The Logic and Validity of Emotional Appeal in Classical Greek Rhetorical Theory
The Logic of Persuasion
by Bryan Register
Date: 1 May 99
Forum: University of Texas at Austin
Copyright: Bryan Register
This chapter concludes our analysis of classical Greek rhetorical theories of emotional appeal. Here I discuss the application of logic to rhetoric through Aristotle's key notion of the enthymeme, a very special kind of syllogism. Then I apply the notion of emotions from last chapter to enthymemes to yield the core of Aristotle's theory of emotional appeal. Since the emotions are judgments, and syllogisms can prove judgments, rhetorical appeal to emotions are just a special instance of ordinary logical proof. This shows that emotional appeals can be epistemically valid.
Section 1: What is an Enthymeme?
According to Aristotle, the 'enthymeme' is "the 'body' of persuasion". (1354a15) But
it is very difficult to ascertain what, precisely, Aristotle wishes us to understand by 'enthymeme'.
He is clear on a few things. For instance, we know that "enthymeme is a sort of syllogism". (1355a8) Joseph states the traditional view of enthymeme: "An enthymeme indeed is not a particular form of argument, but a particular way of stating an argument. The name is given to a syllogism with one premise - or, it may be, the conclusion - suppressed." (Joseph 1916, p. 350) Perhaps the one thing that 20th century Aristotle scholars have known for certain is that 'enthymeme' is not the name for syllogisms with one premise, as we shall see.
Many scholars have taken it as their task to distinguish enthymeme from other kinds of syllogisms. One such attempt, which I will take as a foil because it is unusually systematic, is that of Ryan, who notes that we can distinguish between two Aristotelian categories of arguments, which he names categories one and two. Category one may be characterized as deductive, category two as inductive. Category one may be further subdivided between three kinds of arguments: demonstrative syllogism, dialectical syllogism, and rhetorical syllogism, otherwise known as enthymeme. (Ryan, pgs. 36-38)
Dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms can be grouped together and distinguished from demonstrative syllogism. For Aristotle, demonstrative syllogism is intrinsic to science. He says in the Posterior Analytics that
If to understand something is what we have posited it to be, then demonstrative understanding in particular must proceed from items which are true and primitive and immediate and more familiar than and prior to and explanatory of the conclusions. (In this way the principles will be appropriate to what is being proceed.) (71b20-23)
This is the most demanding standard which can be placed on an argument. Crucial to Aristotle's account of science is that the sciences employ premises only when they are internal to the particular science. This is what Aristotle has in mind when he says that the 'principles will be appropriate'. Dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms, however, are not limited to drawing their premises from only a narrow realm: "I am saying that dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms are those in which we state topoi, and these are applicable in common to questions of justice and physics and politics..." (R 1358a10-13) A syllogism is a structured array of propositions. Thus if topoi are stated in a syllogism, they are a premise of the syllogism. But, since topoi find application in many realms, they lack the purity which has to hold of the premises of scientifically demonstrative syllogisms.
Moreover, Aristotle's demand on science that its premises be true and certain does not hold for dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms. For these kinds of syllogisms, agreement by the interlocutor with a premise is sufficient to justify inference: in the Topics (hereafter T) Aristotle says that "...it is a dialectical deduction, if it reasons from reputable opinions." (100a29-30) He continues to say that "...those opinions are reputable which are accepted by everybody or by the majority or by the wise..." (100b20-22) Likewise, in R, he notes that "...rhetoric [forms enthymemes] from things [that seem true] to people already accustomed to deliberate among themselves..." (1357a1-2, square brackets by Kennedy) So, while scientific syllogism is based in known facts, dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms take certain opinions for granted and reason from them. Dialectic and rhetoric, then, are different from demonstrative science in that they are grounded in opinions, rather than proved facts, and in opinions with broad expanse, rather than those applicable only to a certain field of study.
