What Aristotle's <i>Rhetoric</i> Can Tell Us about the Rationality of Virtue

in Confronting Aristotle's Ethics

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780226283982
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226284019 | DOI:
What Aristotle's Rhetoric Can Tell Us about the Rationality of Virtue

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This chapter exploits the comparison between rhetoric and virtue. The Rhetoric shows that the art of rhetoric aims at more than practical success because it is limited to rational persuasion. This limitation comes from developing an art of persuasion and not from some external moral considerations. The emergence of actions that are their own end out of actions initially chosen to achieve some end distinct from themselves is what is called the sociological dimension of practical rationality. Even in rhetoric, there are values not reducible to success, and so intimations of actions that are their own end. The Ethics finds in the virtues the same development of internal ends and actions chosen for their own sakes out of actions initially valued because of the external ends they achieve. For example, helping friends is a good. The virtue of liberality is a habit of choosing for its own sake to do what we can to help our friends. We choose to practice this virtue for its own sake. Where the external end is good, engaging in the internal end is noble. Aiming at the noble, we do not stop aiming at the useful. Virtuous actions have both internal and external ends, and the internal ends, such as engaging in the noble practice of helping friends financially, internalize the external and given end of our friends being helped. A comparison to the Rhetoric shows that ends become more rational as they become more practical, more within what the agent can do. Rationality and practicality grow together. The active life is the rational life.

Keywords: rhetoric; virtue; persuasion; practical rationality; liberality; Ethics

Chapter.  14598 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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