Hume on Persuasion.

In On War Carl Von Clausewitz says war is a continuation of politics by other means. Or cf. Foucault, who suggests this definition might be the inverted: politics is a continuation of war by other means. My interest is in the ‘other means’, which include political rhetoric. 

Broadly defined, rhetoric is “the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us”( Aristotle, Rhetoric, Trans. W. Rhys Roberts, NewYork: Dover Publications, 2004. 1355b, 30-35, p 7).

Or, simply, the art of persuasion.

Of the modes of persuasion, there are three: i) a speaker’s (writer, artist) character, or ethos; ii) emotion, or pathos; and, iii) an argument, or logos. (Rhetoric, p 7 1356a, 0-5)

On the first page of the introduction to A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume describes the clamorous disputations of “men of learning.” And in the following excerpt, though perhaps not what he intended, Hume draws a connection between political rhetoric and war.

Amidst all this bustle ’tis not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and the sword; but by the pipers, drummers, and musicians of the army.

David Hume. Ed. Ernest C. Mossner. A Treatise of Human Nature. Penguin Classics: New York, 1985. Introduction, p 41&42.

Categories: Philosophy, Political Rhetoric

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1 reply

  1. I’m studying this at college!


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