ultimately a practical study offering people great control over their symbolic activity.

  1. Hyde, Michael and Craig Smith: “Hermeneutics and Rhetoric: A Seen but Unobserved Relationship.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 4 (1979): 347

The primordial function of rhetoric is to “make-known” meaning both to oneself and to others. Meaning is derived by a human being in and through the interpretive understanding of reality. Rhetoric is the process of making known that meaning. Is not rhetoric defined as pragmatic communication, more concerned with the contemporary audiences and specific questions than with universal audiences and general questions (360)?

  1. Sappho

Persuasion is Aphrodite’s daughter: it is she who beguiles our mortal hearts (frg 90).

Poems and Fragments. Trans. Josephine Balmer. Seacaucus: Meadowland 1984.


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