Rhetoric has a long and complicated development history in Western societies. Ancient Greeks are considered the first nation that elaborated on many principles that form a good and persuasive speech as well as providing various definitions. For instance, according to Aristotle, rhetoric is “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion” (qtd. in Scholarly Definitions of Rhetoric). However, although the word’s definition remained similar throughout the centuries, its connotation varied significantly.
Various groups viewed the purpose of rhetoric usage differently. Socrates and his followers argued that rhetoric should be used only to spread and defend the truth. On the contrary, sophists used the art of speaking regardless of whether the aim was to spread the truth; thus, they considered rhetoric art to win arguments. Therefore, it is seen that defining rhetoric as a method of persuasion created a platform to use it for manipulative purposes.
During the medieval ages, the art of speaking developed by Romans and Greeks was mostly abandoned as Christian thinkers did not see the merits of studying pagan philosophers. Yet, thanks to St. Augustine, that view gradually changed, and rhetoric was taught as part of the trivium. The status of rhetoric as an important skill was fully recovered during the enlightenment period as an instrument to convey one’s ideas logically. Nevertheless, as the art of rhetoric started mixing with modern politics, societal leaders started using this technique more and more to manipulate the masses rather than speak the truth. As a result, today, rhetoric mostly has a negative connotation.
Scholarly Definitions of Rhetoric, Amrican Rhetoric, Web.