Ryan then tries to distinguish between dialectical and rhetorical syllogism. He believes that there are four points of differentiation between the two types of argument. The first is in the degree of reliance on topoi. Ryan claims that
Rhetorical syllogisms... either merely restate one of these accepted opinions or they argue on the basis of them. To put it differently: at times one can formulate an enthymeme simply by stating an accepted opinion.... More valuable, however, is an enthymeme that derived from such an opinion, as that opinion is joined with some other data...(Ryan, p. 40)
Ryan cites as an example of a enthymeme "If the contrary of a thing is bad, the thing is good". Unfortunately, this proposition does not appear in the place that Ryan cites it as appearing (nor does it appear within the entire chapter it is said to be within), so we cannot know why Ryan takes this single proposition to be an enthymeme, but it seems likely that he is mistaken. Aristotle is clear that an enthymeme is a kind of syllogism, and while an enthymeme may be presented with some of its propositions left unstated, they are still part of the enthymeme. If I argue that, since the United States ought not involve itself in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations, it should not intervene in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia, the proposition that Yugoslavia is a sovereign nation is still a part of my argument even though I didn't mention it. Burnyeat points this out by noting that "...the fact that brevity is a virtue in enthymemes tells us nothing about the standards of validity to be expected of a rhetorical speech, nor does Aristotle ever suggest that it does. A premise suppressed is still a premise of the argument." (Burnyeat 1996, p. 101) Thus the sample statement "If the contrary of a thing is bad, the thing is good" is not a syllogism at all. It is only a part of a syllogism, with the other two propositions not mentioned, presumably, because they are too obvious to the audience. The problem is the acontextuality of Ryan's sample proposition. Devoid of its rhetorical context, the proposition has nothing to do with a syllogism because we are not inclined to provide another premise and pull out a conclusion on our own. In a context, the single proposition might be enough to inform us of an entire enthyememe, even though the proposition itself would not be the entire enthymeme. For instance, Ryan also provides the example (with a correct citation): "To be temperate is good, for to be intemperate is bad". (1397a10) We can take it that the first clause is intended to be the conclusion of an argument. The data for this claim is the second clause of the proposition: "for to be temperate is good". (The word 'for' tips us off to this evidential relation.) The missing premise is the topic which Ryan mentioned: "If the contrary of a thing is bad, the thing is good", and this premise plus the second clause of the example yields the first clause as a valid inference. Ryan continues to argue:
Dialectical syllogisms, however, are different. One cannot state a dialectical syllogism merely by repeating a commonly held opinion, nor can one state such a syllogism merely by filling in such an opinion with some data. But one can argue by means of a dialectical syllogism that has one premise that is either based on an accepted opinion or which is itself an accepted opinion, with another premise stating some data, the whole thing being capped off by a suitable conclusion. (Ryan, p. 40)
But as we have seen, if we are to take Aristotle seriously when he claims that enthymeme is a kind of syllogism, Ryan's description must hold of enthymeme as well as dialectical syllogism, because the only difference Ryan is claiming is that enthymeme need not show syllogistic structure while dialectical syllogism must. But both must, so this is not a correct point of differentiation.
Ryan provides a second distinction, that of the relative depth to which the arguments must go. He writes:
...in dialectic an argument... must be complete in two senses: first, it must be founded on the most basic of the principles at its disposal; and second, in formulating the steps used to arrive at the conclusion it must state all of them. The enthymeme, on the contary, begins with what is close at hand, with no concern for the ultimate basis of its argument. In addition, it skips steps that might have been thought necessary in the argument, provided the argument is clear, and the skipped steps are not controversial. (Ryan, p. 41)
Let us consider these two senses in order. Ryan points out that enthymemes are replete with suppositions, while dialectical syllogisms attempt to ground themselves as deeply as possible. Aristotle writes of the enthymeme that "...we must not carry its reasoning too far back, or the length of the argument will cause obscurity..." (1395b25-26) The reliance on popular convictions do not reduce the clarity of enthymematic arguments, so the failure to mention these premises is of a different kind than the failure to ground the argument as deeply as possible. The missing premises of individual enthymemes are only apparently missing, while the missing depth of rhetorical argument as a whole is actually missing. Thus far Ryan seems to be correct.
