An Art of Rhetorical Listening: Aristotleâ s Treatment of Audience in the Rhetoric
For Aristotle, the art of rhetoricâ an ability to see what is persuasive in any given caseâ is a matter both of speaking and of listening, of persuading and of judging persuasive speeches. Rhetorical artists may exercise their theoretical powers for the sake of productive activity, discovering persuasive arguments to deploy in the courtroom and the assembly, or they may use those same powers to judge the validity or political utility of other speakersâ arguments, â seeingâ the difference between the persuasive and the â apparently persuasive.â This conception of rhetorical artistry is consistent with Aristotleâ s teaching about arts generally. In the Physics and the Metaphysics, Aristotle distinguishes between technÄ , which is a rational and theoretical capacity, and poiÄ sis, which is a productive activity. In the Politics, he advises free people to study the arts, not so that they may please audiences or clients with their artifacts (which is a vulgar pursuit), but so that they may become better judges of othersâ works (a liberal one). Consistent with this conception of receptive and evaluative artistry, the Rhetoric analyzes topics, proofs, enthymeme, and metaphor from both the speaker and the audienceâ s perspectives, showing how one may be rhetorically artistic both as a speaker and as a judge. The dialectical arrangement of the Rhetoric trains Aristotleâ s students and readers in this art of rhetorical listening, teaching them to see not only the available â meansâ of persuasion, but also persuasionâ s material, formal, and final causes.