Friday, October 2, 2015

The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Campbell)



This paper aims to the explain the most important arguments George Campbell presented in the chapters VII - IX of his book The Philosophy of Rhetoric. All arguments are clearly and objectively represented. In doubt brevity will be given precedence over artistry of expression. Quotes from the original book are integrated in the paper in order to display the qualities of language in the original piece. The chapters to be discussed are: Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of the Hearer as a Man in General,  Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of the Hearer as a Man, as Such Men in Particular, and  Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of Himself.

Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of the Hearer as a Man in General

Rhetoric must always consider the subject, the speaker, and the hearers. The hearers must be considered in two different ways. First, as men in general. Second, as specific men in particular. Certain aspects of the nature of men in general can, if aptly addressed, be used to considerably promote belief. Some may view this practice with suspicion and call it deception; but, it is usually unobjectionable and often even necessary. Men are not purely logical beings and thus are seldom moved by truthful arguments alone. According to Campbell the orator must address all of men’s mental capabilities: “If the orator would prove successful, it is necessary that he engage in his service all these different powers of the mind, the imagination, the memory, and the passions.” (94)

Every orator must first seek to be understood. If the orator should fail this task, the problem can stem from the sense or the expression of his arguments. Problems of understanding concerning the sense arise when the orator introduces ideas that do not connect with the hearers knowledge. The sense of the arguments may also be too abstract or the train of reasoning too long for the capacity of the hearers. These problems are about specific men in particular rather than men in general thus a closer examination will be deferred to a following chapter together with a discussion of problems stemming from expression.

When an orator has successfully explained his arguments he must strive to grab the hearers attention. Without attention the orator can never hope to achieve any effect on the hearers. To achieve lasting attention the orator has to engage the hearers imagination in a pleasing manner. Although this aim is already tremendously important kindling the hearers imagination does achieve another, perhaps even more important, purpose. Imagination enlivens ideas and Campbell states that “[...] lively ideas have a stronger influence than faint ideas to induce belief.”(97) Although this does not mean that an idea is automatically believed just due to its liveliness. Poetry is generally much more lively than the accounts of historians but not more believable.

Lively ideas do not only engage the imagination and convince, they are also more easily remembered. The successful orator must employ the hearers memory. The credibility of a fact is determined by the sum of the arguments presented to support it. When the orator introduces a range of arguments he must take care that the presentation of a new argument does not discard the already presented arguments from the hearers memory and thus mind. This can be achieved by adherence to the laws of composition. Causation can be used to link two succeeding ideas together by presenting them as cause and effect. Other tools, which the orator may use to strengthen the remembrance, are order in place and time. The effect of order in place is further enhanced by using regular figures. Proper order in time should give proximity to ideas that are similar to each other or related by cause or other affiliations. Even more can be done to to approach human memory in a most efficient and effective way as Campbell says “[...] there are some parts of the discourse, as well as figures of speech, peculiarly adapted to this end. Such are the division of the subject, the rhetorical repetitions of every kind, the different modes of transition and recapitulation.”(99).

The last power of the mind now to be discussed is passion. Addressing passion is perhaps an orators most effective weapon but also the most controversial. It has to be stressed that despite all controversies addressing passion is essential if the orator is to be successful. Campbell stresses this fact when he says “To say that it is possible to persuade without speaking to the passions, is but, at best, a kind of specious nonsense. The coolest reasoner always, in persuading, addresseth himself to the passions some way or other.”  (99) There are many passions one can choose to address, i.e.: pride, self-love, patriotism, pity, etc.

Although kindling passions is necessary and powerful it is usually not sufficient for persuasion. Solely relying on pathos and thus only addressing the passions is not only inglorious but usually ineffective. Because wise hearers would not be persuaded by an orator unless he could also provide argumentative support. Only ignorant people may be convinced by pathos alone. They might not require argumentative proof linking their inflamed passions to some definite course of action that ought be taken to extinguish the flames. Instead they might be satisfied solely by the orators claim that such a connection exists and a certain course of action is thus advisable.

Pure logical reasoning without consideration of passions is less vile than the opposite but perhaps even more futile. If an orator would speak in such a way his hearers may perfectly well be aware of the truth in his reasoning and arguments. But there is no reason for them to act upon. As the orator completely failed to address their passions, they can not see how whatever the orator has shown relates to them. They can not see why they should care about it and consequently they can not be convinced to take any definite course of action.

In order to convince successfully both the pathetic and the argumentative have to work together. Campbell explained this fact as well the respective aims perfectly when he said “Good is the object of the will, truth is the object of the understanding.” (101) The pathetic must be used to awaken the will for action in the hearers hearts. To achieve this, the orator must convince the hearers that what he wants them to do is good. The argumentative must be used to create understanding in the hearers minds. To achieve this, the orator must convince the hearers that his arguments are true.

Addressing virtues is another way for the orator to convince his hearers. They are different from passions but also similar in many ways. A person which has a certain passion or virtue may for example detest a certain behaviour or admire a certain group of people because of it. In this way virtues are like passions as they can be used to promote action in the hearers. Relying solely on addressing virtues is called sentimental thus distinguishing it from the pathetic.