However, it is unclear whether this is a distinction between dialectical and rhetorical syllogism, rather than a distinction between dialectic and rhetoric in general. No syllogism contains more than one level of inference, so no single syllogism provides the depth which Ryan thinks differentiates the kinds of syllogisms. So this distinction fails as a distinction of kinds of syllogism, while it succeeds as a distinction between kinds of discourse in general.
The second sense, however, needs further analysis. Earlier I followed Burnyeat in arguing that suppressing a premise in an enthymematic argument does not mean that the premise is not present in the argument. Thus the steps are not exactly 'skipped'. They are present in the argument because the hearer provides them, even though they are 'skipped' in the sense that they are not said explicitly. This is probably what Ryan has in mind.
However, we can question the assumption that enthymemes have even verbally 'skipped' or suppressed premises. Recall from Joseph's comment above that the traditional view of enthyeme is that it is distinguished from all other syllogisms by its characteristic failure to exhibit all of its premises. Aristotle hints toward this when he says that "...it is necessary for the enthymeme... to be... drawn from few premises and often less than those of the primary syllogism; for if one of these is known, it does not have to be stated, since the hearer supplies it..."(1357a14-19) On the one hand, this means that the premises are present in the enthymeme, but they have been, as I suggested above, suppressed in favor of allowing the audience to provide them. But note Aristotle's exact wording: an enthymeme 'often' has less than the standard number of premises. This is merely a 'for the most part' premise, as some enthymemes will have all of their premises explicit. Nancy Harper explains that
A complete enthymeme is constructed of (1) an observation, (2) a generalization, and (3) an inference. An enthymeme may be abbreviated and, when it is, it is usually the generalization which is omitted as a commonly accepted "fact". (Harper, 1973-4, p. 306)
Harper bases her conclusion on a survey of all of Aristotle's examples of enthymemes throughout his logical works. She is specific to note that an enthyememe 'may' be abbreviated. Since the enthymeme is a kind of syllogism, we may take it that these three componenents are (respectively) the minor premise, major premise, and conclusion, and that sometimes, the major premise will be suppressed and provided by the audience. We shall consider this point in more detail below.
Ryan's third distinction deals with subject matter. Rhetoric has three categories: deliberative, judicial, and epideictic. Thus enthymeme must deal with one of those three subject matters. Dialectical syllogism has no such requirement. Even were this distinction correct, it's not clear how much it gets us. We already knew that enthymeme was 'rhetorical syllogism', and Ryan is merely repeating that in a more detailed way by attending to the subject matter of rhetoric. Further, it is unclear whether this is a distinction between dialectical and rhetorical syllogism at all. Rather, in lieu of some other way of demarcating the two, dialectical syllogism would cover the entire area covered by rhetorical syllogism. Thus Ryan is at most pointing out that enthymeme is a distinct subcategory of dialectical syllogism. Again, Ryan seems to have distinguished between dialectic and rhetoric but not to have distinguished between dialectical and rhetorical syllogism .
Ryan's fourth distinction is that dialectical syllogisms are evaluated in terms of their validity, while rhetorical syllogisms are evaluated in terms of their persuasive power. His primary evidence in favor of this interpretation comes from his treatment of three examples in the list of topics in R Book 2 chapter 23. Ryan claims that, though Aristotle views these three arguments as good enthymemes, they are not valid syllogisms. Thus, goodness for an enthymeme is not validity, so it must be persuasive power. Unfortunately, his examples seem to be valid syllogisms. Consider example number one: "If, before accomplishing anything, I asked to be honored, you would have granted it. Will you not grant it [now] when I have succeeded? Do not then make a promise in anticipation but refuse it in realization."(1397b29-31) This argument by Iphicrates is accusing the Athenians of hypocrisy for failing to erect a statue on his honor when they had promised they would. The argument is: "You made a conditional promise. I fulfilled the condition. Now you are obligated to carry out the promise." This inference follows in virtue of the meaning of the word 'promise', and is a perfectly valid argument. The second example is "If other followers of an art are not base, then neither are philosophers." (1397b23-24) The argument here is that, philosophers being less likely than other practitioners of an art to be base, and those others not being base, then philosophers certainly won't be base; again a perfectly valid argument. Finally, "...if it is especially advantageous to our enemies for us to be cowardly, it is clear that courage is especially advantageous to our citizens." (1362b33-34) Again the argument is obviously valid. It goes: the opposite of the cause of an effect will (typically) cause the opposite of the effect of the cause, cowardice causes the victory of our enemies, cowardice and courage are opposites, the victory of our enemies is the opposite of our victory, thus courage causes our victory. While this is not in proper syllogistic form, it could be placed into such form by allowing for several syllogisms, each with its own conclusion which might then be a premise in the next syllogism.
