Quotations about   rhetoric

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It might be argued that a man who employs this kind of skill with words for immoral purposes can do great harm, but the same goes for everything good except for virtue, and it goes above all for the most valuable things, such as strength, health, and generalship. After all, moral use of these things can do the greatest good, and immoral use the greatest harm.

[εἰ δ᾽ ὅτι μεγάλα βλάψειεν ἂν ὁ χρώμενος ἀδίκως τῇ τοιαύτῃ δυνάμει τῶν λόγων, τοῦτό γε κοινόν ἐστι κατὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαθῶν πλὴν ἀρετῆς, καὶ μάλιστα κατὰ τῶν χρησιμωτάτων, οἷον ἰσχύος ὑγιείας πλούτου στρατηγίας: τούτοις γὰρ ἄν τις ὠφελήσειεν τὰ μέγιστα χρώμενος δικαίως καὶ βλάψειεν ἀδίκως.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric [Ῥητορική; Ars Rhetorica], Book 1, ch. 1, sec. 13 / 1355b (350 BC) [tr. Waterfield (2018)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

But if it be urged that a man, using such a power of words for an unjust purpose, would do much harm, this is common to all the goods, with the exception of virtue; and especially in the case of the most useful, as for instance strength, health, wealth, and command: for by the right use of these a man may do very much good, and by the wrong very much harm.
[Source (1847)]

If, however, any one should object that a person, unfairly availing himself of such powers of speaking, may be, in a very high degree, injurious; this is an objection which will like in some degree against every good indiscriminately, except virtue; and with especial force against those which are most advantageous, as strength, health, wealth, and generalship. Because employing these fairly, a person may be beneficial in points of the highest importance; and by employing them unfairly may be equally injurious.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]

If it is objected that the abuser of the rhetorical faculty can do great mischief, this, at any rate, applies to all good things except virtue, and especially to the most useful things, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. By the right use of these things a man may do the greatest good, and by the unjust use, the greatest mischief.
[tr. Jebb (1873)]

If it is argued that one who makes an unfair use of such faculty of speech may do a great deal of harm, this objection applies equally to all good things except virtue, and above all to those things which are most useful, such as strength, health, wealth, generalship; for as these, rightly used, may be of the greatest benefit, so, wrongly used, they may do an equal amount of harm.
[tr. Freese (1924)]

And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly.
[tr. Roberts (1954)]

And if someone using such a capacity for argument should do great harm, this at least, is common to all good things -- except virtue -- and especially so in the case of the most useful things, such as strength, health, wealth, and generalship. For someone using these things justly would perform the greatest benefits -- and unjustly, the greatest harm.
[tr. Bartlett (2019)]

Added on 2-Apr-21 | Last updated 2-Apr-21
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It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with reason when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.

[πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἄτοπον εἰ τῷ σώματι μὲν αἰσχρὸν μὴ δύνασθαι βοηθεῖν ἑαυτῷ, λόγῳ δ᾽ οὐκ αἰσχρόν: ὃ μᾶλλον ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἀνθρώπου τῆς τοῦ σώματος χρείας.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric [Ῥητορική; Ars Rhetorica], Book 1, ch. 1, sec. 12 / 1355b.1 (350 BC) [tr. Roberts (1954)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Absurd were it, if inability to defend oneself, in the case of the body be disgraceful, but in the case of the reason, which is more peculiarly the characteristic of man than the use of his body, be not disgraceful.
[Source (1847)]

It were absurd, if, while it is disgraceful for a man not to be able to assist himself by his person, it were not disgraceful to be unable to do this by his speech, which is more a peculiarity of man than the exercise of the body.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]

It would be absurd that, while incapacity for physical self-defence is a reproach, incapacity for mental defence should be none; mental effort being more distinctive of man than bodily effort.
[tr. Jebb (1873)]

It would be absurd if it were considered disgraceful not to be able to defend oneself with the help of the body, but not disgraceful as far as speech is concerned, whose use is more characteristic of man than that of the body.
[tr. Freese (1924)]

It would make no sense for an inability to defend oneself by physical means to be a source of shame, while an inability to defend oneself by verbal means was not, since the use of words is more specifically human than the use of the body.
[tr. Waterfield (2018)]

It is strange if it is a shameful thing not to be able to come to one's own aid with one's body but not a shameful thing to be unable to do so by means of argument, which is to a greater degree a human being's own than is the use of the body.
[tr. Bartlett (2019)]

Added on 26-Mar-21 | Last updated 26-Mar-21
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Clarity in language depends on clarity in thought.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
Interview with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN (10 May 1998)
Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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“My lord,” said Lar, falling back upon the single statement that a servant may always rely upon when any other response is fraught with peril.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Lord of Castle Black (2003)
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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“Why now,” said Tazendra. “There is an idea. What do you think of Kytraan’s idea, Piro?”
“It is one I had not thought of,” admitted Piro.
“And do you think it a good one?” said Kytraan.
“I must consider it.”
“Oh,” said Tazendra, “we have nothing against considering.”
“No, indeed,” said Kytraan. “I, myself, have been known to consider on occasion, and would scarcely begrudge another’s chance to consider.”
“That is good, then; I will do so.”
“And will you do so now?” said Tazendra.
“I am considering this very instant,” said Piro. .
“That is good,” said Kytraan.
“Yes. I could not tell, or I should not have asked,” said Tazendra.
“Then it is right that you asked.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am certain of it.”
“Well, then I am pleased.”
“And you should be. But, your pardon, I am considering.”
“Of course,” said Tazendra, falling silent.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Lord of Castle Black (2003)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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Kind words also produce their own image in men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They soothe and quiet and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings. We have not yet begun to use kind words in such abundance as they ought to be used.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French scientist and philosopher
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Often attributed without citation in 19th Century works, e.g., The Golden Rule and Odd-Fellows' Family Companion, Vol. 7 (1847).
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to J. H. Tiffany (31 Mar 1819)
    (Source)
Added on 15-Feb-17 | Last updated 15-Feb-17
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Talking is one of the fine arts — the noblest, the most important, the most difficult — and its fluent harmonies may be spoiled by the intrusion of a single harsh note.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
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The tongue is not steel, yet it cuts.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum (1651)
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Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Studies,” Essays (1625)
Added on 29-Sep-16 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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Our companions please us less from the charms we find in their conversation than from those they find in ours.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628) 1st Baron Brooke; Elizabethan poet, dramatist, and statesman
Maxims, Characters and Reflections, 98 (1757 ed.)
Added on 20-Oct-14 | Last updated 20-Oct-14
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I am aware that many object to the severity of my language, but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write in moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, social reformer
The Liberator, #1 (1 Jan 1831)

On slavery.
Added on 10-Jul-14 | Last updated 10-Jul-14
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Our ends will not be won by rhetoric and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
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That is as well said as if I had said it myself.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation, Dialogue 2 (1738)
Added on 19-May-10 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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I have seen a man of genius who made one think if other men were like him, cooperation were impossible. Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, and joy?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Table Talk,” American Life lecture, Boston (18 Dec 1864)
    (Source)

Speaking of Thoreau's style of conversation. Originally a Journal entry of 29 Feb 1856. Also part of the lecture "Social Aims".
Added on 18-Dec-09 | Last updated 10-Mar-20
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