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Rereading sophistical arguments: A political intervention

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Rereading Sophistical Arguments: A Political Interven- tion JANE SUTTON Department of Speech Communication Penn State University, York York, Pennsylvania 17403 U.S.A. ABSTRACT: This essay argues that Aristotle's categories of oratory are not as useful in judging the methods of Sophistical rhetoric as his presentation of time. The Sophistical argumentative method of "making the weaker the stronger case" is re-evaluated as a political practice. After showing this argument's relation to power and ideology, Aristotle's philosophy, which privileges a procedure of argument consistent with the politics of a polis-ideal rhetoric, is offered as reason for objecting to Sophistical rhetoric. The essay concludes that Sophistical rhetoric prefers the concept of possibility over Aristotelian actuality, and offers a need for an ideological space of radical, generative possibility in rhetorical theory. KEY WORDS: Aristotle, judicial oratory, method of argument, philosophy, politics, possibility, rationality, rhetoric, Sophists, time, "to make the weaker case the stronger". The task...is no longer 'to search for the truth,' or 'to praise god,' or 'to systematize observations,' or 'to improve predictions.' These are but side effects of an activity to which [our] attention is now mainly directed and which is 'to make the weaker case the stronger' as the sophists said, and thereby sustain the motion of the whole. Paul Feyerabend, Against Method By the time a reader arrives at Aristotle's definition of rhetoric (1355b 26), (s)he has been given a synopsis of Sophistical rhetoric. Turning to Cope's interpreta- tion (1854, 1857) for guidance, (s)he sees two interrelated characteristics. Aristotle states that Sophistical rhetoric is limited to judicial activity, and its methods are anchored in manipulation (1354a 11-1354b 30). Also, the Sophists' unscrupulous practices and basic attitudes toward argument constitute an inherent movement away from political oratory (1354b 15-1355a 20). Even so, the Sophists tried to impress people with a skill they did not have by means of a peculiar form of argument restricted to the law courts. By the nineteenth century, it was a commonplace that judicial rhetoric played the primary role in Sophistical rhetoric (Hinks, 1940; Wilcox, 1942; Kennedy, 1959). Moreover, it was generally accepted that the Sophists gave misguided instruction in the art of rhetoric. 2 This last characteristic is now an indictment, charged as sophistry. Argumentation 5: 141-157, 1991. © 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Rereading Sophistical Arguments: A Political Interven-tion


Department of Speech CommunicationPenn State University, YorkYork, Pennsylvania 17403U.S.A.

ABSTRACT: This essay argues that Aristotle's categories of oratory are not as useful injudging the methods of Sophistical rhetoric as his presentation of time. The Sophisticalargumentative method of "making the weaker the stronger case" is re-evaluated as apolitical practice. After showing this argument's relation to power and ideology,Aristotle's philosophy, which privileges a procedure of argument consistent with thepolitics of a polis-ideal rhetoric, is offered as reason for objecting to Sophistical rhetoric.The essay concludes that Sophistical rhetoric prefers the concept of possibility overAristotelian actuality, and offers a need for an ideological space of radical, generativepossibility in rhetorical theory.

KEY WORDS: Aristotle, judicial oratory, method of argument, philosophy, politics,possibility, rationality, rhetoric, Sophists, time, "to make the weaker case the stronger".

The task...is no longer 'to search for the truth,' or 'topraise god,' or 'to systematize observations,' or 'toimprove predictions.' These are but side effects of anactivity to which [our] attention is now mainly directedand which is 'to make the weaker case the stronger' asthe sophists said, and thereby sustain the motion of thewhole.

Paul Feyerabend, Against Method

By the time a reader arrives at Aristotle's definition of rhetoric (1355b 26), (s)hehas been given a synopsis of Sophistical rhetoric. Turning to Cope's interpreta-tion (1854, 1857) for guidance, (s)he sees two interrelated characteristics.Aristotle states that Sophistical rhetoric is limited to judicial activity, and itsmethods are anchored in manipulation (1354a 11-1354b 30). Also, the Sophists'unscrupulous practices and basic attitudes toward argument constitute aninherent movement away from political oratory (1354b 15-1355a 20). Even so,the Sophists tried to impress people with a skill they did not have by means of apeculiar form of argument restricted to the law courts. By the nineteenthcentury, it was a commonplace that judicial rhetoric played the primary role inSophistical rhetoric (Hinks, 1940; Wilcox, 1942; Kennedy, 1959). Moreover, itwas generally accepted that the Sophists gave misguided instruction in the art ofrhetoric.2 This last characteristic is now an indictment, charged as sophistry.

Argumentation 5: 141-157, 1991.© 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Random House defines sophistry as a specious, unsound, fallacious method ofreasoning. The trace of this judged judgment is at the beginning of Aristotle'sRhetoric.

Despite the customary view, that the Sophists had nothing to say aboutpolitical oratory (1354a 25) and were not active in political life (NichomacheanEthics, 1180b 35-1181a 1), there are indications to the contrary. 3 A mostimportant counterpoint to the standard view occurs in Stanley Wilcox's essays(1942, 1943), which argue that the Sophists' rhetoric extended beyond judicialmatters. 4 Historical records, particularly with respect to the origin of rhetoric(Watz's Rhetores Graeci reedited by Rabe in Prolegomenon Sylloge), revealpolitical practices.

