Aristotle’s Rhetoric

18 Jun

A second dimension of audience analysis involved the traits one associates with audiences of different ages. Compare, for example, Aristotle’s description of senior citizens to your view of, say, your grandparents.


As they have lived many years, and have been deceived or have erred more often, and as most things are disappointing, they are positive about nothing, and do all things too feebly. They think, but are never sure; in their uncertainty they always add ‘maybe.’—’perhaps’; they speak thus on all subjects, and positively about nothing. They think evil; for evil-thinking is to put the worst construction upon everything. Further, they are suspicious through their incredulity, being incredulous through their experience. For these reasons they neither like nor hate strongly, but according to the advice of Bias, like, as if they would afterwards hate, and hate as if they would afterwards like. They are mean-souled, through having been abased by life; for they desire nothing great or extraordinary, but only the appliances of life. They are illiberal; for property is one of the necessaries; and, at the same time, they know from their experience, that it is hard to acquire, but easy to lose. They are cowardly, and afraid of everything; for they are of the opposite temperament to youth; they are chilled, while youth is hot; and so old age has prepared the way to cowardice, since fear is a chill. They cling to life, and the more on their latest day, since the object of desire is the absent, and since, too, men most desire, that which they are deficient. They are unduly selfish; for this, too, is a meanness of soul. And, because they are selfish, they live too much for the expedient, too little for the honourable; the expedient being a relative good, the honourable and absolute good. They are not shy, but rather shameless; for, as they do not care, in the same degree, for what is honourable, as for what is expedient, they disregard appearances. They are slow to hope, owing to their experience,—since most things which happen are unsatisfactory and turn out for the worse,—and also from their cowardice. They live in memory more than in hope; for the remainder of their life is small, and the past large—and hope is of the future, as memory of the past. This is the reason of their talkativeness;—they are for ever speaking of the past, since the retrospect gives them pleasure. Their fits of passion are sharp, but feeble; hence they are not lustful, nor apt to act after lust, but rather for gain. Hence men of this age appear temperate, their desires have become slack, and they are slaves to lucre. and their life is regulated by calculation rather than moral instinct; calculation having expediency for its object, while moral instinct has virtue. Their wrong deeds are done viciously, not insolently. Old men, like young; are compassionate, but not for the same reason as young men; the latter are so from benevolence, the former from weakness; for they think that every possibility of suffering is near themselves, and this, we saw,was a condition of pitying. Hence they are given to lamentation, and are not witty or lovers of mirth; for the love of lamentation is the opposite to the love of mirth.

Eds: J.L. Golden, G.F. Berquist, W.E. Coleman J. M. Sproule; The Rhetoric of Western Thought From the Mediterranean World to the Global Setting Eighth Ed. (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company Dubuque Iowa ©1976- 2004) p.74-75

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