Rhetoric and Morality

“Is the good speaker a good man?” asked Quintillian.

The ancient Greek Sophists sold their skills to anyone with coins.  Half the field of Communications in today’s academy is dedicated to public relations and marketing.

Not necessarily, I respond to Quintillian.  So when is one sure than employing oration skilsl or teaching them is not aiding injustice?

“The power to speak well and think rights will reward the man who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor.”  Isocrates, Antidosis

Love of wisdom and honor?  Oh, I think I got out of those required classes by complaining to my adviser.

I.A. Richards, giant of 20th Century rhetoric studies, defines the craft as, “the study of misunderstanding and its remedies.”  Kenneth Burke, another luminary from last century, simply said rhetoric is “the means of creating cooperation.”

Is the goal of communication to achieve harmony, thus giving a moral quality to speech?  If we see ourselves as creations of the Lord and create (and use language) to act in God’s image, then this moral content makes sense.  If we are independent mind’s who cannot agree on what is moral, and mainly struggle for power, than the use of speech doesn’t or shouldn’t have moral content.  Though it could be argued that this comment, itself, is a moral position.

What do you think?

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