A great deal of the Sophists' work involved political matters. Gorgias was anambassador to Athens. So was Hippias. Protagoras was an architect of theconstitution of Thurii (Plato, 1966a 281a-282e). In his Harvard Studies article,Wilcox (1942) uses Thucydides' History to link the Sophists' involvement withpolitical affairs of the state to their use of rhetoric in practical concerns of theassembly. A good example is 'Antiphon.' Thucydides reports: "There was noman who could do more for anyone who consulted him, whether their businesslay in the courts of justice or in the assembly" (VIII 68). Fragments ofThrasymachus' speeches offer another example. The Constitution (85) ispolitical for it asks for deliberation, a choice, a resolution of a political problem.In terms of rhetorical instruction, the Eleatic Stranger in Plato's Sophist (232d)promises to make men argue about law and public affairs in general. Together,these examples establish that Sophistical arete included skill in political matterswhether as teacher or rhetor. 5

Clearly, to restrict our understanding of Sophistical rhetoric to the boundariesof a single forum - the judicial - is not in line with Sophistical rhetoricalpractices. Even with this awareness, we are still faced with a problematicquestion. How do we explain Aristotle's assertions that the Sophists "hadnothing to say" (Rhetoric, 1354b 26), "little to offer" (Nichomachean Ethics,1181a 12-14), and "no dignity to impart" to political rhetoric (Politics, 1305a,10-15) when, given Wilcox's and others' penetrating analyses, we can see theSophists' political participation in public life? A further review of the Sophists'practices suggests that there are political reasons why Aristotle adducedotherwise and that our question might be better re-cast as: What challenge didthe Sophists' rhetoric present to the political status quo in Athens?

In terms of a challenge, the evidence shows that the Sophists were persecutedfor their political views (Kerferd, 1981, 19-23). The law of the Thirty Tyrants,which forced them to silence, is, according to Wilcox (1942), a prime exampleof governmental suppression of political speechmaking. He writes:

They [Thirty Tyrants] shrewdly discerned that trained speakers meant men capable ofarousing the people, an aroused people meant a revival of a democratic party, and ademocratic party organized and united by effective speakers might mean the end oftheir oligarchical power. Recognizing that oratory is the life-blood of democracy, theyshut off the flow at the source, the schools of rhetoric. (155)



Furthermore, Antiphon was active in organizing the movement which led to themodified democracy of the Four Hundred, and when it was overthrown, he wastried and put to death (87, A 11). The case of Antiphon is not an isolatedincident - others included Anaxagoras, Diagoras, Socrates, Aspasia, Protagoras,Damon, and Euripides. The main point is that the Sophists' skill with languagewas capable of cutting very deep into the ruling political orthodoxies. Accordingto Cope (1857), Aristotle

could not fail to be sensible of the frivolous and unscientific character of the[sophistical] system... and as a lover of virtue and of his country and one who had theinterests of truth and justice nearly at heart, he lifted up his voice against a systemwhose direct tendency was to subvert the principles by which society was heldtogether, and to corrupt and demoralize all who came within the sphere of itsinfluence. (148)

As stated, this voice of Aristotle paints the Sophists' rhetoric as very politicaland its practitioners as "rhetorical men blowing a rhetorical blast" (PlatoAlcibiades II 145e cited in Wilcox, 1942, 132).

Insofar as the evidence calls attention to the inadequacy of judging Sophisti-cal rhetoric ahistorically and nonpolitically, it forms a foundation upon which itcan be (counter) claimed that Sophistical rhetoric was equally - perhaps evencentrally - concerned with the political genre. The foundation is not meant toquestion varying contemporary views toward Aristotle's interest in the purity ofgenre (Kennedy, 1963, 72). The question centers around a contradiction.Aristotle attacks the Sophists for blending the political and the judicial speechtogether. Yet Aristotle takes no "generic" issue with Isocrates for mixing uppolitical speeches with a legal accusation (1418a 29-32). Isocrates seems to beable to get away with this mix while the other Sophists do not. We can sort outsuch ambiguities with Aristotle's criterion of time in his division of rhetoric. Asdetermined by time, political speeches are concerned with the future, givingadvice on the course of action to be adopted; judicial speeches are concernedwith the past, one part accusing, the other defending himself with references tothings already done (1358b 20-37). This aspect of time in Aristotle's classifica-tion of oratory will reveal another side to Sophistical rhetoric, a political sidethat has been circumvented in argumentation.

However, before we can adequately understand the political entailments ofSophistical rhetoric, we need to unravel the following question: Why doesAristotle assert in his Rhetoric that Sophistical rhetoric does not operate in thepolitical arena when there is ample historical evidence, not only that it did so,but perhaps even more important, that it was most threatening to the existentsocial order in just that arena? In what follows, I address that question byarguing that Aristotle's metaphysical treatises present the existent politicalsystem as a moral given grounded in the logic of universal probability; and thatthe example he chooses in the Rhetoric to demonstrate the maxim of how theSophists make the weaker case appear the stronger implicitly validates thepolitical power of Sophistical rhetoric by projecting a seemingly judicialexample into the future, which is the domain of political oratory in terms of



Aristotle's temporal modalities. With a focus on Aristotle's division of past,present, and future time, this essay re-evaluates the most historical and the mostinfluential characterization of Sophistical rhetoric: its logic is perverted (dealsmainly with non-essentials 1354a 15), and its type of speech is not political.

