My Thoughts on Campbell’s Description of Rhetoric

Campbell describes his goal in his “Preface”: “to ascertain with greater precision, the radical principles of that art, whose object it is, by the use of language, to operate on the soul of the hearer, in the way of informing, convincing, pleasing, moving, or persuading” (xlii).

I like the idea of ascertaining with greater precision, even though that relates to his goal and is not actually part of his definition of rhetoric. “Ascertaining with greater precision” is a good description of the activities engaged in by a life-long learner. While I may not meet a goal of “learning something new every day,” I am a life-long learner, who prioritizes learning.

Though I am unclear on what Campbell means precisely by operating on the soul, I think that using hearer in this definition presupposes oral rhetoric, which is odd, since Campbell is writing. Audience would have been a better word, I think. Was Campbell meaning to limit rhetoric to speech? If so, he chooses an odd medium for the presentation of his ideas.

I also like the five aims Campbell gives rhetoric in this description: inform, convince, please, move, persuade. Though there are more than the “typical” understanding, I prefer this list. One may inform me, without convincing me. One may convince me, without persuading me. One may move me, without convincing me. Certainly one may please me without informing or convincing or moving or persuading. These five aims, though I haven’t decided if they are comprehensive, are definitely moving towards a list of aims I would find covered within rhetoric.

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