Irani Analyzes Differences in Good and Bad Rhetoric

Tushar Irani, associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of letters, recently published an essay titled “What is good rhetoric?” for Aeon, a digital magazine for culture and ideas. Related to his current book, Plato on the Value of Philosophy, the essay calls on the public to consider the civic good that rhetoric serves in democratic politics, and the effect it may have on our ability to engage in independent thought.

The essay discusses the difference between good and bad political rhetoric. By drawing on Plato’s understanding of persuasive speech, Irani draws a distinction between flattering rhetoric and “self-moving” rhetoric. The problem with conventional rhetoric, according to this view, is not with persuasive speech itself or the fact that people use it. It is with the ability of a persuasive speaker “to subvert or short-circuit an audience’s power of independent thought.” Good rhetoric, while it is still persuasive, invites the listener to think independently about what the speaker is saying, creating an opportunity to “have our desire to understand enlisted.” Irani refers to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as an example of this type of rhetoric.

Aeon is a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. Irani’s essay can be read online.