After establishing that nonessential proof and the judicial rhetoric of theSophists go hand-in-hand, Aristotle directs significant criticism against theargumentative method of "making the weaker appear the stronger case" in thelaw courts. We will adopt the phrase - to make the weaker the stronger case - asthe embodiment of Sophistical rhetoric, i.e., a method of argument with broadpolitical implications as Sesonske and Burnyeat put it. As a method of argument,Burnyeat says:

What is reliably attested for Protagoras, but quite distinct from the principle that thereare two opposed sides to be taken on every matter, is that he professed to make theweaker case [logos] the stronger (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1402a 23-36, DK 80 A 21; towhich add Cicero, Brutus 30, who translates logos by causa). Notwithstanding variousdifficulties in interpretation this involves, one thing is clear. It was not a thesis thatProtagoras maintained but a method of argument, ... the one of comparativelyrestricted scope that Aristotle illustrates (Rhetoric 1402a 17-23). (61)

We begin our alternative reading of the weak/stronger construction by recon-sidering Aristotle's objections to the Sophistical method of reasoning. Then, bygeneralizing the method beyond the judicial forum and using Aristotle's timedivisions, we can see what 'making the weak the stronger case' meant for theSophists and how it functioned as a form of argument in politics. What we willsee is that the phrase is not about mismanaging language in order to mis-represent the truth. It is about producing a political outcome. Sesonske suggeststhat it is about empowering the powerless: "The consequences [of 'make theweaker argument defeat the stronger'] will be found in the lives of men andcities, which may be profoundly changed" (76).


When Aristotle criticizes the Sophistical method of argument, he has this to say:The ability "to make the weaker a stronger case" is not a proper model forguiding public belief and future action because it is a skill for the individualperson, not the public citizen. Aristotle recalls past judicial procedure as (1)lacking in argumentation based on facts; and (2) employing emotional appeal(1354a 15-30). He is straightforward in his reasons. We are told that usingemotional appeals on a judge is like warping a carpenter's rule (1354a 25-26),and that the right or moral thing to do is to exclude these appeals from a"proper" art (1355b 15-21). We are also told that writing treatises on "how toplead in court" contributes to trivial matters and to an individual's gain. TheSophists have concentrated on forensic but have "[said] nothing about politicaloratory" (1354b 25-6). Before that, Aristotle establishes that political oratory



should be regarded above judicial because it is "a nobler business and fitter for acitizen" (1354b 23) and because it does not overlook social benefit.

These passages from Aristotle parallel Plato's complaint against the Sophists(Classen, 11). If we view Aristotle and Plato together, the case against sophistrytakes on a whole new meaning or, rather, they take on a meaning. Tworeferences in the Phaedrus preview Aristotle's first charge: trickery andemotional appeal. In 261, Socrates pursues Phaedrus' point that "[l]ectures andwritings on rhetoric as an art generally confine themselves to forensicoratory..." After securing this statement, Socrates emphasizes the questionablekind of skill in Sophistical argument, namely "[making] the same jury think thesame action just one moment and unjust the next." In 267, we find mention ofTisias and Gorgias, "who could make trivial matters appear great and greatmatters trivial simply by the forcefulness of their speech." These two passagessuccinctly express Aristotle's complaints, particularly the one alluding to thewarping of the listener's reasoning skills with emotional appeals. At the sametime, they provide historical continuity to the negative press of the Sophists.

To the second charge, i.e., relying exclusively on emotional appeals,references in Gorgias give insight into Aristotle's dismissal of the Sophists'oratory as political. In 463, even though Socrates links Sophistical rhetoric to abranch of politics, he calls it foul and ugly. In 503, Socrates claims that thisrhetoric of the Sophists caters to private interests and neglects the commongood. The Sophists have said nothing for they have no noble method ofaddressing the public. If they had, they would be "striving always to say what isbest, whatever the degree of pleasure or pain it may afford the audience."

Viewed together, what does the combination tell us? In the first place,Aristotle and Plato announce (and denounce) a method of argument permittingone to make something appear weaker than it is and then, sometime later, thesame thing to appear stronger. In other words, the method disregards the "truth."This is made possible by trafficking in emotional appeals and dealing inparadox. Second, these passages characterize the Sophists' rhetoric as a practiceconfined to the law courts. This confinement renders their art apolitical insofaras it is concerned with the relation between private individuals, not that betweencitizen and polis. As Classen observes: "It is not only particular maneuvers andtechniques that Aristotle regards as typical of the Sophists, but also certain basicattitudes in argument..." (15-16). Even though Aristotle treats Sophisticalrhetoric more positively than Plato, he offers no substantial objection to hismentor's depiction of their rhetoric (Poulakos, 1983a, 1984). Rather, heimplicates his mentor's version of the word political with the art of rhetoric.That is, the individual, signifying outsider, is to judicial/Sophistical rhetoric asthe citizen, signifying insider, is to political/Aristotelian rhetoric.

Reviewing the distinction between private and public concerns addressed byPlato and Aristotle, we can grasp the significance and profundity of the disputewith Sophistical political rhetoric. Aristotle maintains that rhetoric is an offshootof ethical studies, which may be fairly called political (1356a 25-26). Also,



rhetoric has been masquerading as political science partly from want of educa-tion" (1356a 29). As his Rhetoric unfolds, Aristotle tutors us in a conception ofpolitical speech and argues that it is a discourse for citizens functioning inside apolis. For Aristotle, rhetoric is a faculty for providing argument (1356a 34)about what seems probable to a collective citizenry, not for an individual's ownostentations (1356a 33-35). As Randall puts it: "Aristotle stands for theomnipotence of the state. There is nothing political government must refrainfrom doing if it makes for human welfare" (255, also Engberg-Pedersen,191-192). We are reminded that Aristotle has fulfilled Socrates's response toGorgias (503): 'Noble political rhetoric strives to say what is best for the state'swelfare regardless of its consequences on particular individuals.'

