My Thoughts on Day’s Definition of Rhetoric

Day: “Rhetoric has been correctly defined to be the Art of Discourse. This definition presents Rhetoric as an art, in distinction from a science.…An art directly and immediately concerns itself with the faculty of discoursing as its proper subject.…A science, on the other hand, regards rather the product of this faculty; and, keeping its view directly upon that, proceeds to unfold its nature and proper characteristics.…the method of Art is synthetic, constructive; while that of Science is analytic and critical” (864).

First, let me state that this post will not contain all my thoughts on Day’s definition–or even all my thoughts on this part of Day’s definition. Instead, this will be some short notes on a few aspects of Day’s definition.

Rhetoric as definitionally an art of discourse does two things. First, it differentiates rhetoric from a science, which may or may not be a good idea. Second, it defines rhetoric within discourse–which for me would subsume both writing and speaking.

Is rhetoric an art?

Rhetoric is an art as it is something that should be aesthetically presented.

Rhetoric is an art in that some people are naturally or inherently or by dint of practice much better at it than others.

Rhetoric is an art in that it cannot be completely defined, organized, and explained.

Is rhetoric a science?

Rhetoric is a science in that its texts may be studied.

Rhetoric is a science as it can be quantitatively and qualitatively examined.

Rhetoric is a science in that there are certain rules that are assumed to exist and therefore can be learned and taught.

Is rhetoric an art OR a science?

Definitionally, I would lean towards rhetoric as a science. Apparently I believe that art is more inherent in a person’s abilities and science is something taught.

As I am a rhetorician and must have a corpus to study, I am moved by the idea of rhetoric as a science which offers me texts to examine.

As a composition instructor, I prefer to believe that there are certain fundamental rules–even if they are culturally created–that inform/influence/delimit rhetoric. That gives me something I can teach my students.

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