Disclaimer: At times I write what I would call an ‘advanced blog post’, one intended for those who have studied our advanced books. This is one such. When writing an essay you need to generate support for your thesis statement. To that end you may employ either artistic or inartistic proofs.
Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not. By the latter I mean such things as are not supplied by the writer but are there at the outset—witnesses, evidence given under torture, written contracts, and so on. By the former I mean such as we can ourselves construct by means of the principles of rhetoric. The one kind has merely to be used, the other has to be invented.
The two types Aristotle mentions above are
1. Artistic proofs – arguments that the speaker must invent: definition, comparison, relationships, circumstances, testimony, notation and conjugates.
2. Inartistic proofs – quoting what others have said: laws, witnesses, contracts, or oaths.
By ‘inartistic’ proofs are meant proofs which are not supplied by the writer’s efforts, but existed beforehand, such as witnesses, admissions under torture, written contracts, and the like. By ‘artistic’ proofs are meant those that may be discovered through rhetorical invention. The first type need only to be used; the second type has to be ‘invented’.
The Three Appeals
Aristotle says each artistic proof is derived from one of the following three appeals:
- ethos – appeal to the integrity and expertise of the writer
- logos – an appeal to appropriate and logical arguments
- pathos – an appeal to the audience’s sympathies
Artistic and Inartistic Proofs in Writing
Aristotle defines artistic proofs (invention) to be within the scope of the art of rhetoric, and inartistic proofs (testimony) to be outside the art of rhetoric.
Aristotle’s was the first attempt to separate the art of argument from evidence and facts. He was the first to realize that a collection of facts (inartistic proofs) is just a collection of facts. It takes a skilled rhetorician to study those facts and bring them together in a composition that is interesting, persuasive, and useful to others.
There are, according to Aristotle, five types of inartistic proofs: laws, contracts, witnesses, tortures, and oaths. Today we would ethically eliminate tortures, and add to Aristotle’s list—from our technology-driven world—photographs, video clips, Gallup polls, and scientific experimentation. Inartistic proofs should never comprise the bulk of your essay, they are merely the raw materials from which your essay will be constructed.
A Painting Analogy
To understand more clearly how Aristotle differentiates between inartistic and artistic proofs, think of a painter standing in front of his canvas. He has in his possession a selection of colored paints, and he has also chosen a theme or motif for his painting. Indeed, everything is present that makes it possible for a beautiful picture to be created, but until he chooses to combine his colors and apply them to the canvas, there is no picture, there is merely a collection of raw materials in their inartistic form. Even the best raw materials will not bring about a work of art unless there is an artist who works to bring it about.
In the same way, a writer may search through all the available sources at the library, read himself silly with facts on a subject, but unless he artfully puts all that information together, arranges it carefully, extracts the arguments from the facts he has uncovered, all he has on his desk or on his computer is a list of references and collection of quotations. It is part of the art of rhetoric to collect information, analyze it, arrange it, and present it a form that brings useful, interesting, truthful, and pertinent information to its readers or listeners.
It is often said that ‘the facts speak for themselves’, but sadly, that is not true. Facts and data require interpretation in order to be understood. They need to be put in context, their range and domain needs to be explained, the circumstances under which the facts were gathered must be clarified. Furthermore, the facts need to be put in contrast to previously discovered facts. For all that a writer is needed.
Years ago an old Sunday School teacher of mine admonished our class to be careful about our approach to Bible study. There were three important things to keep in mind, he said, and those three things were: Context, context, and context!
This is true for all study and for all writing. The author who does not explain the context from which his quotations have been taken, nor the way in which he is applying it, has failed indeed.Rhetoric, as the artistic evaluation of the data and facts collected, is at the core of the art of writing.
Your sources, your data, your documentation does not speak for itself. It requires context, first of all. You need to place the data in the setting it came from when you explain that data to your readers. That is the first step in the careful analysis you need to put your data to. It is your arguments interpreting these data that are the substance of rhetoric: your arguments alone belong to the art of rhetoric. Any fool can collect the data, not everyone can interpret it.
Dialectics fit into rhetoric in that the arguments we initially develop are discovered through the dialectical process of digging up information, and uncovering the issues involved in the subject. The rhetorical aspects of writing enter when we decide to advocate a particular position, namely the one we find most plausible and coherent.
Two Types of Arguments
In this rhetorical context we can present two types of arguments.
1. An argument which consists of a conclusion supported by reason which is documented by evidence.2. An argument which is a confrontation between two parties in disagreement over a claim.
In both cases, the rhetoric needed to produce a persuasive argument must produce communicative clarity about the subject and about the evidence presented. You as a writer must be able to articulate your position beyond what your evidence says. You need to display not only your knowledge and your sources, but also an understanding of your topic.
The division between artistic and inartistic proofs as articulated by Aristotle more than two thousand years ago remains a fundamental form of argument whether the argument is in the form of a term paper, editorial, thesis or dissertation. Artistic proof is still the primary mode of argument. Inartistic proofs (the data, the facts) do not speak for themselves.