Though I was less than impressed with the first half of this book, owing to it, in my opinion, goes too far off the topic of rhetoric and into the realm of what is good, the motivations of men, and similar foundational concepts. It is not to say that these are not important; as I said, they are foundational concepts, but belong to more than rhetoric and should be treated in their own work.
That said, if one is not philosophically inclined, has not studied the more foundational works like Aristotle's Ethic's this work will provide a one stop shop.
The second half of the book, which covers more what might be expected given the title, was more than enough to make up for what I consider a slow start. It follows a decidedly logical structure and covers each of the components of rhetoric in sequence, making sure to exhaust one topic before moving to the next. Overall, I think it provides a more than adequate understanding of how to argue your points and win over an audience.
The work is divided into three books. The first defines terms and describes rhetoric. It reminds us that everyone uses rhetoric, be it spontaneously or through training. Further, rhetoric is treated as an art.
Interestingly, in light of history and modernity, when it is said that truth generally wins and that you should refrain from misleading people with your rhetoric, I have to smile. I wonder what Aristotle would make of the modern world, so full of lies and deceit?
Unlike the other arts, which are confined to themselves, rhetoric is concerned with the persuasion of anything, knowing no limits to where it might be found.
Persuasion follows in three ways: logical reasoning, understand human character, and understanding human emotion.
The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.
As it is often taught, the speech should be written with the audience in mind. You'd address a group of mathematicians different than a group of farmers. They simply have different vocabularies and understanding. Of course this inability to understand goes both ways: where a farmer might be on shaky ground discussing functions, the mathematician would falter similarly in a discussion regarding a soil's nutrients.
This is, literally, age-old advice:
For of the three elements in speech-making--speaker, subject, and person addressed--it is the last one, the hearer, that determines the speech's end and object.
From here the book begins it discourse into things like the good, emotions, and motives. Why do people commit wrong? Desire and anger are among two common reasons. Desire can manifest in both the wealthy and the poverty stricken at different levels. Similarly anger knows no prejudice.
Additionally men may have the mindset that they have nothing left to lose or that that have wealth and influence, friends in high places, that might be leveraged to get them off.
There is a mention of written and unwritten laws. I wonder how much value this thinking is in the modern age when the law is often employed to the letter, no more nor less. Things like honor, that might be considered unwritten laws, are ignored if not held in outright contempt today.
A slight digression from these foundational concepts is taken to point out that, obviously, there are two ways to argue: either for or against. Your argument will be different depending on what you relation to your stance is.
The digression continues with a discussion of oaths and how they might affect your augment.
I don't think these topics fits with this part of the book (the overall book, not the sub books), but they do fit in the book.
The second book continues exploring emotions and reasons people do what they do. What causes people to become angry, calm, or afraid, and how, if you can push the right buttons, your speech can deliver the audience to these emotions.
When it comes to fear, we are not afraid when we either don't understand something or when we don't have the means to deal with what might cause fear. Both of which seem wrong to me since people often fear most what they don't understand and I see no reason not to fear what I can't control. Either way, anger, strength, and having numerous friends by our side can mitigate fear.
It continues with similar arguments for shame and shamelessness, kindness, pity (when bad things happen to good people), indignation (when good things happen to bad people), envy, and emulation. Again, while all of this is important and interesting in its own right, I think it belongs in a separate work.
Next the types of character are explored. This is more appropriate, but could also be broken out into another work. Here we look at how each type might argue and react to arguments.
The young man is driven by passion, hot-tempered, quick to change his opinion, looks forward instead of back, has less fear and experience, and is more trusting and easily swayed. He is optimistic, loves honor and victory more than money, is always sure of himself and tends to over-do everything. He wants to be noble.
The elderly man, obviously, is the opposite of the young man. He is never sure, under does everything, owing to experience looks backward more than forward, is cynical, distrustful, and more concerned with money. His ambition has been humbled by his years and he is more shameless.
Similarly the middle-aged man lies between these two extremes.
Depending on what types of characters your audience is made up of, you can appeal to different desires to elicit particular reactions.
Additional coverage is given to character through looking at: the well-born, who come from good stock, those that come from wealth, and those that come from power. Each of these types, like the young, middle, and elderly men, can be swayed more or less effectively by appealing to their desires.
Finally, almost 60% of the way through the entire work, it seems to turn from emotions and character types to what one might expect in a book titled: rhetoric, namely argumentative tactics.