Following his introduction to the art of rhetoric, Aristotle carries out a moretechnical discussion of the "logical" objections to the Sophistical method. If weare to observe in some detail the political dispute encoded behind these objec-tions, we must recall the main points of "making the weak a stronger case" inAristotle's story of Corax and Tisias (1402a 23-30). Their method of argument,ostensibly like the one in which Protagoras trained speakers (80 A 21), wasparticularly alien to Aristotle.6 Of it he writes:

It is of this line of argument that Corax's Art of Rhetoric is composed. If the accusedis not open to the charge - for instance if a weakling be tried for violent assault - thedefense is that he was not likely to do such a thing. But if he is open to the charge -i.e. if he is a strong man - the defense is still that he was not likely to do such a thing,since he could not be sure that people would think he was likely to do it.

In this case, the weaker one, who is being prosecuted for assault, will ask asdoes Phaedrus: "How could a little chap like me set upon a colossus like him"(Plato, 1973 273)? The defendant, knowing his strength makes this response alikelihood, replies that the consequences of physical strength make him carefulnot to attack; and therefore, he is innocent.

The story continues. Now, the historical account serves to emphasize theSophists' propensity to twist, to trick, and to seek victory, not truth, in argument.And

so with any other charge: the accused must be either open or not open to it: there is ineither case an appearance of probable innocence, but whereas in the latter case theprobability is genuine, in the former it can be asserted in the special case mentioned.This sort of argument illustrates what is meant by making the [weak] argument seemthe [stronger]. (1402 16-25)7

All of this means that the physically weak man is in a position of strength whilethe physically strong one is in a weak position with respect to probability(Lyotard, 1978). But Aristotle recognizes that improbable things occasionally dohappen (1402a 10-15). What warrants investigation is the particular rhetoricalapplication of this possibility to argument. In this story, the distinction Aristotledraws is between "absolute probabilities" and "probabilities in exceptions", adistinction which allows him to demonstrate how strong arguments can be madeweak. He condemns Corax's method of argument because it strengthens weakarguments by mixing up real probabilities with fictional (im)probabilities. This



confusion between kinds of probabilities has gone unrecognized as a result ofrhetoric's power to use and abuse truth with language. Moss tells it this way:

The story is probably apocryphal, but that only serves to emphasize the way in whichrhetoric's ability to 'make the [weaker] case appear the [stronger],' its dealing inparadox, its determination to seek victory,... -in short, its propensity to sophistry -are a cause for concern... (209)

Obviously, a rhetoric that would admit only strong arguments would and couldnot channel rhetoric toward "sophistry." To understand why this is so, it isnecessary to unpack a bit of the Metaphysics. This is important because, asClassen writes, "Aristotle's more general adverse criticism of the sophists seemsimplied in passages in the Metaphysics" (17). Cope (1857) also refers to theMetaphysics to illustrate Aristotle's criticism of Protagoras' method of argument(137-138). Clearly, this work lays the foundation for his objections to "to makethe weaker appear the stronger case" and can account for his vacillatingportrayal of their rhetoric as either non-political or pseudo-political. To gain apolitical perspective on the Sophistical argumentative method, we begin with thealternative, the rhetorically strong argument. What constitutes a strong argumentin rhetoric? Why is it politically valid? The answer is very complicated becauseit is tied up with Aristotle's philosophical assumptions that anchor his positionon dialectic, rhetoric, and sophistic. So, before proposing an answer, somebackground is in order.

In the Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle challenges and ultimately syn-thesizes the leading theories of reality - constant change/becoming vs. per-manence/eternal reality (Hussey). He does so in order to establish the possibilityof reality guided by a single purpose and a language capable of expressing it(Edel; Buckley). In his analysis of this view, White (26) is correct to say that forAristotle, reality, always immanent in nature, reveals itself as such when it isabstracted from the sensible world and embodied in human representation.Likewise, the persuasiveness of speech depends on the faithful re-presentationof a reality associated with the unfolding of that rhetorical occurrence's telicpotential. Since Aristotle's way of understanding the changing universe is tofind out what happens universally or naturally for the most part, as distinguishedby the criterion of regularity of occurrence, his elaboration of a rhetoric ofprobability should be regarded as a corollary to his commitment to stabilitybeneath change. Teleologically speaking, the emphasis in development is onself-maintenance. This view is applied to rhetoric, politics, and society.

In Book I of Rhetoric, the enthymeme is distinguished from the syllogism onthe grounds that it depends on a merely probable premise. It is most stable whenprobability carries with it the past life of society. Public opinion, as the source ofmajor premises, constitutes a natural, slow, and regular reality and the founda-tion on which "absolute probability" ideally develops. Aristotle, in effect, freesthe language of persuasion from its (sophistic) dependence on occasion byproposing that language ought to imitate reality that preexists the moment ofspeaking (Guthrie, 53, 104; James; White). Aristotle's world view, according to



White's (26) reading of Posterior Analytics, implies the following inventionalprocess: A logical structure eternally there in the world is discovered; andsubsequently, it is delivered in language with a stated preference for the plainstyle. If, for Aristotle, language re-presents in its best moments the empiricalworld of general probability, presumably his rhetoric would be informative andnot persuasive. It is persuasive in that Aristotle means for rhetoric to inducepeople to act in the future in accordance with apprehended probability in thepast.