When an orator wants to convince his hearers he must not only kindle those passions and dispositions favourable to his aim but also appease those opposing his aim. To raise passions the orator can employ seven circumstances. Campbell states that those are: “[...] probability, plausibility, importance, proximity of time, connexion of place, relation of the actors or sufferers to the hearers or speaker, interest of the hearers or speaker in the consequences.”(104)

Probability:  Probability kindles passions, lack of probability extinguishes passions. Probability, regardless of it being real or only perceived, induces belief and in its highest form even certainty.

Plausibility: Although related plausibility is clearly distinct from probability.  The former chiefly stems from a consistent narrative.  Something that is implausible for example due to inconsistency can hardly be considered probable. Whereas poetry supplies us with a vast amount of proof that a plausible albeit not probable narrative may be constructed. Campbell says about the relationship between probability and plausibility that “The former is the aim of the historian, the latter of the poet.” (105)

Importance:  When hearers perceive an idea as important it will have a greater effect on them. When the idea is concerned with physical objects importance may be created through great quality or quantity of the discussed matter. Importance can be created by novelty of an idea itself. Or by the actions or sufferings of people described the idea. The importance may also be created by the consequence of the idea.

The following four circumstance all derive their power purely from the connection with the self of the hearers or the speaker. The self is incredibly powerful and important as Campbell aptly explains with the following simile: “Self is the centre here, which hath a similar power in the ideal world to that of the sun in the real world, in communicating both light and heat to whatever is in the sphere of its activity, and in a greater or less degree, according to nearness or remoteness.” (109)

Proximity of Time: It is obvious that tragedies that happened more recently generally touch people stronger than those which happened a long time ago. It is the same with the future as it is with the past. Events that are predicted to happen in the near future  touch people stronger than those which will happen in the distant future.

Connexion of Place: The Connexion of Place is similar in most ways to the Proximity of Time because place and time are similar themselves. They do differ in that, that Connexion of Place is usually regarded as more imminent and thus more agitating than Proximity of Time.

Relation to the Persons concerned: Because people, not places or times, are the direct targets of humans passions personal relations are even more influential than Connexion of Place. Although, of course, the impact of the personal relation completely depends upon the exact nature of the relation itself. Thus it will usually startle hearers much more strongly when their family relations are mentioned by  the orator as compared to, for example, just someone from the same country.

Interest in the Consequences: Interest in the effects is the last connection introduced by Campbell and he considers it to be the strongest, he explains why by saying that: “[...] interest in the effects brings the object [...] into contact with us, and makes the mind cling to it as a concern on its own.”(112) Her further explicitly states that it is stronger than sympathy because sympathy is “[...] but a reflected feeling, and therefore,  in ordinary cases, must be weaker than the original”. (112)

Once a passion has been raised using the circumstances described above the narrator must aim to keep it alive and make it even stronger. The orator can call upon other passions or dispositions as auxiliaries to support the one he just inflamed. Certain passions are especially suited for this purpose. A sense of justice is the most effective one. Honor, glory, a sense of public utility, tales of sages, etc. can also be fruitfully employed in this endeavour.

It has been explored how to raise and strengthen favourable passions now it will be examined how to settle opposing passions. There are fundamentally two different approaches to settle opposing passions. First, the orator can directly attack the opposing passion. It can be weakened by the opposite of what gives raise to passions. Thus: improbability, implausibility, insignificance, distance of time, remoteness of place, the persons concerned such as we have no connection with, the consequences such as we have no interest in them. Second, the orator can try to divert the hearers attention by trying to indulge them in other passions which do not strengthen the opposing one.

Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of the Hearers, as Such Men in Particular

The consideration of men in general has finally been sufficiently explained. As announced the orators considerations of men in particular will now be discussed. This concept is simple. Its meaning is that the speaker must, if he wants to succeeded, be aware that his audience is constituted by a variety of people with specific moral, intellectual, and habitual properties. People within an audience may greatly differ in those properties as may different audiences.

        It is especially important how the audience in general feels towards the orator. When confronted with a hostile audience the orator must proceed cautiously. He must introduce his arguments slowly and carefully and it might even be necessary to admit failure in past opinions or actions so that the sympathy of the audience might be regained.

Of the Consideration which the Speaker Ought to Have of Himself

The last but not least important consideration is the consideration the speaker ought to have of himself. The importance of sympathy has been mentioned in the previous chapter. From this we can conclude that anything that tempers sympathy must directly reduce the orators effectiveness in pursuing his aims.

        A wide variety of factors may negatively impact the orator’s sympathy but the two factors chiefly responsible are a perceived lack of intelligence and a bad moral reputation. Of these two the latter is usually the most harmful to the orators sympathy. This is because men seldom fear to be deceived by someone with a weak mind. Someone with a wicked character is certainly perceived as much more dangerous.

        In order to keep  a good reputation and thus the audience’s sympathy the orator must be a good man. Because if he is not it is possible, no matter how careful he tries to hide his misconduct, that it surfaces and destroys his reputation and sympathies.

        An orator might also be confronted with unjust lack of sympathy. Especially rude and uneducated people are prone to prejudice. Thus the orator might be disregarded simply because of his national, religious or political affiliations completely ignoring his personal conduct. While this is clearly unfair it can not be completely avoided as even the most wise and best educated people are still not immune to prejudice.


  Campbell, George. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. New York, United States: Harper                                                                                                                              Publishing, 1868. Print.


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