Rhetoric, the Emotions, and Political Morality: Cicero’s Superiority over Aristotle

51 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 25 Jul 2012

See all articles by Gary Remer

Gary Remer

Tulane University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2012


Notwithstanding the widespread assumption that Aristotle forges a better relationship among rhetoric, the emotions, and political morality than Cicero, I contend that Cicero, not Aristotle, offers a more relevant account of the relationship among these terms. Closer analysis of Aristotle, I argue, shows that his account of the emotions in rhetoric is neither morally grounded nor evades the moral problems originating in emotional manipulation. Grounding emotion in cognition does not indicate that the belief, on which the emotion is based, is true. Rational but false arguments can also be used to induce emotions in an audience. Moreover, Aristotle’s approach to emotional appeals in politics is, compared to Cicero’s, static, unable to adapt to new political circumstances. I suggest that Cicero’s approach to the rhetorical emotions, if given a fair hearing, will be more acceptable to a modern audience than Aristotle’s because it is ethically based while also responsive to political realities. Cicero accommodates emotional appeals to circumstance based on his belief in decorum as a moral principle. The flexibility of the Ciceronian path allows it to be adapted to our present political state of affairs, as opposed to the Aristotelian approach, which cannot. Further, I show that emotional manipulation in Cicero is not as problematical as it initially appears.

Keywords: Cicero, Aristotle, rhetoric, morality, emotions, politics

Suggested Citation

Remer, Gary, Rhetoric, the Emotions, and Political Morality: Cicero’s Superiority over Aristotle (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2104473

Gary Remer (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Tulane University
316 Norman Mayer Building
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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