This philosophy, which rigorously establishes the nature of reality, isinherently transmitted by methodology. Aristotle's method protects the inven-tional process from the expressive possibilities of an inherently paradoxicallanguage by rendering rhetoric merely the vehicle or the container of truth(Moss; Poulakos, 1983b, 1983c, 1984). For example, one way Aristotle"inscribes" his philosophy and insures that strong arguments will be reproducedis with the universal line of arguments such as the 'more or less', a topic ofdegree or comparison (1358a 15, 1397b 11-26). This topic frames argumentsindependent of content, i.e., it is not subject specific. Because rhetoric "dealswith what is in the main contingent" (1357a 15), the purpose of this universalstructure of the 'more or less' allows the rhetor to make determinations fromwhat is usual or absolutely possible "just as necessary conclusions must bedrawn in necessary premises" (1357a 25-30). This means that even thoughAristotle is now handling opinion, one must have knowledge of human natureand know which opinions produce assent.8 Rhetoric is a way to induce particularaction from this general knowledge. Since the correct expression of probabilitiescomes after the discovery of what is universal or for the most part, it is as ifpermanence has been transposed onto contingency itself. In our example, theprobability of what can be weak becomes an absolute probability of what isweak and hence a true opinion of virtue of its correspondence to a pre-existent"truth." In brief, Aristotle's Rhetoric was contextured not so much within hisethical system, but rather, within a domain of philosophical discourse whichsubtlety transformed the empirical status quo of the political world into implicitboundaries within which any discourse had to operate in order to be deemed"rational."

Insofar as rhetoric depends upon the principle of the universal line ofargument - if it is to tell the truth really -, we see that Aristotle's contributionwas to provide a way for persuasion to express that reality. So composed,rhetoric serves as an external guide for what can be said logically "in the givencase." Above the Rhetoric is a metadiscourse, a discourse about persuasion thatauthorizes one to argue from genuine probability by virtue of a formal standardof correctness. Even though the principle lacks the precision of what wouldbecome the exact sciences, Aristotle's universal line of argument gives order,sequence, and justification to artistic proof. As Paul Ricoeur explains, persua-sion is structurally and philosophically validated by arming rhetoric againstabuse by conjoining it to the logical concept of "for the most part" (11-12, N.9). And Solmsen has this to say of rhetoric's tie to the 'probable': "What matters



in this [Aristotelian] system is the 'form' of the argument, this being perfectlyindependent of any particular subject-matter or content" (134). This is a veryimportant point. Aristotelian logic, encased in the realm of the merely probablebut, at the same time, circumscribed within a more extensive realm of certainknowledge, relies on a saying that has been said beforehand. The rhetoricianmust say nothing new.

In short, the field of rhetoric "is not fenced off from, but fenced off for"(McKeon, 1987 20). Rhetoric is an art for a bounded society, bounded to its ownideal development. Aristotle's rhetoric, like his philosophy, is contemplative, buthis rhetoric, unlike his philosophy, is grounded in action. As Ihde has said ofAristotelian philosophy, "Its aims were not to change a world, but to unite theknower with the Order of things, the human logos with the divine Logos" (98).Being contextualized within his philosophy, Aristotle's rhetoric perpetuateswhat is by uniting contingency with the stable order of "unwritten principles[physis] which are supposed to be acknowledged everywhere" (1368b 7).Further, it entails a form of advocacy not happy with questioning or transcend-ing the metaphysical parameters within which it is set, a form that restricts whataction is legitimate.

Because radical change is not a goal for the art, its absence from rhetoricimplies that even though the three kinds of rhetoric have different time frames(e.g., deliberative = future), the art itself is built upon the temporal modality ofthe past. This means that for Aristotle, truth is a property of the actual (presence)rather than the possible in the Heideggerian (1962) sense of the word.9 In ourdiscussion of the Physics and Metaphysics, we have seen that Aristotle'sRhetoric is faithful to the metaphysical design of presence and the properties oftemporality are subordinated. That this is so becomes clear in Aristotle's proofof the priority of actuality (Poulakos, 1984; Classen, 18; Kearney). He em-phasizes in Metaphysics that actuality is temporally located and prior todefinition (1049b 24-25). If Aristotle evaluated the Sophists' pre-metaphysicalrhetoric in the same temporal modality of his own art of rhetoric (namely,restricted to the edicts of the past), he may have subverted their art. I willpropose now that this is indeed what happened.


Thus far we have seen that if Aristotle's universal line of argument is admitted,the method of Corax and Tisias cannot be defended. Historically, their methodlies unprotected for it has no foundation in truth and is restricted to the doxa ofwhat is. In rhetoric qua Rhetoric, it has no right to exist (1402a 30). However,one way the Sophists' form of argument can be affirmed is by showing howtruth in the political forum transcends the temporal past where doxa mustnecessarily reside. To extend that vision of truth, we must look more closely atthe example Aristotle chooses to make his case against the Sophists. With thischoice, perhaps Aristotle himself makes the weaker case (his own) appear the



stronger by virtue of the strength of his newly privileged first philosophy or,literally, metaphysics.

Aristotle is moving to prove his earlier accusation that the Sophists' rhetoricis manipulative. This accusation encourages us to fear their rhetoric, because ifthere was an assault, Corax's successful mishandling of the rules of generalprobability can exculpate a criminal; and this would make the method suspectnot only in a legal but also in a moral sense. As a suspicious and frighteningmethod of rhetoric, the Sophists' procedure is replaced for the sake of security,order, and justice. As a privileged example against Sophistical argumentativemethods, the judicial case of Corax and Tisias holds up well to diminish andultimately to negate their rhetoric as a whole.

