While reading on the subject of rhetoric, I learned a technique entitled 'captatio benevolentiae'. Further research revealed to me its root being 'eúnoia' (Greek for a well mind; beautiful thinking). Resultantly, I'd like to know more.

What are its applications as well as its historical and present day significance?

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welcome to PSE !

Jacqueline de Romilly offers help on the rendering of eúnoia

EUNOIA, in Greek, is something more than good will: it means approval, sympathy and readiness to help. Having such meanings, it soon came to be applied to politics in a number of ways, as describing one's feeling towards a person, or a party, or the city-or even another city. And this last instance which is connected with foreign politics ... It is what Isocrates himself is most interested in, for out of sixty examples of the word about twenty-five refer specifically to the relations between one city and another city. And it is the meaning that deserves to be studied, particularly among people who like Thucydides. Whether it is phobos or deos, fear, in Thucydides, seems to dominate all relations between the cities of Hellas - and, to begin with, between Athens and other cities: well, eunoia, or good will, is the contrary of fear. That is to say, when Isocrates wants eunoia to rule political life, he wants things to be just the opposite of what they were in the world that Thucydides had described. Indeed, the position he adopts when discussing good will is part of an important controversy that was then being conducted about force and justice, might and right. And so, even if he is not himself a very thrilling writer nor a very intelligent man, it seemed worth while trying to find out how the idea arose both from recent experiments in Greece and from personal tendencies of Isocrates, and how he hoped the notion of eunoia could work in contemporary politics.


The reason why Isocrates gave so much importance to the idea of eunoia is the stress he continually lays on opinion, in the widest meaning of the word.

I do not mean only that, teaching rhetoric, he had to keep in mind the importance of captatio benevolentiae. I mean that he believes in the importance of persuading people; and he believes that this is nothing artificial. On the contrary, he thinks that this business of persuading people, which of course is the way to success, is closely bound up with sound reflexion and wholesome morals. Opinion, for him, is not only effective: it is legitimate.

Opinion being legitimate . . . that does not sound much like Plato. And indeed it is easy to collect a certain number of passages where Isocrates defends the value of doxa, opinion, against empty wishes for an impossible episteme, or science. This position of his is what M. Mikkola started with, in his recent book about Isocrates, and quite rightly, in my opinion. But he interpreted these passages as if they were intended to express some theory about knowledge and implied some kind of relativism, in the style of Protagoras or even Heraclitus, which they do not. Nothing, I should think, was more remote from Isocrates' mind. He only meant that there did not exist any actual science saying how one should behave, and that it did not matter much, for opinion might very well, in such things, be considered as sufficient. It is not relativism; it is optimism. It shows that Isocrates trusts people's judgment.

And so he does. That is why he considers speaking and persuading people as being such an important thing in man's life. Speech, he says in the well-known eulogy which is to be found both in the Nicocles (5-9) and in the Antidosis (253-7), is what all our social life was established by. And how could that be? because it brings people to agreement, and because what people agree about is obviously right - whether we mean right and true ideas, or right and just feelings. Therefore, why not trust opinion? Isocrates is proud to do so, and, criticising the others, he writes (Antidosis, 84): 'They exhort their followers to a kind of virtue and wisdom which is ignored by the rest of the world and is disputed among themselves; I, to a kind which is recognised by all!'

Therefore, people's judgment becomes a thing worth considering. And from doxa meaning opinion, we are led to doxa meaning reputation. Because the judgment about them will, on the whole, be sound, the men who want success will try to be approved of - and this by means of virtue. The orator will choose a theme which deserves approbation and, meditating upon such themes, he will soon feel a good influence 'in all the actions of Ihis life'. And 'it follows, then, that the power to speak well and think right will reward the man who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honour' (notice the two words, philosophos kai philotimos). What is more, if one desires success, 'he will apply himself above all to establish a most honourable name among his fellow citizens' (Antidosis, 278); the word, here, is eudokimein an all-important word in Isocrates (where it recurs 87 times), a word which of course means being well considered, but which is nearly the same as producing eunoia. Indeed, the passage ends with a final mention of the power of good will' (ten tes eunoias dunamin).

This philosophy of opinion, then, makes it clear that, in all matters, eunoia can be a :most legitimate end to aim at. It is founded on valuable opinion and connected with real merits; therefore, it is stable enough to offer some solid basis for organising things. For it is achieved by virtue and leads to success.

And that is how eunoia, in Isocrates, becomes a sort of intermediate notion, joining together ideas which had long been opposed to one another-I mean justice and advantage.

Sometimes, when taken in connexion with its causes, eunoia is presented as an honourable aim in itself; sometimes, when taken in connexion with its consequences, it is shown as something useful. And it even enables him to establish a relation between both ideas.

For just as his theory about doxa allows him to combine the study of rhetoric with the love of truth (and makes him equally adverse to Plato and to the sophists), just so the theory of eunoia which arises in his confident and trusting mind comes to the happy end that justice and success meet together. Hence the well-known references to the rewards of justice. For, in this well-ordered world, which looks as distinctly parted into two halves as a sentence of his men here, de there-it seems one finds all evil and misfortune on one side, all virtue and happiness on the other. The result being that some people blame him for being too much of an idealist in politics, others for considering nothing but practical advantage when speaking about morals.

(Jacqueline de Romilly, 'Eunoia in Isocrates or the Political Importance of Creating Good Will', The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 78 (1958), pp. 92-101: 92, 95-6.)

I hope this throws useful light on the meaning of eunoia. You will see some of its applications and historical significance from the discussion of its role in Isocrates. As for its present applications, or applicability, the relevance of 'approval, sympathy and readiness to help' to present-day politics is both acute and clear.

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