I have again appealed to my argument, drawn from Burnyeat, that suppressed premises are not absent from the argument which rests on them. Once we supply their suppressed premises, these three sample arguments can be seen to be valid. Ryan, however, claims that "It is only when one begins to tinker with these arguments by supplying 'missing premises' that one can lend plausibility to the claim that they are valid arguments." (Ryan, p. 70)
Ryan's arguments have been unsatisfactory, as stated, for two reasons. Some of his arguments fail to distinguish between rhetorical and dialectical syllogisms, even as they correctly divide the field between dialectic and rhetoric as kinds of discourse. We will draw on these insights later. But others of Ryan's arguments rest on disallowing us from supplying missing premises, and I have argued against him in line with Burnyeat. Now that we see the relevance of the question of missing premises, we can move to a deeper level of analysis and ask why Ryan believes that we cannot supply missing premises.
Ryan warns that "the concept of an argument wanting a premise, or having one suppressed or only in the mind, etc., poses serious problems that have often been overlooked." (Ryan, p. 40) To point out these problems, he provides the sample enthymeme: "If Jones is elected, he will change the rules; but the rules have been changed; therefore, Jones has been elected." This argument commits the fallacy of affirming the consequence, as Ryan notes. But Ryan claims that, should an interlocutor rejects the argument because it affirms the consequence, if we allow the arguer to introduce a premise which he had forgotten to mention, then he might introduce the premise "If it is the case both that if Jones is elected, he will change the rules, and that the rules have been changed, then Jones has been elected." which would make his argument valid. Allowing fallacies to be automatically 'corrected' in this way would, of course, ruin any case for any kind of epistemic validity for rhetoric.
However, this does not seem to be a fair characterization of what happens when missing premises are supplied. Aristotle does say, as I pointed out above, that "...it is necessary for the enthymeme... to be... drawn from few premises and often less than those of the primary syllogism; for if one of these is known, it does not have to be stated, since the hearer supplies it..."(1357a14-19) Note that what the hearer supplies is called a premise, so Aristotle must think that enthymemes contain suppressed premises whether he is right to think so or not. But note also that it is the hearer, not the speaker, who is to supply the premise; no audience member is liable to provide such a 'suppressed premise'. When Ryan allows the audience of the argument about Jones to make a response, he drops the context that Aristotle has in mind for the employment of rhetorical arguments.
But Ryan has lost not only the context of rhetorical arguments, he has lost the context of his own examples. The first example is supposed to be an illustration of the topic of "Looking at the time." (1397b28) The argument turns on the satisfaction of the condition of a promise, and thus the activation of the obligation attendant to the promise. The satisfaction of the condition is a temporal feature of the original promise, so this sample is an argument wherein the validity of the argument is determined by considerations of time. The second example is an illustration of the topic which states that "...if a quality does not exist where it is more likely to exist, it clearly does not exist where it is less likely." (1397b14-15) The argument rests on the audience assuming this as a major premise. The third example illustrates arguments based on the topic which says that "a thing is good if its opposite is bad..." (1362b30-31) Again, the audience is supposed to know that cowardice and courage are opposites and that opposites are to be evaluated oppositely. If Aristotle had meant these examples to be independent, he would not employ them all as illustrations of the use of topoi.
However, we can now draw a conclusion about the nature of topoi. Topoi seem to be major premises which are typically suppressed. Ryan's example enthymemes appear in Aristotle as illustrations of particular topoi, because they are valid only if we provide the relevant topoi. We may say that topoi correspond to the 'warrants' of Toulmin's theory of argument, because it is they that, as in Toulmin, 'warrant' the motion from the minor premise, or data, to the conclusion.