How we understand the tradition of early rhetoric, in general, inheres to thepsychological strength of this single representation, which is only a story (andmaybe a false one) about homicide. Neither Aristotle nor any other spokesmanfor the polis portrays Athens as a place where murderers, rapists, and thieves,dominated the society by mastering Corax's and Tisias' method. On the questionof past fact, accusing and defending with a reference to things already done(1358 15-17), Aristotle is silent, perhaps because the truth in language thataccurately re-presents past fact is self-evident, noncontingent, and outside therealm of rhetoric. Moreover, there is no statement indicating that he is interestedin the story as a legal problem qua judicial rhetoric (Enos). No doubt Aristotle'sattack on the Sophists' rhetoric is a powerful example, and yet he does not applyit to the judicial forum. What, then, does Aristotle do with the story of Coraxand Tisias?

Aristotle uses the example to talk about arguments that apply probabilities tothe future. That is, the strong man claims that, by having knowledge of generalprobability, he has intentionally acted against it. This is a new way, a deliberateavoidance of the general consciousness. This fore-understanding signals thetemporal modality of the future, which, as Aristotle tells us, is the time frame ofpolitical oratory (1358b 10-15). On this basis, we find the dimension of futuretime in the Sophists' rhetoric and, more importantly, a method with which toreason about the possibility of what may happen. This being the case, why notdiscuss Corax's method in the political sphere which is the concern of thefuture? By highlighting the elision of Aristotle's temporal modalities as hediscusses that example, we can discern why he opposes the Sophists' methodvis-d-vis its political inventional qualities. In terms of invention, the Sophists'rhetoric could find a commonplace for the one to question the many. Thepolitically thinking individual could expose and challenge the public's condi-tions for discourse and authority, i.e., "what-they're-into."

One reason why Aristotle argues against securing this method of argument tothe future time-frame of rhetoric and, by implication, the political forum,becomes evident when, shortly after the Corax/Tisias example, he invokes apoetic example to secure a rhetorical claim. In his discussion of Corax andTisias, Aristotle makes a sharp distinction between poetry and rhetoric. Theprofundity of this distinction can be realized if we ask: Why bring poetry into



the discussion of Corax's and Tisias' method of reasoning? It is against anessentially "poetic" view of probability that Aristotle will offer his own logic.Thus, it is quite in line with his thinking to introduce the spurious enthymemewith two lines from a tragedy by Agathon (Rhetoric, 1402a 10). In Poetics,poetry relates what may happen, and for a poet to express this is aestheticallyacceptable (1461b 9-15). Moreover, Aristotle uses the Agathon couplet to serveas proof "that the unexpected does happen and therefore can be expected andthen to praise the tragedian for the skill of making the improbable probable"(cited in Wilcox, 1942 146). Following that, however, Aristotle sets up hisobjection to making arguments in rhetoric as if rhetoric were poetry. Beingpoetical, Corax and Tisias confuse what may happen (possibility) with what islikely to happen (probability). Another way to say this, metaphysically speaking,is that Corax and Tisias do not participate in the ideal development of rationalargument. They make leaps. The unfolding of their argument is reality-ahead-of-itself, and so Corax and Tisias persuade unrestricted by the metadiscourse thatguides particular actions. In effect, Aristotle imposes limits on innovativepossibilities in rhetoric.

The purpose of each art aside, how does the political-poetical distinction helpus understand why Aristotle transforms a forensic issue from the past into apolitical probability in the future? Aristotle's objection to "Corax's and Tisias's"art - probability indiscriminately projected into the future - must be understoodwithin the contemporary issue of personal and communal action. To summarizethis issue, we turn to Jaeger:

In the fifth century there were only two possibilities: either the law or the state was thehighest standard for human life and coincided with the divine government of theuniverse, in which case a man was a citizen, no more and no less; or else the standardsof the state conflicted with those established by nature or God, so that man could notaccept them, in which case he ceased to be a member of the political community, andthe very foundations of his life dissolved, unless he could find some certainty in theexternal order of nature. (325-326)

In view of this dichotomy, there are strong overtones that poetic focus is notgood rhetoric when advocating courses of human conduct and action required inthe ideal city-state. In defining "man" as a city-state animal, Aristotle isinterested in making sure that the political speaker has general knowledge ofpossible actions, a knowledge to be applied in particular cases when urging anaudience to act in a particular way. "It is necessary for the political speakers] tohave at their command propositions about the possible and the impossible, andabout whether a thing has or has not occurred, will or will not occur" (1359a11-17). Randall offers this explanation: "The practical sciences of politics andethics aim to discover the end or function of such a social and rational animal,and to calculate the means to achieve that end" (247). Basically then, Aristotle'srhetoric starts with the discovery of 'what is' (universal law of nature) in orderto persuade what 'will be' in accordance with a communal purpose.

When the Agathon allusion and the Corax/Tisias illustration are seen ascombined themes from which Aristotle develops his rhetoric, we have our



strongest reason to believe that Sophistical rhetoric extends beyond the judicialforum. Thus far, our position projects the Sophistical argument of 'making theweaker a stronger case' squarely into the political arena. Just as Aristotle'sdiscussion of poetry subtly reveals an usage of Sophistical rhetoric to thinkotherwise and to make a difference politically, it also distorts our understandingof its practice. As we have seen, a future orientation has entered the discussionof the Sophists' practice; however, the method is still being evaluated in thejudicial domain on the grounds of its inadequate methods of reasoning. Byswitching the subject (poetry, possibility, and future hence, the political) andkeeping the domain the same, his move conceals the essential point of differencebetween the political ends of Aristotelian and Sophistical rhetoric, which wasarticulated earlier as private versus public rhetoric. It is precisely this issue thatAristotle's rational orderliness of nature attempts to resolve and put to rest. Tounravel the significance of his restriction of rhetoric to the public sphere, wemust once again turn to his Metaphysics and attend to the distinctions he makesbetween the nature of reality and theory of knowledge.

