Great People in Communication: Aristotle

AristotleAristotle, born in 384 B.C., may be one of the most well-known philosophers of all time. Greek by birth, he was the son of Nicomachus, who was the personal physician of the King of Macedon, Amyntus. When he was 18 years old, Aristotle left home to pursue his education at Plato?s Academy in Athens. He was an avid and intelligent student, and he remained at the

Academy for many years, leaving only after the death of Plato when he reportedly disliked the new direction of the Academy. He spent some time in Asia where he met his wife, Pythias. It was at this time, on the island of Lesbos, that he researched heavily the science of botany and zoology. It was after the birth of his daughter and the death of his father-in-law, that Philip II requested that he act as tutor to his son, Alexander, later known as Alexander the Great. While head of the academy at Macedon, he instructed Alexander, as well as other students, including future king Ptolemy and Cassander. In 335 B.C. he returned to Athens and opened his own academy, called the Lyceum. While teaching there, his wife died, and he met another woman, Herpyllis, who gave him a son. It is during this time that Aristotle wrote many of his great dissertations. Shortly before his death, Aristotle left Athens and retired to his mother?s estate, where he died of natural causes.

Aristotle studied, and contributed to many fields during his life. He studied various genres of physical science such as embryology, astronomy, physics, geology, zoology, and geography. As a student of Plato?s he studied philosophy and continued his own studies, reaching conclusions in politics, metaphysics, theology, rhetoric, ethics, and theology. In addition to his primary studies, he examined foreign customs, poetry, and education. There is nary a field that Aristotle did not touch in some way during his time, and some of his theories continue today.

To discuss a few of his most important works and ideas, one should begin with one of his most famous, Ethics. Aristotle believed that virtue in a person?s life is necessary for happiness to be present. Ethical conduct, such as courage and self-control, are social skills to be learned and emotional skills to be developed by an individual. However, he does hold that practical wisdom comes into play when developing skills to become an ethical person, and practice is necessary when trying to live the ethical life.

Aristotle?s theory on literature, as written in his Poetics, is one of the first philosophical essays of its kind. Poetics describes both poetry and drama. He focuses much on tragedy and outlines the three ways to distinguish between the genres of theater; by describing the subject, by examining the language and rhythm of the piece and by the approach the author takes when presenting a drama. The six parts of a tragedy, as Aristotle points out, are the plot, character, thought, diction, melody, and spectacle. He takes great pains to discuss the hero of a tragedy and what his many character traits must be for a proper tragedy.

One of the most important contributions of Aristotle was to the art of communication through The Rhetoric. Merriam Webster defines rhetoric as ?the art of writing and speaking effectively.? This art of communicating effectively meant, to Aristotle, that the communicator could be persuasive to those listening to, or reading, the orator. In Book One of The Rhetoric Aristotle introduces the art of persuasion and discusses the art of ?deliberative rhetoric.? He believed the most useful political topics for deliberative rhetoric are war and peace, finance, the framing of laws, imports and exports, and national defense. He argues that much rhetoric has to do with the goal of happiness, and he outlines ways it can be achieved. Book Two concentrates on ethos and pathos, two of the three parts of speech required to interpret the means of persuasion. Aristotle is of the mind that an individual?s opinion can change based on emotion, or can be swayed with an emotional persuasion. He discusses the need to change a speaker?s argument based on the character traits and demographics of the audience. He introduces paradigm and enthymeme as two persuasive modes of argument. Book Three begins a discussion on the delivery of communication, as well as the style and arrangement of a speech. He urges against ?frigid language,? which are rare and unknown words, unfamiliar to most. He discusses other useful tools such as similes, connectives, and conciseness. It can effectively be argued that Aristotle?s work on communication and expressive and persuasive speech is a cornerstone of public speaking and effective communication tactics today.

Aristotle provided his students with many more treatises and dissertations, and many are still available to us today. Following are links that give the background and biography of Aristotle, but they also provide full texts of some of his most brilliant writings as well as summaries and interpretations of some.

  • Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)
  • Philosophy Pages
  • Works By Aristotle
  • The Life of Aristotle
  • University of Washington - Intro to Aristotle
  • Tragedy in Poetics
  • Outline of Aristotle?s Theory of Tragedy
  • Aristotle's Rhetoric
  • Liberty Online - On Dreams
  • A General Summary of Aristotle?s Appeals
  • Synopsis of Aristotle's Rhetoric
  • Aristotle Poetics
  • Democracy in the Politics of Aristotle
  • Overview of Aristotle?s Ethics
  • The Ethics of Aristotle
  • Aristotle?s Metaphysics - Books VII and VIII
  • Aristotle
  • Reading for Philosophical Inquiry
  • Aristotle's Psychology
  • Beginnings of Science and Philosophy in Athens
  • Aristotle's Biology and Medicine - Discoveries and Opinions
  • Aristotle's Views on Motion
  • Aristotle's Political Theory
  • Life and Work of Aristotle
  • Aristotle as Sociologist
  • Mathematics in Aristotle
  • Selections from Aristotle's Nicomahean Ethics, Book X
  • Aristotle: Character as the Basis of Leadership
  • Intro to Aristotle

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