Aristotle on the Kinds of Rhetoric

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2009


Ancient Philosophy | Arts and Humanities | Classics | Philosophy | Rhetoric | Rhetoric and Composition


One of the few features of Aristotelian rhetoric that his successors have noticed and developed is his three kinds, deliberative, judicial and epideictic. I want to look at what function the division of rhetoric into three kinds serves in his own argument. Dialectic has no kinds, and most speeches do not fall within any of the three kinds of rhetoric. These kinds are three ways in which argument leads to a judgment. Outside them, persuasion is no longer subordinate to politics. It is only within them that Aristotle’s claims that the best and most rational argument will carry the day will be anything more than a pious hope. Outside them, the art of rhetoric will be nothing but cleverness, an ability to reach whatever end the speaker starts with. The three kinds show us rhetoric’s possibilities.