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The Difference Between Rhetoric And Dialectic


From time immemorial, philosophers have used discourse or speech as a means of reasoning or to put across a point of view in an academic setting.  Falling under the sphere of formal logic, two slightly differing arms of this discourse are rhetoric and dialectic. Both considered deliberation as a means of arriving at the truth, as a social activity which involved verbal skills.

Both Rhetoric and Dialectic are means of expressing opinion using dialogue and great oratory skills. Both use persuasion and reasonable argument to support or refute a proposition. But this is where the similarity ends.

What is rhetoric?

Rhetoric, put simply is a one man show – a speaker trying to influence his audience through motivational words and bombastic language. His personal style makes the argument more effective in arriving at what seems to be the truth. It is a form of mass persuasion wherein a speaker addresses a large gathering or assembly. There is very little or no dialogue between the speaker and his audience. Rhetoric is uninterrupted and there are no arguments or counter- arguments between the people involved. In layman’s words rhetoric can be called pompous speech that aims at garnering assent to the truth being propounded.

What is Dialectic?

Unlike in rhetoric, where the speaker is addressing a large audience, dialectic is a one on one interactive session wherein the speaker tries to convince the listener or at least convince him to accept his logical or philosophical argument through a series of questions and answers. The deliberation is reasonable and is limited to one speaker and one listener. It is more personal in nature and is a form of interrupted discourse. There are vigorous arguments, objections and counter arguments and objections leading to the arrival at a universal truth.

What makes rhetoric different from dialectic?

  • As opposed to rhetoric which is a unilateral process, wherein one party engages in a lengthy and impassioned speech to bring others to consent to his way of thinking or to accept truth as he envisages it, dialectic is a bilateral process wherein two people or parties, engage in a philosophical argument to reach a consensus of truth through dialogue and debate, refuting and rebutting each other’s propositions.
  • Rhetoric is also referred to as a practical art which uses bombastic language, ornamental words and cynical sophistication.  Dialectic is more sober, practical and persuasive technique of argument which is deliberative and logical.
  • Dialectic influences one person at a time whereas; rhetoric has in its power to sway large audiences to mindless submission. Great speakers have used rhetoric to influence masses over periods of time.
  • Rhetoric is usually delivered in public spaces like assemblies, stadiums, political rallies and other large gatherings. The audience is usually so swayed by the words of the speaker that they stop thinking for themselves and are transported to the utopia promised by the speaker, transported to a future time and space which promises the sky. Dialectic, however, is more of a private place dispensation and has very few people listening in and participating in the deliberation. The speaker has much less power to convince the listener as he is constantly stopped by questions and arguments against his proposition.
  • Rhetoric is a one way street, whereas dialectic is a two way street. What this means is that rhetoric proceeds in a flow and speech is continuous, while dialectic is fractured frequently by questions and answers.
  • Rhetoric is more applicable in matters of the state or public, but dialectic can apply to any common matter.
  • Rhetoric assumes that the audience has limited intelligence and will accept any bombastic discourse. Dialectic thrives on two way intelligent argument.
  • Dialectic is argumentative and rhetoric is non- argumentative.

In conclusion, one could accept Aristotle’s view that rhetoric and dialectic are closely related and resemble each other. They both accept certain premises but are not bound down by the principles of specific form. Both are concerned with both sides of the argument through the theory of deduction and induction.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow, there’s a couple amendments in here I’d like to make. As a rhetorician, I’m a wheezing at the irony of this article, in that it is rhetorical in nature. Nevertheless the logos is flawed, and the ethos is tainted from the getgo. I’ll take a shot at this:

    1. The term “bombastic” is used more than once in here – there’s no pillar of rhetoric that requires the language to be bombastic. Aristotle does, however, talk about the character of the speaker, which goes beyond style – this is closer to whether or not the speaker or their brand is trustworthy.
    2. Rhetoric is absolutely argumentative in nature – especially with discourse between two rhetoricians. It is still differentiated to dialectics, as their realities are continuously trying to incept the other’s. Whereas, in dialectics, the settlement is done in a third reality, in which all parties have accepted is a suitable scope.
    3. Rhetoric does work with deductive and inductive thinking, but works best with abductive thinking.
    4. Good Rhetoric does not assume the audience has limited intelligence – rather presents all sides of the argument to support balance in the matter.
    5. Rhetoric is not limited to public matters or state matters – it applies to anything. In fact it is a largely used in innovation, art, design, and in internal communications. Aristotle explained in from the viewpoint of theatre. Cicero talked about it from the perspective of law.
    6. Since it seems like a lot of the explanations in here seem anecdotal from the viewpoint of the writer, I will add this – logos (logic and truth), pathos (emotion, passion, empathy), and ethos (character, brand, morality) are the major pillars of rhetoric. Manipulation is a perversion of this, and is no longer in the realm of rhetoric (Cicero). Dialectics is definitely a more inclusive process of discourse. However, in real practice fails to mitigate or account for two major factors: 1. Competency – this is where “group-think” happens. 2. Social Responsibility – This is where evil or bad intentions can hide and flourish.

    There’s plenty more fallacies in this article. I will just leave those six here for now. I’ll also note that this article has one single citing – and it’s to itself. A good start to a better understanding rhetoric, I would suggest Poetics and Rhetoric by Aristotle and De Legibus by Cicero.

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