The definition that Aristotle gives of Rhetoric makes me think that it could also include contemporary advertising.

The definition of Rhetoric is the following:

Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This is not a function of any other art. Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter; for instance, medicine about what is healthy and unhealthy, geometry about the properties of magnitudes, arithmetic about numbers, and the same is true of the other arts and sciences. But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us; and that is why we say that, in its technical character, it is not concerned with any special or definite class of subjects.

Book 1, Chapter 2

Advertising is defined in the following way:

Advertising or advertizing is a form of communication for marketing and used to encourage, persuade, or manipulate an audience (viewers, readers or listeners; sometimes a specific group) to continue or take some new action.


Is it correct or I am missing something?

To me, rhetoric seems wider than advertising, because it does not necessarily persuade to continue or take some new action. Also, rhetoric looks more speculative while advertising is more active, being a form of communication.

Did some authors of the past compare Advertising with Rhetoric?

  • 2
    In general it is a good idea to make answering the question as easy for the answerer as possible. For this purpose, you might want to include Aristotle's definition of rhetoric and briefly explain why you think it applies to modern advertising. As it stands, this question might be impossible to answer since we do not know how you are thinking of modern advertising.
    – Dennis
    Aug 31 '13 at 20:51
  • 1
    @Dennis I have added definitions of both terms. I hope that this way it is more clear. Aug 31 '13 at 21:17
  • Theres a form of poetry written in antiquity called praise-poetry. One could suppose product-praising is similar. Sep 13 '13 at 18:43

Rhetoric is the appeal to emotion when it is clear that the audience is not amenable to logic and reason. As such, advertising, especially (but not only) those that contain starving children and the suggestion that only literal spastics don't buy a certain product (as depicted in infomercials), frequently ventures into the realm of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is simply an appeal to emotion and/or vanity disguised as reasoning. The best examples can be found in epic speeches before a football game, a battle, at a political rally, or in courtroom dramas.

From The opening passage of Part 1 of Book III (from MIT's archive, translated by W.Rhys Roberts):

In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the style, or language, to be used; third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech. We have already specified the sources of persuasion. We have shown that these are three in number; what they are; and why there are only these three: for we have shown that persuasion must in every case be effected either (1) by working on the emotions of the judges themselves, (2) by giving them the right impression of the speakers' character, or (3) by proving the truth of the statements made.

as (3) is more commonly referred to as Dialectic, RHetoric is focused more on (1) and (2).

The chapter goes on the describe the ways in which "theatrics" can be employed to sway the opinion of the audience (meaning the target of the rhetoric).

Source 1 : Treatise on Rhetoric

Source 2 : Plato on Rhetoric

  • 1
    You don't. Your answer is not phrased objectively, you don't name your sources, and your thesis that rhetoric is simply ... disguided as reasoning or is used only when it is clear that the audience is not amenable to logic and reason is at least questionable.
    – iphigenie
    Sep 1 '13 at 15:39
  • Seriously, when pointed to the fact that you maybe got a downvote for not quoting or giving sources, you add a link to the whole book? Did you read it? If you have a problem, take it to meta.
    – iphigenie
    Sep 1 '13 at 19:25
  • That's not the point. If you answer, you should be able to point to passages that support your reading. No one cares how great your reading ability is. But your answer is not good (yet).
    – iphigenie
    Sep 1 '13 at 19:39
  • Fair enough. I'll try to be more "scholarly". No sarcasm intended. Sep 2 '13 at 9:17

I would consider most of advertising a form of rhetoric, with advertising being rhetoric employed to a particular kind of end.

An example where I would say rhetoric is not advertising is advocacy. In advertising the end is usually to get people to buy stuff, or to get people to act in a certain way. In legal advocacy the ultimate goal is not to persuade: persuasion is simply a means to a just outcome. Although the more immediate aim undertaken by an advocate is to win, there are specific rules governing how they attempt this. In arguing for their side they are serving the higher purpose of justice.

Some advertising isn't rhetoric. This is a very small class of advertising techniques where there is no attempt at persuasion, just manipulation. This would include attempts at subliminal advertising and any other attempt at directly changing peoples behaviour without their conscious awareness. This, however, depends on a distinction between persuasion and manipulation that some people may disagree with.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.