“For all advice to do things or not to do them is concerned with happiness and with the things that make for or against it; whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.”
— Aristotle

Key Terms: Enthymeme, Syllogism, Political/Deliberative Rhetoric, Forensic Rhetoric, Ceremonial/Epideictic Rhetoric, Ethos, Pathos, Logos, Phronesis, Arete, Eunoia, Lexis, Taxis, Prooemium, Prosthesis, Pistis, Epilogue

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is, as its name implies, a key classic text of Greco-Roman rhetoric, foundational to the discipline itself. It is a text that I have of course studied before, but given its many very specific topics and claims, it is also a text that exemplifies the property of being read very differently with any particular purpose in mind. Given this, I have focused on how it applies to my current academic and research interests. Rather than produce a needlessly redundant overview of the text, I will instead focus on the study questions I have put forth for my comprehensive examinations. I further note, in advance, that this text was included more for its value as a foundational text than for its specific alignment with this list; therefore, the connections here are somewhat more sparse than those found in other texts.

Questions and Answers

1. T. R. Johnson describes “renegade rhetoric” as a “pleasure-oriented, magical tradition,”an approach to composition as something powerful that can be enjoyed (4). Making the case that educational institutions are often intellectually inhospitable to students who do not conform to a particular model of expectations, Johnson cites the contrasting interest in pleasure—indeed, in magic—such as discussed by Peter Elbow and William Covino as “explicitly remote from the centers of mainstream, ‘official’ institutions” (4). Considering Adichie’s description of being unable to perceive herself as included in a particular community until she had seen herself welcome there, how can we use Johnson’s pleasure-oriented “renegade rhetoric” to create a more inclusive academic community that encourages students to be active, engaged participants rather than feel academics are a toil inflicted upon them?

Aristotle’s assertion that rhetoric is “the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us” certainly allows for Johnson’s model of a highly specific variety of rhetoric. Further, while his approach to the matter is not what one might term “enlightened” in a way that befits our contemporary conception of inclusion, Aristotle does address the idea of inclusion, even going so far as to argue (in his own way, laden with no small measure of gender bias) for the inclusion of women in considerations of happiness in Book I, Chapter 5.

For one, he notes in Book III, Chapter Two, that “People do not feel the same towards strangers as they do towards their own countrymen, and the same thing is true in their feeling for language.” This comes as part of his argument that style of delivery should use relatable, everyday speech, and much of this could be questioned or refuted (and, indeed, others on my list certainly raise those questions–Paul Kei Matsuda comes to mind). However, it raises the importance of relatability.

By putting forth the importance of inclusion but creating categories and limiting caveats on how it may be experienced, Aristotle gives a very apt example of opportunities to employ the resistance of Johnson’s renegade rhetoric: the schema itself may exist, but it may be worked within subversively to counteract its implicit limitations and biases that lead to the exclusion and Othering of those who do not fit the model. As Johnson does, we can certainly apply this idea to both the classroom space and to the approach of teaching rhetoric.

2. In the text, identify a specific community that is discussed. What role does inclusion in and engagement with that community play in forming an identity (both as an individual and as part of said community) that serves to facilitate the goals of liberation and critical consciousness as put forth by Paulo Freire and bell hooks?

For Aristotle, inclusion his own privileged circle of society is central to his discussion of rhetoric. He extensively describes what should comprise an appropriate identity within that community, but his method seems much more inclined toward a process of normalization than of inclusion–he tends to create rather than break down borders. However, if one considers Aristotle’s method as existing beyond the limits of his concept of virtue, then it is conceivable that the very system he proposes may be used to break down the limitations of the community he has described.

By acknowledging, for example, that emotional appeals, credibility, and logic may be used in ways other than Aristotle’s own specific, prescriptive model, it is possible to translate his ideas into a method that can be turned to other purposes. Essentially, his structural and logical ideas might be viewed as a functional idea machine–but we need not draw upon the same limited raw materials to utilize said machine.

3. How can seeking to orient toward pleasure and satisfaction as pedagogical modes be designed to specifically address the concepts of varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and the highly varied backgrounds (personal, cultural, academic) of students?

While Aristotle has, as is typical of the text, very specific guidelines for defining happiness, his method of outlining dimensions and quantifiable aspects for happiness may still be of use in examining this question. Take, for instance, his concept of being healthy. For Aristotle, this entails being able-bodied, reasonably attractive, and physically powerful. While this might be an excessively narrow view of health as an aspect of happiness, it still gives us an area to consider.

Example: Aristotle discusses the idea of youths as being able to engage in athletic contests as part of health appropriate to that stage of life. If one considers this from a broader perspective, we can reconsider this as the ability to achieve respect amongst one’s peers for some particular form of prowess. Aristotle does not provide for multiple versions of this, but we can certainly see where it might be expanded or reimagined. While this requires a certain critical awareness, such as of nationalistic and ableist biases, it does provide the opportunity to example areas of pleasure and satisfaction–which Aristotle does acknowledge as elements of happiness.

4. What can we learn about learning, both as students and teachers, by studying the ostensibly enjoyment-oriented concept and practice of “play”? What connects pleasure and play—enjoyment and engagement—to learning, cognition, and individual development?

In Book I, Chapter 5, Aristotle is certainly in favor of pleasure as an element of happiness, and he does assert that “whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.” He refers to “secure enjoyment of the maximum of pleasure” as one measure of happiness. If one links this idea to his claims about athleticism and health, it is not difficult to consider play a very reasonable element of happiness.

Though Aristotle–in his never-ending need to micromanage what is acceptable to whom, when, and where–seems to relegate this to the realm of youth, it is not difficult to relate this pleasure and happiness to play and cognition. Aristotle makes it clear that being educated and well-spoken are of key importance, so it is not difficult to connect this idea to those of another–perhaps Raph Koster, for example–and see how one might borrow from Aristotle’s ideas to illuminate the importance of play as an element of pleasure and pleasure as an aspect of learning and education.

5. In considering the concept of “inclusion,” how can a focus on student pleasure and engagement in academic pursuits serve to address fundamental questions of complex exclusion and divided identities? Consider this discussion in terms of a borderland, such as discussed by Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera. Students’ language is a kind of homeland for them, a place they have long occupied; what divisions and exclusions are we asking them to navigate (within and without) by asking them to learn to write and use language “correctly” without including their own pre-existing language—their own territory, as it were—into the process?

In truth, I believe that the ideology Aristotle espouses runs directly counter to this. He places kinship and like-ness very high in his virtues. However, if one pushes past Aristotle’s prescriptive notions of virtue and, again, looks at his methods, then one can extract useful connections. For instance, Aristotle emphasizes the importance of using language that is relatable and not excessively esoteric. In Book III, Part II, he advocates for language that is “current and ordinary” and gives “the impression of speaking naturally and not artificially.” Combining this idea with more contemporary, present-day notions of code-switching and/or code-meshing (such as a reading I have on this list from Vershawn Ashanti Young), we can certainly build an argument for the validity of language that is “current and ordinary” for the speaker and intended audience, as opposed to an imposed or imagined normalized standard.


Aristotle. Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Amazon.com, 2011. Kindle edition.

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