For Aristotle, deliberating on what may happen is dependent upon actualpossibility (probability): "Things which have not occurred or will not occur alsocannot have been done or be going to be done" (1359a 14). In Aristotle'sinterpretation of a Sophistical political practice (possibility), deliberating onwhat may happen, which is not guarded by "Aristotelian" rules of probability,unleashes the Sophists to argue, with the poets, about possible possibilities. Inlight of these differences, an important contrast on the particular life purpose ofrhetoric begins to emerge. On the one hand, Aristotle's rhetoric perpetuates thestatus quo. In the discussion of genuine enthymemes, he says that particularconclusions on what is usual or possible are determined from general knowledgeof probability on human nature and the good. When reason becomes conter-minous with knowledge, the status quo has already been identified and simplygets reaffirmed by a universal line of argument, such as the 'more or less.' Onthe other hand, the rhetoric of possibility, or the Sophistical one, argues for what'can be' but 'is not.' This means that political rhetoric, as the Sophists conceivedit, is the task of transcending 'what is,' going beyond what is established(Poulakos, 1984; Struever). That is, the individual's will may demand satisfac-tion of need and desire, two items which cannot be found in communal normsthat promote a fixed, stable orientation toward reality.


Reviewing the distinction between private and public concerns addressed byPlato and Aristotle, we can grasp the significance and profundity of their disputewith Sophistical political rhetoric. Aristotle's conception of politics togetherwith his objection to the method of "making the weaker the stronger case" placehis rhetoric in fundamental opposition to the Sophistical one on two counts.First, the Sophists' rhetoric is inferior because it values citizen over citizenry.



Second, the danger of this is that an individual's interest, if argued successfully,can undermine the state. The full implications of the competing methods ofargument are beyond the scope of this paper. I will mention briefly only onetopic in relation to the private/public opposition and their respective rhetorics.

The welfare of aristocratic Athenian citizenry was rooted in a slave economy.There were revenues derived from the forced labor of 150,000 slaves in silvermines. "Xenophone in 355 proposed that Athens should eventually acquire threeslaves to each adult citizen and let them out as mining labor" (Hammond, 524).Also, there were slaves in vast numbers farming the land. In the Politics,Aristotle proposed to have all agricultural labor conducted by slaves (1259a 38,1259b 22, 1326a 18, 1330a 26). However, an anti-slavery argument couldthreaten more than mining and agriculture; it could challenge the structure of thecity-state. Slaves kept citizens' wages low. At the same time, citizen labordiminished as more slaves were acquired. In order to eat, the poor citizen, thelargest voting segment in the democracy, needed the democrats' aggressiveforeign policy and political practices. They were paid for going to the Assembly,the courts, and for rowing the fleets during the war (Goldstein, 112; Hammond,521-555). Thus slavery and war were inextricably bound to the welfare of thestate. As such, anti-slavery arguments, as advanced by Antiphon and otherSophists would be an act of sedition.10 They would jeopardize the economicwelfare of the state's property owners and the labor class of citizens' by seekingthe abolishment of slavery and in turn the dependence on imperialistic policy.Given this political portrayal of the city-state, does not the Sophistical method of'making the weaker a stronger case' deserve recognition as a rhetorical enginefor rethinking what 'might be' other possibilities of common interests? Clearly,the Sophistical skill with "weak" anti-slavery arguments is a challenge toAristotle's polis-ideal rhetoric (1962 1253b, 1330b-34a). Aristotle's ambiguityon the nature of Sophistical political rhetoric is, perhaps, a testimony to hisconcern for a polis that had already begun to crack.

In this essay, I have argued that Aristotle reformulates rhetoric and renders itthe art for preserving 'what is.' Rhetoric perpetuates and maintains the es-tablished order (1356b 25). All of this is determined by a metadiscourse within adomain of philosophical, not ethical, discourse which allows one to say certainthings according to the rules of probability. Aristotle's rhetoric legislates how toreason about the existing world, and so secures a political statement on thefuture (Lyotard, 1985). By using "to-make-the-weaker-case-appear-the-stronger" phrase as the nexus of Aristotle's case against the Sophists, I haveshown that rhetoric grids the possible by protecting itself from external debates;this asks that we confine ourselves to a region of discourse tied to the actualworld and its present state of affairs. Weak arguments are those that penetrateboth the social region of general propositions and the right method of reasoningsince the latter is the prime determiner of their goodness. If the Sophists' methodnegates reason itself, it does so because reason reaffirms the status quo.

As far as the Sophists' rhetoric is concerned, its contribution to argument is a"Sophistical ideology," a complex way of thinking that integrates metaphor-



possible-individualistic-generative-radical into rhetoric. According to Aristotle,when the status quo, reason, and the good are conterminous, the Sophists arenothing but untenable tricksters. But sometimes, as the Sophists' rhetoric shows,the tricksters win, and in so doing lead humanity toward that which evenAristotle would have to defend - the actualization of human potential. With alldue respect to Aristotle, it does seem that the Sophistical phrase on the strengthof the weak has something to say, a lot to offer, and some dignity to impart topolitical rhetoric. And why not? Speaking like Lyotard (1988), how can a phraseoffend argumentation, or do it wrong? Does argumentation have honor, orpride? Or has it been rhetoric's hubris to prohibit the phrase? To grid thepossible.