In his effort to prove that enthymemes don't need to be logically valid, Ryan argues that enthymemes are not modal in nature; their validity does not rest on the logic of claims which hold only only in virtue of having the modal operator 'probably' modifying them. However, Aristotle notes that "...it is evident that [the premises] from which enthymemes are spoken are sometimes necessarily true but mostly true [only] for the most part." (1357a30-32, brackets by Kennedy) Ryan then proceeds to discuss alternative interpretations of the modality of probability in Aristotle, which we will discuss in a moment. But he ultimately rejects the notion that enthymemes sometimes rely on modality for the validity on the grounds, which we have rejected, that enthymemes do not show syllogistic structure. However, since the effort to prove that modality is not relevant to the validity of enthymeme is part of the argument to show that enthymemes are not valid syllogisms, and since Ryan is using that conclusion as a premise to prove that modality is not relevant, his argument seems to be circular.
But let us consider the question of what Aristotle means by probability and the probabilistic validity of most enthymemes. He defines 'probability' as "what happens for the most part, not in a simple sense, as some define it, but whatever, among things that can be other than they are, is so related to that in regard to which it is probable as a universal is related to a particular." (1357a35-1357b1) Sally Raphael suggests that
Presumably what he is thinking of is arguments like, 'The envious hate; X is envious; so X hates', where the general statement 'the envious hate' makes probable the particular statement 'X hates'.... Aristotle's [word for 'probability' left in Greek] is not a statement of probability at all, but a general statement which is usually true and which probabilifies a particular statement. (Raphael, 1974, p. 159)
The idea is that if I say that P holds of S, and that Q necessarily holds of anything that P holds of, then I can conclude with necessity that Q holds of S. But, if I say that P holds of S and that Q holds of most of the things which P holds of, then I can infer in a probabilistic way that Q holds of S.
Burnyeat makes a very important point about this probabilistic inference. He asks us to consider two arguments, one from Aristotle, one made up to oppose it. "The sky is clouded over, and if the sky is clouded over, it is likely to rain, so it is likely to rain", as opposed to "The barometer is high, and if the barometer is high, it is likely not to rain, so it is likely not to rain." As Burnyeat points out, mutually true premises cannot infer contradictory premises, but these conclusions certainly seem to be contradictory. Burnyeat then argues that "The solution is to accept that 'It is likely to' is not a modal operator but an inferential connective. No inconsistency arises if the assertion 'It will rain' is warranted by one piece of evidence and the assertion 'It will not rain' by another." (Burnyeat, 1996, p. 103-4) Burnyeat is arguing that this is not what Aristotle intends:
S is P
Q of most P
Probably Q of S
rather, this is what he has in mind:
S is P
Q of most P
Q of S
Burnyeat's argument is that, since these probabilistic arguments are definitely syllogisms for Aristotle, "...the notion of sullogismos [syllogism] must be stretched to include some arguments in which the premises do not purport to necessitate their conclusions." (Burnyeat 1996, p. 104) Indeed, placing the modal qualification on the act of inferring rather than the inferred conclusion makes sense in light of the rhetorical context, as Burnyeat continues to point out. A jury cannot return the verdict "Probably guilty", nor can the assembly decide to "Probably declare war". In decisions based on rhetoric, the conclusion immediately loses the context of the particular likelihood provided by the arguments in its favor; the conclusion must be either affirmed or denied and cannot be merely entertained as an hypothesis with some degree of weight.
So far, I have rejected all of Ryan's distinctions between dialectical and rhetorical syllogism, but on the positive side, I have spelled out the nature of rhetorical probability and topics. But Ryan has successfully distinguished rhetorical and dialectical discourse in general, and this insight seems to provide the correct way to differentiate enthymeme from dialectical syllogism: by context.
