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Bacon Rhetorical Terms

Page history last edited by sue 15 years, 10 months ago


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 Bacon's Rhetorical Terms and some comparisons to Aristotle





Invention (of speech)

Recalling things already known; readiness and present use of our knowledge.

Invention and judgement must overlap, according to Bacon.  Invention, for Bacon, is the finding or making something new, especially as it pertains to science. For the rhetorician, that "relies on commonplaces of wisdom and knowledge produced by science" (738). 

developing strategies for developing the speech Bacon derides Aristotle for his condemnation of the Sophists' demonstration of rhetoric.  Bacon suggests that Aristotle "would have us change a rich wardrobe for a pair of shears" (741).


Bacon discusses"diligence rather than of any artificial erudition," using the example of the shoemaker who already has shoes on hand to sell as his model; Bacon wants to encourage original, creative approaches to problem solving rather than the "storehouse" of tools (topoi or commonplaces) Aristotle likes. Instead, Bacon favors having an open mind and always being ready to learn and to use prior knowledge to examine new situations.  If we accepted the teachings of the classical rhetoricians unquestioningly and did not apply their thinking to modern situations, we would have nothing new to offer the discipline—new times, new technology, new situations, new classifications, all offer new avenues for rhetoric.  Just like the gospels say "Stay awake" or as the Boy Scouts say "Be prepared,"  we can only be prepared to argue and to recognize fallacies of argument if we are knowledgeable. Bacon considers this knowledge more valuable than a list of strategies for approaching the task of planning the argument.

Bacon uses the analogy to a shoemaker explaining how to make shoes to capture Aristotle's emphasis on getting ready the collection of materials and thinking them through to use for the ocassion or perhaps to discover new approaches to the topic.  Whereas Bacon emphasizies the importance of experience and understanding in planning an argument.


Bacon says suggestion assigns and directs us to commonplaces ("knowldege as it hath formerly collected"), which is not just an inventory of ideas but tools "to direct our inquiry." Bacon considers suggestion the part of invention that excites the mind to discover new knowledge. This kind of experienced-based direction is important; it is hard to come up with a dissertation topic without some idea of our area(s) of interest. Once we have completed some coursework and identified the commonplaces within the discipline, we know what to research and which questions to ask.

Bacon's idea of suggestion could be linked to the Aristotelian "stock arguments" or "commonplaces" described by Carolyn Miller in "The Aristotelian Topos: Hunting for Novelty."   But whereas Aristotle saw these as readily-available speeches, Bacon saw them as jumping-off points for new research.


General topics include the commonplaces referred to above, and specific ones situate the direction of inquiry within particular fields of knowledge; Bacon considers topic the "mixture of Logic with the matter of science." One of the most important aspects of Bacon's explanation is that knowlege of topics or "places or directions of invention" is gained through experience of prior topics.

structural elements which can be listed as a source for guidance in developing an argument; rather than allowing ideas to suggest the approach to the argument, the rhetor can search the approaches for one(s) that will work for it


Judgment is an expansion of invention, the evaluation of knowledge" (738).  Thus it really has much to do with the rigors of empirical study.

Judgment was one of the purposes of rhetoric (forensic speech), and correct judgment required ethical thinking (as opposed to the Sophistic thinking that the end of argument was the closest approximation of truth).

Custody or Memory

Of memory, Bacon thinks there are not really any techniques worth mentioning. He mentions two kinds of memory strategies--prenotion, where one consciously seeks ideas, events worth committing to memory, and emblem, which captures ideas, events as mental images.M Scott Momaday argued similarly that the written word makes us lazy and careless with words. In the oral tradition the speaker and listener have an obligation to the message, because once it is uttered, if the receiver has not listened it is gone. In the oral tradition a story is always one generation away from extinction. The most important point that I think Bacon makes here is that we use memory best when we link new knowledge with old.  "Prenotion dischargeth the indefinite seeking of that we would remember, and directeth us to seek in a narrrow compass; that is, somewhat that hath congruity with our place of memory" (742).

Memory used devices such as associating part of the speech with specific "places" (such as rooms of a house) to help the speaker remember how to "get through" the speech.

Elocution or Tradition

Elocution is the expression or transference of knowledge. Bacon believes eloquence should not "have force to disturb reason," but "to establish and advance it"; he holds eloquence in high esteem. Bacon cited three parts of tradition: organ (speech or writing), method (not limited to the organ, but uses any of the senses to aid understanding, e.g. gestures), and illustration (wisdom is excellent, but "it is eloquene that prevaileth in an active life" (743).

Aristotle and Cicero  "exceeded themselves- i.e., went above and beyond to lend esteem to rhetoric through eloquence."


"The duty and office of Rhetoric is to apply Reason to Imagination for the better moving of the will." On p. 744, Bacon says Logic handles reason exactly, in truth, whereas Rhetoric handles it as it is planted in popular opinions and manners.  He says everyone understands then principles of logic the same way (they are universal), but rhetoric should consider individual audiences (differences in language, culture, values).   "...the end of Logic is to teach a form of argument to secure reason, and not to entrap it...the end of Rhetoric is to fill the imagination to second reason, and not to oppress it" (743).  Logic differs from Rhetoric in the same way as the fist from the palm —one is closed and one open. Logic deals with exact truth and reason, while Rhetoric surveys opinion and norms (744).

Logos is of prime importance to Aristotle's system of classifying appeals.  He certainly acknowledges the value of ethos and pathos (both appeals to the emotions), but they are subordinate to logical appeal.  One of Aristotle's criticisms of the Sophists was their penchant to try to persuade purely for the sake of the argument.

Idols of the Tribe

Human nature--false assumption that mankind perceives things the same way. Only through knowledge and understanding of the four idols can mankind be prepared to battle against them in favor of reason and truth.  Human beings do not think as one and, therefore, they do not share a single set of perceptions.  To suggest such a thing is to take away individual thought processes and ability to reason.

Aristotle's "On Sophistical Refutations" which discusses fallacies of argument and his objections to the Sophists' methods of argumentation is probably comparable to Bacon's idols.

Idols of the Cave

Individual biases--false assumption that any one individual knows the truth. Humans are apt to look at the world through their own experiences and to reduce things they observe to a level that is within their own sphere of knowledge.  


Idols of the Market-Place

Interpersonal relationships--this is like the logical fallacy of the bandwagon appeal, groupthink. It is important to note that Bacon does not blame rhetoric for the distortion of truth: "the villain is not rhetoric but the ambiguity of words—their inevitable shifts in denotation and connotation" (738).  Thus, the fault lies with the messenger, not the message.


Idols of the Theatre

Dogmas, philosophies, "wrong laws of demonstration" or "received systems" (prior, unquestioned knowledge).  Bacon is probably talking about prejudices that color a person's point of view.  This is just a pertinent today as it was in Bacon's time—think about political statements that will go unheard because of party affiliation or about racial, religious, gender biases etc.





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