I I do not intend to suggest that there was a unified Sophistical rhetoric, i.e., a school ofSophists holding one view. I am following Classen's (1981) suggestion of what Aristotlemeans when he uses the word sophist and what he associates with it, including rhetoric.Classen states: "More than once, Aristotle introduces [sophists] as a particular, more orless homogeneous group of people, to all of whom he ascribes specific activities, aims,and claims" (10). In this essay, all citations from Aristotle are from Rhetoric (1954),unless noted otherwise.2 The sources are too numerous to mention. Kerferd (1981) provides an excellent surveyof the positions that hold the Sophists responsible for the moral decline of Athens.3 See Ahl; Goldstein; Hudson-Williams; Kennedy (1963, 1980); McKeon (1981);Wilcox (1942, 1943); Farenga.4 I say "most pronunced" because of the essays (above) only Wilcox has the distinctpurpose of demonstrating that political expertise was part of the Sophistical instruction inrhetoric.5 See also Plato (1921 232d); Wilcox (1942); Thucydides (VIII 68); the Thrasymacheantechnique is called political in Plato (1966b 493d); In this essay, references to fragmentsare in Sprague (1972), which is an edition of Diels-Krantz Die Fragmente der Vorso-kratiker with translations by several people.6 Aristotle will now refer to a case from judicial rhetoric to provide an example of howthe Sophists say nothing important in the domain of proof by reason. Specifically, hecites their practice to illustrate fallacious reasoning. See McKeon (1981). An example ofthis collective indignation that Aristotle speaks of (in reference to Protagoras's method ofargument) might be the case of the Mitylenians in Thucydides (1960), who reflects agreat deal of Sophistical thought (even though he was no Sophist): "I wonder who will bethe man who will maintain the contrary, and will pretend to show that the crimes of theMitylenians are of service to us, and our misfortunes injurious to the allies. Such a manmust plainly either have such confidence in his rhetoric as to adventure to prove thatwhat has been once and for all decided is still undetermined, or be bribed to try anddelude us by elaborate sophisms" (III 37; emphasis added). For a discussion of theMelians and the notion of "stronger" argument, see Cacoullos, Ann: 1984, "The br16tp6ocwSg &vaycctiov in the Sophists," in The Sophistic Movement. Greek PhilosophicalSociety: Athenian Library of Philosophy, pp. 172-177.7 In some translations, the weaker/stronger logos (case) is read as "making the worse thebetter logos (causa). As noted earlier in the essay, Burnyeat and Sesonske state that theformer ought to be attributed to Aristotle, and the latter, Cicero.8 Examples of "the more or less" as it relates to human nature include these: (1) If a



weak man can carry two chains, a strong man can carry more than two chains. (2) If acrime could be seen by the light of the moon, more so by the light of the sun. (3) If acommon citizen should be law abiding, so much the more for elected officials.9 Heidegger (169-219) distinguishes between the apophantic "as," or the "that" of beingpresent (existentia) and the hermeneutic "as" or the "what" - the way the present looksthus (eidos, essentia). See O. Poggler: 1972, "Heidegger's Topology of Being," in JosephKockelmans (ed.), On Heidegger and Language, Evanston: Northwestern UniversityPress. The latter is the way in which Dasein (literally "being there") deals concernfullywith what is, and is essentially conversational; that is, meaning arises from the interplaybetween Dasein and the possibilities upon which Dasein projects its Being. Aristotle's"essence" is non-conversational. See Aristotle: 1984, Posterior Analytics. Translation byR.P. Hardie and R.K. Gaye, in B. Jowett (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle, 2 vols.Princeton: Princeton University Press, II, 7. If we are to know an essence, we know it forall time. It is static and unchanging. It resides in the object itself. When Dasein "speaks"conversationally, entities are disclosed in their possibility. Dasein's speaking is allowingentities to speak.10 Here is Antiphon: We [respect] and revere those who are of good parentage, but thosewho are not of good family we neither [respect] nor [revere]. In this behavior we becomelike barbarians one to another, when in fact by nature we all have the same nature in allparticulars, barbarians and Greeks. We have only to consider the things which are naturaland necessary to all mankind. These are open to all [to get] in the same way, and in allthese things there is no distinction of barbarian or Greek. For we all breathe out into theair by the mouth and the nose, and we [all eat with our hands]" (87 B 91). Here isHippias: "I regard all of you as kinsmen, relatives, and fellow citizens by nature [physis],if not by convention [nomos]: for by nature like is kin to like, whereas convention is atyrant over men, and constrains them against nature in many ways" (86 C 1). Aristotlesupports slavery. He argues in Politics against any other conception of social relations:"Another schools[sophistic] holds that to exercise mastery is contrary to nature, custom-law being responsible for the status of slave and free, whereas in nature there is nodifference which likewise makes the relationship not morally right" (1253b cited inHavelock, Eric: 1957, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics, London: J. Cape, p. 328). Itis important to note that Aristotle turns to the master/slave relationship for "reasons oftheory" and to "promote a scientific knowledge" of the subject of social relationships ingeneral. The very heart of the political structure is the master/slave paradigm and wouldcertainly influence a polis-ideal rhetoric for the fulfillment of "man's" nature as apolitical animal.


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