Aristotle defines rhetoric as "...an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion." (1355b27-28) Rhetoric has its three contexts; courts, the assembly, and celebrations of various kinds. Aristotle says of T, his book on dialectic, that its purpose is "...to find a line of inquiry whereby we shall be able to reason from reputable opinions about any subject presented to us..." (100a21-22) This skill, which hearkens back to Socratic dialectic, is good for "intellectual training, casual encounters, and the philosophical sciences." (101a26-27) Thus each of rhetoric and dialectic is a form of reasoning from reputable opinions, but their contexts of application are quite distinct. Dialectic is exercised in intellectual training - such as that in the Academy and Lyceum - casual encounters - such as those of Socrates as reported in the dialogues - and the philosophical sciences, such as ethics and other areas in which the masses cannot be involved too deeply. Rhetoric, however, is used to persuade the masses in one of three contexts.
Perhaps, then, the distinction between rhetorical and dialectical syllogism is to be found in their function and context. Dialectic aims at ascertaining very general truths and at intellectual duels, while rhetoric aims at persuading people to believe very specific truths. Thus it is the context in which an argument appears that determines whether it is rhetorical or dialectical and how it is functioning.
Let me make a final point. Rhetorical syllogism, we have seen, is distinguished from dialectical syllogism by the context in which the syllogism appears. But we have discussed two other important points about enthymeme; that they typically have one or more suppressed premises and that they typically infer their conclusions in a probabilistic manner. Why are these not in the running for distinctive points, since dialectical syllogism is not known to possess either of these traits?
Note that rhetoric typically infers its conclusions in a probabilistic manner. This means that the predicate term of its conclusions holds of most of the things which the middle term of the syllogism held of. That is, if I say that P of S, Q of P, thus Q of S, the middle term is P and had the second premise been merely probable, it would have said Q of most P.
These two key features of rhetoric - the probabilism of its inferences and the suppression of its premises - are themselves merely probable predicates for rhetorical arguments. We cannot say "Rhetorical arguments are probabilistic", we can only say that "Rhetorical arguments are typically probabilistic". Thus two of the key elements of rhetoric are also key elements of the concept 'rhetoric'.
Section 2: Emotional Topoi
Aristotle says very early in R that "...verbal attack and pity and anger and such emotions of the soul do not relate to the facts but are appeals to the juryman." (1354a16-18) He continues his tirade against emotional appeal by saying that "...it is wrong to warp the jury by leading them into anger or envy or pity: that is the same as if someone made a straightedge crooked before using it." (1354a24-25) One may be tempted to conclude that Aristotle will be advocating a rhetoric only a little loosened from Socrates's speech in the Symposium, a rationalistic rhetoric devoid of emotional appeal. But then we have to wonder why Aristotle dedicates so much of R to explaining emotions.
Robert Wardy proposes a solution which can be fleshed out: "...perhaps the first chapter [of R]'s comment that the arousal of emotion is 'directed at the juryman' without any 'bearing on the issue' might be restricted to abusive emotional manipulation..." (Wardy 1996, p. 64) We should attend to context. Aristotle says that it is wrong to warp the audience only after saying that some cities "adopt the practice [of]... forbid[ing] speaking outside the subject [in court]..." (1354a22-23, brackets and italics mine) Some emotional appeals will be to the point, others will not. Appealing to the jury's anti-Semitism when a Jew is on trial would not, for instance, be to the point, while appealing to the audience's sense of pity when trying to raise money for an humanitarian cause would be very much to the point. (This holds even if the point is a bad one.) Moreover, Aristotle cannot possibly mean to say that all emotional appeals 'warp' the audience, because, as we have seen, he puts a great deal of effort into presenting a view of the emotions in which they are potentially rational responses which are at the core of the virtuous life of the rational animal. Wardy thus proposes that we distinguish emotional manipulation from rational emotional appeal. The former dispenses with the relevant facts of whatever is being argued, while the latter employs just those facts to yield a rational emotional response. Appealing to the anger of a jury on grounds that justice has been violated is appropriate because justice is the point of a jury trial, while appealing to the anger of a jury on grounds that the accused is black is not, because color is irrelevant to justice (in most cases).
