At the heart of our being human lies the existence of language. And at the heart of language is the existence of ideas. In fact, language is commonly viewed by communication scholars such as Professor Lankershim as shaping our very ability to think (Lecture, 1999). Inherent to language is also the ability to share ideas share thoughts that were arguably formed through language. Needless to say, there is some catch 22 at play here. Ancient philosophers spent a great deal of effort meditating on language and thought. After all, they were thinkers by trade. And in their thinking they saw the need for being able to effectively persuade others to accept their thoughts. Enter a term known as rhetoric. Rhetoric, in ancient Greek times a methodology for speech making and persuasion, is now adapted to refer to the symbols used to communicate (Lecture, 1999). Let us span two vastly separated periods of time, thus being the brink of the 21st century and ancient Greece, to examine how rhetorical philosophers Plato and Aristotle would evaluate a modern editorial column by Robert Scheer. Plato contends that rhetoric is only valuable if it involves knowledge of some class of objects (Harrick, 55). He provides an analogy to clarify: true rhetoric is like athletic activity in that it builds upon and restores the health of the body. In other words, effective rhetoric is founded in truth, and cannot manipulate the audience. Rhetoric, to Plato, is the tool by which speakers can inform and impart knowledge. In the LA Times article entitled Now That End Is Near, GOP Can t Let Go, columnist Robert Scheer focuses on right wing politics from a leftist stance. Scheer argues that the Republican party is self destructing, and that its leaders are to blame. While I tend to agree, I do not feel as if Plato would accept the argument. The very basis of politics is the existence of more than one party insisting that they are the holders of absolute truth. I am right, you are wrong and are bad for the health of the country. This battle for power and policy lends itself quite easily to manipulation, and it is the manipulation present in Scheer s article that Plato would find erroneous. For example, Scheer uses loaded terms to describe the leaders of the GOP. Of course the infamous Kenneth Starr is present and accounted for: Kenneth Starr [is] a sinisterly prudish inquisitor employing the power of the state to intrude on the most private of moments (Scheer, 1999). Sinister. That is definitely a nametag that prompts a negative image of the man through word choice alone, don t you think? Also, Scheer s choice to phrase oral sex with an intern as the most private of moments avoids the absolute truth and instead triggers sympathy in the reader. After all, would you like your private moments intruded upon? No? Well then, you must agree that Starr is a scumbag. This is manipulation, and it surfaces more than once in Scheer s column, again with the accusation GOP leaders are angry scolds, guilting us at every divisive turn (Scheer, 1999). Scheer then continues to make the brutal assumption that Senator Trent Lott and Representative Bob Barr are racist because they appeared at ease when addressing an avowedly racist group in the deep South. This not a conclusion, this is an assumption. However, to a liberal audience looking for any support material in favor of Republicans being anti-gay racists, it will be taken as truth and Plato would find anything manipulative taken as truth to be in violation of his rhetorical theory. In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato argues that true rhetoric betters the individual and society. Through Socrates, Plato establishes rhetoric to be the influencing of the soul through words in addition to a knowledge of truth (Harrick, 66). This combination leads to the good ordering of our lives, which is called virtue (Harrick, 67). Essentially, the rhetor has the responsibility of leading his audience on a moral and soul improving road. To Plato, rhetoric is persuasive if this goal is always in the mind of the speaker.
This leads me right into a conflict. Because the dialogue of Scheer s argument contains manipulative phrases, I feel as if Plato would scold the author. But I also feel as if Robert Scheer has the best interest of the nation in mind. His message is that the GOP is falling apart, and that to follow the republican path is to follow in the footsteps of the immoral and unethical. Scheer intends to better the lives of his audience, and to further support the opinions that he truly feels are moral and uplifting. But then again, Plato insists that it is a combination of true knowledge and virtuous intentions that comprise true rhetoric. Aristotle, another Greek philosopher with his own views of rhetorical theory, believed that dialectic is a requisite for an effective persuasion. Dialectic is a term referring to the give and take of arguments when considering an issue. To Aristotle, it is necessary to consider both sides of an issue and answer potential questions from your opposition. Robert Scheer would have done a somewhat commendable job according to Aristotelian rhetoric. Albeit, political opinion usually leaves very little room for the fair representation of the other party. But nevertheless, when addressing the monster tendencies of some GOP officials, Scheer does pay tribute to the obvious Republican rebuttal well, what about George W. Bush?!? Scheer does a nice job of quieting this opposition by pointing out that there are compassionate conservatives out there, but they are denounced by the more powerful GOP leaders. This is in direct support of Scheer s thesis in that the GOP is destroying all attempts at making themselves appeal across party lines. Aristotle also believed that a key to rhetoric lies in finding the available means of persuasion (Harrick, 78). This means that the speaker, or in this case the author, must find the most appropriate way of communicating to his audience. Scheer succeeds in doing this. He understands that he is writing a column for a liberal audience that is likely to be sensitive to the role of the republican party in the Clinton scandal, and that the liberal reader is likely to be easily charged by anti-right-wing sentiments. Thus Scheer s attack: GOP leaders have become angry scolds, guilting us at every divisive turn while shunning all who are less pure in their devotion to the Christian right . So while Plato would view Scheer s argument as manipulative and not founded in a truth that could be considered absolute, Aristotle would support the column and review it as a good example of his rhetorical theory. As far as I am concerned? I favor Aristotle s stance. When I read Platonic philosophy in general, I feel as if he views himself as the all knowing source of truth. Yet truth is far from absolute. I found the article entertaining, informative, and an example of a well-formulated argument wherein the opposition, while quite brutally attacked, was well represented.