The Council heard two types of matters: government proposals and legal complaints. Government proposals involved one or more citizens seeking to persuade the Council to support a government initiative. Legal complaints could be described in modern terminology as both civil and criminal. The task was to argue persuasively to the Council of Five Hundred, regardless of whether the individual was the protagonist or antagonist. Like the practice of law today, a pathway to success is crystal clear communication—know your story and tell it well.
Indeed, Aristotle sees rhetoric as an elevated talent. He concludes that the form of rhetoric needed to be successful in front of the Council is a techne. A techne is defined as the domain of practical wisdom and craft knowledge, for Aristotle analogous to what an episteme is to theoretical reasoning. Aristotle also sets forth a third form, phronesis, which is ethical knowledge. A deeper dive into these can be found in his Nicomachean Ethics.
The takeaway is that rhetoric, the art of oral persuasion, is worthy of perfecting. Perfecting oral persuasion requires knowledge of the craft of persuasion and is built upon the proper integration of argument, character, and emotional appeal.
Aristotle argues that there are two necessary components and two optional ones. Id. at 246. They are, in order of appearance:
- Introduction (optional)—like a trailer to a movie, designed to identify the theme and generate interest.
- Presentation (mandatory)—the goals are to refute any prejudice set against the presenter and to put forth the presenter’s perspective of the relevant facts.
- Proof (mandatory)—demonstrate the presenter’s facts and refute those of the other side.
- Epilogue (optional)—the ending must be crisp and effective and comprise four elements: favorably present oneself or unfavorably present the adversary, amplify one’s proof or diminish the adversary’s, bring the listener to emotion, and recapitulation.
Accordingly, the ending should not be an oration, but a compelling peroration and ideally asyndetic—a statement without conjunctions, such as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The text itself demonstrates an asyndetic ending to the epilogue with, “I have spoken, you have heard, you have the facts, judge.” Id. at 261.
Some readers are litigators; others are not. But all of us find ourselves needing to communicate persuasively, whether to a judge, a client, or a family member. Examine how you go about doing so, and perhaps you will increase your success not by pounding the table and yelling, but by following a carefully crafted format, such as Aristotle’s.
I wrote, you read, now do.