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Dominik Stojkovic (23.12.2019, contribution elaborated within the Seminar "A Journey through Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz at the Hochschule München)
Abstract: This article gives a brief overview of the art of rhetoric, its early beginning, and how it is important in modern times. The goal is to provide a general definition of rhetoric and to identify a broad relationship with the concepts of data, information, and knowledge.

Rhetoric, Information, and Knowledge 
"In most of our abilities we differ not at all from the animals; we are in fact behind many in swiftness and strength and other resources. But because there is born in us the power to persuade each other and to show ourselves whatever we wish, we not only have escaped from living as brutes, but also by coming together have founded cities and set up laws and invented arts, and speech has helped us attain practically all of the things we have devised. For it is speech that has made laws about justice and injustice and honour and disgrace, without which provisions we should not be able to live together. By speech we refute the wicked and praise the good. By speech we educate the ignorant and inform the wise" (Isocrates, 1928, p. 326).

The Sophist Isocrates (436–338 BCE) presented perhaps the most coherent ancient basis of civilization: rhetoric. 

But what is rhetoric? Many simply consider it to be the art of persuasion. A writer should speak to and try to persuade his or her audience in different ways: (1) logic or reason (logos), (2) emotion (pathos), and/or (3) ethics and morals (ethos) (Sprenger, M., 2013, p. 164). Nevertheless, Aristotle argues that its role is not to persuade "but rather the detection of the persuasive aspects of each matter" and that this is in line with all other skills since, for example, it is not the function of medicine to create health, but to put the patient to a possible degree of well-being. He defines rhetoric as "the power to observe the persuasiveness of which any particular matter admits. For of no other art is this the function; (…) rhetoric is considered to be capable of intuition of persuasiveness of (…) the given," which is why we retain that its technical competence, just like that of dialectic, is not related to any specific, limited type of matter (Aristoteles & Lawson-Tancred, 1991, p. 69 - 74). Aristotle argues that rhetoric is closely connected with dialectics. It becomes obvious that what dialectic is for the process of challenging and sustaining an argument (private or academic), rhetoric is for the (public) method of defending oneself or blaming an opponent. Previous rhetoric theorists paid a lot of attention to strategies beyond the topic. They learned how to accuse, how to excite emotions in the crowd, or how to divert attention from the topic. This manipulative approach promotes a situation in which the jury and the legislature no longer mold rational judgments on the issues at hand, but give way to the litigants. In this way, Aristotle's rhetoric is different: it depends on the convincing type of evidence that is known to be the most effective means of persuasion (Rapp, 2010).

Aristotle's rhetoric requires proof to persuade the listener. Some of the proofs, though, belong to the art and some do not. By those that do not, Aristotle is referring to everything that we do not construct from our own, but that pre-exists, including witnesses, tortures, depositions, and so on. By those that do contribute to the practice of rhetoric he means all that can be maintained by us. There are three types of proof that can be developed by speech. Some reside in (1) the character of the speech, some in (2) the audience's disposition, and others reside in  (3) the speech itself (by demonstration). Since the proofs are created by these methods, it is clear that their understanding belongs to anyone who has understood syllogism (from "syllogismos" - "conclusion, inference"), who can objectively consider character and virtue, and who knows each of the emotions and how they are generated. Aristotle highlights proofs that are produced by actual or obvious demonstration. One may use induction and syllogism, just like in logic. However, in rhetoric, Aristotle calls induction "example" and syllogism "enthymeme". He further states that by providing either examples or enthymemes and nothing else, all exponents generate demonstrative proofs (Aristoteles & Lawson-Tancred, 1991, p. 74 - 75). For Aristotle, the role of the enthymeme is evidence or demonstration in the public discourse. Aristotle's contemporaries had already invented the word “enthymeme” itself (from "enthumeisthai" - "to consider") and originally defined it as clever sayings, good words, and brief statements containing a fallacy or inconsistency. The terms "proof" (apodeixis) and "syllogismos" play a crucial role in Aristotle's logical-dialectical concept. By applying them to the concept of modern rhetoric, Aristotle calls for a well-known rhetorical technique, while at the same time limiting and codifying the original meaning of the enthymeme: a correct understanding of the nature of the syllogismos, that is a deductive argument (Rapp, 2010).

When it comes to modern day rhetoric, one should keep in mind that rhetorical skills are a prerequisite to the evaluation of frame conditions, so that new requirements can be assessed and then changed. Rhetorical capacity is unique to the new interactive media and has to be used in the form of persuasive intentions. In online environments persuasion is also a legitimate attempt in the creation of tactics that attract attention (e.g. by tailored online ads) and express credibility (e.g. in online election campaigns). In the framework of network systems, it is important to evaluate resistances at the perceptual, linguistic, textual, media, and situational levels and to develop strategies with respect to changing frameworks through the use of media.