There is another point in favor of interpreting Aristotle as accepting emotional appeal. Aristotle is attempting to define the art of rhetoric, and he chides previous rhetorical theorists for dealing only with emotional appeals. But he does say of them that "...those who have composed Arts of Speech have worked on a small part of the subject... [and] give most of their attention to matters external to the subject..." (1354a12-16) Thus they are not all bad; though they waste a great deal of time on irreleventia (emotional manipulation), they "have worked on a small part of the subject". Moreover, Aristotle explicitly includes emotional appeal within his trilogy of kinds of artistic proof. He says
Of the pisteis [proofs], some are atechnic ["nonartistic"], some entechnic
["embodied in art, artistic"]. I call atechnic those that are not provided by "us" [i.e., the potential speaker] but are preexisting... and artistic whatever can be prepared by method and by "us"; thus, one must use the former and invent the latter. Of the pisteis provided through speech there are three species: for some are in the character [ethos] of the speaker, and some in disposing the listener in some way, and some in the argument [logos ] itself, by showing or seeming to show something. (1355b36-1356a4, first bracket mine, others Kennedy's)
He continues to say that "Since pisteis come about through these [three means], it is clear to grasp an understanding of them is the function of one who can form [invent?] syllogisms and be observant about characters and virtues and, third, about emotions." (1356a22-24, second brackets mine) Since these three kinds of proof are all formed by the rhetor, they must not be the pre-existing inartistic proofs; by elimination, they are all artistic. So emotional appeal, as commentators generally recognize, is part of the art of rhetoric.
But how do emotional appeals work? Aristotle concludes R by instructing his students "...when the nature and importance [of the facts] are clear, lead the hearer into emotional reactions. These are pity and indignation and anger and hatred and envy and emulation and strife. Their topics have been mentioned earlier." (1419b25-28) When he speaks of the topoi relevant to emotions, he must be referring to his chapters on the emotions.
Weirdly, Aristotle also instructs in the concluding passages "And when you would create pathos, do not speak in enthymemes, for the enthymeme either knocks out the pathos or is spoken in vain. (Simultaneous movements known out each other and either fade away or make each other weak.)" (1418a13-15) This is a very strange passage, because Aristotle will clearly say in just another page or so that he has provided topoi for use in arousing emotions, and we have seen that topoi are (typically suppressed) premises in enthymematic arguments. Aristotle may simply be expressing himself oddly. He does not say not not to use enthymemes, just not to speak in them. He may be telling the student not to make the structure of enthymematic argument clear when emotional appeal is the goal, or not to tell the audience what the emotion is that they are supposed to feel. Moreover, since he refers to 'simultaneous movements', he may have in mind not speaking of the enthymeme because making the enthymeme clear would be redundant. Providing the minor premise of the enthymematic argument will, in itself, move the audience to an emotion, and so there is no use in telling them what the concluding emotion. We can imagine that telling them would either be pointless, because they are already feeling the passion, or worse than pointless, because they might be brought to reject the emotion once it has been named - who wants to feel hatred or envy?
The only mention of topoi within the chapters on emotions comes in the discussion of those who are 'calm'. He says that
...those wishing to instill calmness [in an audience] should speak from these topics; they produce such a feeling in them by having made them regard those with whom they are angry as either persons to be feared or worthy of respect or benefactors or involuntary actors or as very grieved by what they have done. (1380b30-34)
Calmness is the opposite of anger, and the emotional appeals associated with calmness are aimed at assuaging anger. We can end anger
(1) by telling the audience of the threat imposed by those at whom they had been angry (since anger desires to punish its object and fear regards the object as more powerful than the fearful, one cannot be simultaneously angry and fearful of the same object),
(2) by telling them of the superior social station of those at whom they had been angry (because anger is anger at its object's going outside the bounds and violating the angry one, but those who are objects of respect are the angry one's superiors and thus incapable of violating one),
(3) by leading them to realize the (secret?) benefits the object of anger provide the angry ones (because we cannot be simultaneously appreciative and angry),
(4) by leading them to acknowledge the non-responsibility of the object of anger for her slight (by convincing them that the object of anger was not autonomous and thus not responsible),
(5) by leading them to realize that the object of anger has acknowledged his slight and feels terribly about it (by convincing them that the object of anger has already been duly punished and feels sorry).
