Rhetorica movet!

History of language studies

Essay 1994 4 Pages

Speech Science / Linguistics


What did the old Roman thinkers mean when they said or wrote down “rhetorica movet?”

The reaction that you get from many people today when you mention rhetoric is a terrified face and associations related to mean propaganda. Rhetoric today, and I speak for the German society, is widely perceived as a tool to do evil.

This view of rhetoric is only one side of the story, though. We always have to keep in mind that it is, in fact, a possible way to abuse rhetoric. Abuse may occur in misleading customers or business partners, it can as well be done in government and multi-lateral peace talks (e.g. Hitler on the conference in Munich, 1938, achieving that the British and French would follow their "appeasement politic").

Should the conclusion of the abuse of rhetoric by individuals and groups be that "the persuasive art" be banned from educational curricula? The only answer can be: no. Instead the goal has to be to enable everybody with sufficient tools to detect rhetorical persuasion around them and participate accordingly.

In the early Greek Republic the flourishing of democracy and the rise was closely linked to the rise and fall of rhetorical speech and eloquence. This element is one that the Western democracies today are neglecting. And where is it neglected? In the educational systems. Everybody in today's Western democratic countries enjoys freedom of speech but hardly anyone was explicitly equipped with the tools to make effective use of this freedom. We do not want everybody to be a part of the governmental decision-finding process. But if we want to establish functioning democracies we have to make the conscious, persuasive and dialectic use of language part of our daily lives, in our educational institutions, in our work places and at home. The platonic idea of finding the truth by means of rhetorical arguments is the only way of guaranteeing each individual the right to his or her own opinion and moving ahead as a human collective, a society at the same turne. And it doesn't matter if we'll ever find the truth, most likely we won't. lt doesn't even matter if we all believe in a common truth, we don't. The goal has to be to find the most suitable form of human conduct, the most profitable way for the most people to live together in peace. Then rhetoric moves the society, rhetorica movet !



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Classical tradition language studies rhetoric greek tradition education educational systems debate public speaking school system



Title: Rhetorica movet!