A virtual world often produces a changing space of knowledge and experience and thus the information and data stored on the Internet is gradually forming society's cultural memory (remember Isocrates already identified rhetorics to be the basis of culture). With respect to Aristotle's "[rhetoric is] the detection of the persuasive aspects of each matter," then it is also the crucial competence to set standards in virtual worlds for which knowledge can be used as the basis for rhetorical action (transl. from Vidal, 2018). Meanwhile, the volume and convergence of software, media products and devices blurs the use of the words "data", "information", and "communication".
In this respect, information technology (IT) must be described as a mixture of tools and mediums. Through services or tools, IT is part of our daily lives - as a medium, we use it as a kind of interpersonal communication. This raises new questions for rhetoric. It is no longer just a matter of how people can use speech to achieve certain goals and persuade certain people. Rather, it is also about whether and how non-human actors (such as social bots) manipulate opinions and whether the concept of dialog is losing value in relation to machine-controlled opinion-forming processes.

It has become evident that the creation of the public and the individual participation in social processes are characterized by a number of medial impacts. One should not only focus on what and how things are shared throughout the Internet, but also keep in mind that it allows information to be shared in two ways: by its users and about its users. Data on user behavior and communication can increasingly be collected through the analysis and evaluation of digital platforms.        

Big data analysis plays an important role at a time when public discourse is struggling to identify "proofs" and "truths," while computing models and the modern data industry are already gaining more and more power and influence in deciding what "true information" and "relevant recommendations" are. Online information technology has acquired additional means of generating allegedly secure and immediate ("authentic") knowledge by analyzing mass data. This knowledge partially replaces public communication and opinion-forming mechanisms (transl. from Heesen, 2018). One consequence of big data usage is the advent of a revenue model for Internet companies that focuses on monitoring online activities to maximize the economic value of service provider purchases, not only in terms of targeted advertising, but also in terms of insurance policy terms and prices, loans, and other contractual relationships. Many people are unaware of the wide range of this targeting in the competitive consumer market. This "big data" should be treated as confidential even where anonymization techniques have been applied: it is increasingly easier to infer the identity of a person by combining supposedly "anonymous" data with other datasets, including publicly available information on social media. Where this data is shared particularly across borders and territories, the responsibility for the processing of information is nebulous and difficult to establish or implement under data protection law, especially in the absence of any international standards (Buttarelli, 2015, p. 6). By means of private data collection, mechanisms that relativize the theoretical and normative principles of political debate are emerging and could significantly weaken the core function of rhetoric.  At the same time, however, the critical-hermeneutic method of rhetoric is approached in a special way, mainly because data analysis often involves the targeted manipulation of community or personal information about the beliefs and actions of those analyses.
What does data say about reality? What do we really know when we get information? The big data subject here leads back to "authenticity" as a rhetorical reference point for social media communication. Critical reflection on interaction, its context, and its objectives is a vital task for a digital society. Rhetoric can make a crucial contribution here: it can show in this sense that persuasive arguments and a shared understanding of truth or morality are not based on data, but on inter-subjectivity and discourse (transl. from Heesen, 2018).

It could still be argued that rhetoric is only useful to those who want to misguide their audience and mask their real intentions, as someone who simply wants to communicate the facts could be direct and would not need rhetorical devices. That, however, is not the point of view of Aristotle: when faced with a public audience, even those who only try to establish what is just and true need the help of rhetoric. Aristotle tells us that such an audience can not be educated, even though the speaker had the most detailed knowledge of the subject. Clearly he thinks that a public speech's audience is made up of ordinary people who are unable to obey an exact proof based on a science's values. Furthermore, issues that do not relate to the subject will easily confuse such an audience. And this situation gets worse if a city's government, laws, and rhetorical patterns are bad. Lastly, most of the subjects commonly addressed in public speeches do not permit accurate knowledge, but leave room for doubt. For all these purposes, it is a matter of persuasiveness, not knowledge, to influence the decisions of juries and assemblies. It is true that some people manage to be persuasive either by fate or by habit, but it is still rhetoric that gives us a method of identifying all kinds of persuasion on any possible topic (Rapp, 2010).

Aristoteles, & Lawson-Tancred, H. (1991). The art of rhetoric. London: Penguin Books.

Buttarelli, G. (2015). European Data Protection Supervisor. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Retrieved from

Heesen, J. (2018). Vormacht des Authentischen und Rhetorik der Daten in einer digitalen Gesellschaft [Rhetorik ein internationales Jahrbuch, Band 36, Heft 1, Seiten 31–42]. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter. doi: 10.1515/rhet.2017.003.

Isocrates. (1928). Isocrates. London: Heinemann.

Rapp, C. (2010, February 1). Aristotle's Rhetoric. Retrieved December 21, 2019, from

Sprenger, M. (2013). Teaching the critical vocabulary of the common core : 55 words that make or break student understanding. Retrieved from

Vidal, F. (2018). Rhetorik im digitalen Zeitalter [Rhetorik ein internationales Jahrbuch, Band 36, Heft 1, Seiten 1–4]. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter. doi: 10.1515/rhet.2017.001.

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