In every case, two elements are necessary to move the audience to calmness. We must convince them of the fact that the object of their anger is threatening or socially superior or helpful or not responsible or deeply apologetic, and they must move from that premise to the conclusion that anger is not justified, but that calmness is. That which justifies the move is a topic, which functions as the major premise of an enthymematic argument. Sally Raphael agrees, saying that "...no orator in a law-court will state the conditions under which people become mild, but he will use this [topic, left in Greek] in the sense that he will endeavour to placate the audience, either by means of his bearing or by means of well-chosen words." (Raphael 1974, p. 165)
These topoi will be very narrow and specific to their emotion. Aristotle distinguishes between common and local topoi by saying that "There are 'specifics' that come from the premises of each species and genus [of knowledge]; for example in physics there are premises from which there is neither an enthymeme nor a syllogism applicable to ethics; and in ethics [there are] others not useful in physics..." (1358a17-21) Likewise, there will be topoi specific to the emotions and to each specific emotion; as I have pointed out, Aristotle has said at (1419b25-28) that he provides these, so we can take it that he believes that there are such things.
Let me take another example emotion and derive some topoi which are not labeled as such (as they were with calmness). I choose fear, quite at random. Aristotle tells us that fear is "a sort of pain or agitation derived form the imagination of a future destructive or painful evil..." (1382a22-23) He points out that "...such things are necessarily causes of fear as seem to have great potentiality for destruction or for causing harms that lead to great pains." (1381a27-30) Thus, to persuade the audience to fear something, I must persuade them that that something is seriously threatening to them. If I can prove the threat, then the audience will itself infer the emotional judgment which constitutes fear, and the criterion for coming to fear something is the major premise or topic of the enthymeme. To put it another way, if I try to make the audience fearful, my argument is as follows:
X is threatening (minor premise, provided by me)
if X is threatening, then fear X (major premise or topic, provided by audience)
fear X (conclusion tacitly drawn by audience)
The thrust of the argument of chapter 3.2 was that, for Aristotle, emotions are (among other things) judgments. It is at this point that this conclusion becomes relevant. Emotions can be the conclusions of valid logical arguments only because they are propositionally structured and propositions are the kinds of things that are elements of syllogisms.
We can analyze this structure of argument even deeper, though to do so we will need to use some simple apparatus of modern logic which syllogistic will not support. Since an emotion includes a judgment and a desire integrated into the same physical response, there is a kind of at least quasi-logical relation between the judgment and desire which are the core of any given emotion. So, by breaking down the conclusion 'fear X', we can make the syllogism above more clear by splitting it into two:
X is threatening
if X is threatening, then judge X in the way appropriate to fear
judge X in the way appropriate to fear
judge X in the way appropriate to fear
if judge X in the way appropriate to fear, then have toward X the desire associated with fear (to wit, the desire to escape)
thus, desire to escape from X
What Aristotle does by providing his theories of topoi (or warrants) as typically suppressed major premises of enthymemes and emotions as propositionally structured modes of awareness of facts is to yield up the logic of emotional appeal and simultaneously to validate emotional appeal. On the one hand, we now know (roughly) how emotional appeal works. The artistic orator knows specifically what judgment she wants to evoke and what emotion is associated with that judgment. She also knows what are the criteria by which one will find it appropriate to respond to a particular situation with that emotion. All she need do is make the audience aware of the facts which will, by those criteria, yield the desired emotional judgment as a conclusion.
We can now see that emotions are typically rational responses to facts, and we can see how emotions, because they are judgments, can be brought about by logically valid arguments. On the assumption that the minor premises of rhetorical syllogisms can accurately report facts, we can conclude that those emotional appeals which employ true propositions stating relevant facts as minor premises, which move through a correct emotional topic or warrant to a rational emotional conclusion, will be appeals as logically valid and epistemically appropriate as any other kind of proof.
Go to next section.
Find Enlightenment at enlightenment.supersaturated.com.