The first tactic discussed is amplification. If you are trying to prove the positive or the negative, you should amplify what supports your argument and neglect that which does not. Amplification is appropriate when dealing with the past or the future, with the forensic of the political (as well as the ceremonial).
Next a recurring theme, enthymemes, are introduced in earnest. This can be roughly translated as the body of evidence for your argument. Examples are a very common form used to build your argument. Fables, a specific kind of example, are powerful enough to act as a witness to your evidence. When making your speech, you should place fables and examples at the end, to solidify what has come before, rather than at the beginning, where they are not as powerful and might require more of them. You want the fable or example, coming near the end, to stick in your audiences' mind.
Maxims are another form that can support your position in a similar fashion to examples and fables.
Enthymeme are a kind of syllogism that can be constructed from the aforementioned. This does not mean that all enthymemes and syllogisms are genuine, but they can be made to look genuine with careful crafting. When this is discussed I am not sure whether it is as a defensive or offensive posture. A sophist could easily confound and audience with a clever, but inaccurate, argument, but this was frowned on earlier in the book when Aristotle says explicitly that you should not tell untruths. Alternatively it might be put forth so that one might identify when their opponent is using fallacious arguments.
The latter seems reasonable since the next section talks about refutation, counter syllogisms (which are constructed in the same manner as syllogisms), and objections.
Book three is probably the most pragmatic of the books, laying down a number of 'rules' to follow when constructing your speech.
In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the style, or language, to be used; third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.
The speech itself, the actual sound made, is also made up of three points:
These are the three things-volume of sound, modulation of pitch, and rhythm-that a speaker bears in mind.
Sadly, in my opinion, "the whole business of rhetoric ... concerned with appearances," is extremely evident to this day. The delivery and physical appearance is as, or more, important than the actual content of the delivery. Aristotle agrees that this is "unworthy though it is" true.
You should thus choose your language to reflect your audience. Do not use overly fancy or mean language. If your audience is unfamiliar with your words they will be alerted to your artificiality.
strange words simply puzzle us; ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh.
Metaphors should be employed more in prose, where they are more useful than in poetry. While the poet has many techniques for painting a mental picture, and the audience expects artifice, the orator is limited in acceptable devices; this brings more weight to bear on the metaphor.
Keep the subject and the verb close together, unless you want to be difficult to understand. Describe what you need to describe as succinctly as possible, sometimes choosing to name the thing directly, as when it is familiar, and sometimes choosing to describe it more intricately, as when it is unfamiliar to the audience. In all cases you should avoid ambiguities.
Your language should be chose so to express emotion. We have seen, in the first half of this work, that emotions, passions, and character, are the buttons that can be pushed to make the human organ sing as the orator wants. Logic, while important, if often not the moving element of a speech.
Like poetry, prose should have some kind rhythm, but, unlike poetry, it should not be metrical.
When the speaker attempts to paint a picture for the audience, they ought to use activity in the words, puns, jokes, proverbs, and even hyperbole. The antithesis, metaphor, and actuality of what you are trying to describe should all be available to employ.
Which tools should you use? It depends on the kind of rhetoric you are trying to produce. Each type, political, forensic, and ceremonial, all have their own styles that the audience might expect. You should write/speak in that style. There are no rules here and research into past and modern speeches will be required.
Lastly the composition of a speech is discussed.
A speech has two parts. You must state your case, and you must prove it.
Further, these two parts give rise to four distinct sections: Introduction, Statement, Argument, and Epilogue.
Each of these sections is discussed, but I think what they consist of is fairly obvious and need not be mentioned here.
A few loose rules are proposed; you should not "use a continuous succession of enthymemes: intersperse them with other matter, or they will spoil one another's effect."
you should kill your opponents' earnestness with jesting and their jesting with earnestness...
Irony better befits a gentleman than buffoonery; the ironical man jokes to amuse himself, the buffoon to amuse other people.
Finally, the saddest, but truest, piece of knowledge presented in the book is shown in these last two quotes:
The Epilogue has four parts. You must (1) make the audience well-disposed towards yourself and ill-disposed towards your opponent (2) magnify or minimize the leading facts, (3) excite the required state of emotion in your hearers, and (4) refresh their memories.
it is more fitting for a good man to display himself as an honest fellow than as a subtle reasoner.
(1) and (3), plus the second quote, all recount that it is not necessarily the argument that will win a debate by winning over an audience, but the presentation and emotional hot-buttons that can be manipulated most effective are what will often determine the victor.
I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgment.