The ancients regarded rhetoric as the crowning intellectual discipline—the synthesis of logical principles and other knowledge attained from years of schooling. Modern readers will find considerable relevance in Aristotelian rhetoric and its focus on developing argumentation. Aristotle’s examinations of how to comose and interpret speeches offer significant insights into the language and style of contemporary communications, from advertisements to news reports and other media.”
Aristotle joins Plato in criticizing contemporary manuals of rhetoric. But how does he manage to distinguish his own project from the criticized manuals? The general idea seems to be this: Previous theorists of rhetoric gave most of their attention to methods outsidethe subject; they taught how to slander, how to arouse emotions in the audience, or how to distract the attention of the hearers from the subject. This style of rhetoric promotes a situation in which juries and assemblies no longer form rational judgments about the given issues, but surrender to the litigants. Aristotelian rhetoric is different in this respect: it is centered on the rhetorical kind of proof, the enthymeme (see below ), which is called the most important means of persuasion. Since people are most strongly convinced when they suppose that something has beenproven (Rhet. I.1, 1355a5f.), there is no need for the orator to confuse or distract the audience by the use of emotional appeals, etc. In Aristotle's view an orator will be even more successful when he just picks up the convincing aspects of a given issue, thereby using commonly-held opinions as premises. Since peoplehave a natural disposition for the true (Rhet. I.1, 1355a15f.) and every man has some contribution to make to the truth (Eudemian Ethics I.6, 1216b31,) there is no unbridgeable gapbetween the commonly-held opinions and what is true. This alleged affinity between the true and the persuasive justifies Aristotle's project of a rhetoric that essentially relies on the persuasiveness of pertinent argumentation; and it is just this argumentative character of Aristotelian rhetoric that explains the close affinity between rhetoric and dialectic (see above ).
By the beginning of the 20th century, rhetoric was fast losing the remains of its former importance, and eventually was taken out of the school curriculum altogether at the time of the Separation of State and Churches (1905). Part of the argument was that rhetoric remained the last element of irrationality, driven by religious arguments, in what was perceived as inimical to Republican education. The move, initiated in 1789, found its resolution in 1902 when rhetoric was expunged from all curricula. At the same time, Aristotelian rhetoric, owing to a revival of Thomistic philosophy initiated by Rome, regained ground in what was left of Catholic education in France, in particular at the prestigious Faculty of Theology of Paris, now a private entity. Yet, rhetoric vanished substantially from the French scene, educational or intellectual, for some 60 years..