Who am I to judge? Rhetoric, passion, and rule of law in Aristotle's political thought.
Access changed 8/24/22
This dissertation is an attempt to articulate a response to what seems to be the greatest political crisis of our time: a politics divorced from reasoned speech (logos) and its most significant political function, judgment. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, I propose, provides not only a framework that allows us to see and articulate this contemporary dilemma, but also a necessary and illuminating alternative to the understanding of human reason that arose with the Enlightenment and is inextricably linked to this crisis. Modern political thought has largely attempted to limit the scope and importance of reasoned speech in political life. The result of this attempt has been has been the exile of reasoned judgment about political and moral matters from the public square; and the result of this in turn has been a crisis of confidence in reason itself and its capacity to help human beings navigate the complex situations and choices they must face in everyday life. All of this culminates in a crippling political and spiritual paralysis that contributes to political passions and actions set adrift, ungoverned by reason and apparently incapable of being gentled by its guidance. In the face of this, turning to Aristotle’s political thought provides a robust alternative understanding of reason and its role in political life. The Rhetoric, in short, is an elaboration of Aristotle’s claim in the Politics that it is precisely the faculty of reasoned speech that distinguishes human beings from other animals, and, further, that the cultivation of this faculty allows for the highest human possibilities, both as individuals and also in communities. Speech allows us to consider not only what is advantageous and harmful, but also what is just and unjust, and noble and base. The rare prospect of “complete community” is made possible only to the extent that human beings share speech about what is good, what is just, and what is noble (see Pol. 1252b27). Shared speeches about such matters, the likes of which Aristotle treats in the Rhetoric, are necessary as much to complete community as it is to man’s highest possibilities. The rediscovery of reasoned speech and its potential role in political life is the necessary and noble choice Aristotle lays before his modern audience in the Rhetoric.