Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Marc C. Santos


Rhetoric as a discipline is still touched by the shadow of ancient Greece. Rhetoric was defined famously by Aristotle as the "available means of persuasion," codified into five canons in classical Rome, and has since been a central part of Western education to train speakers and writers to effectively move their audiences. However, particularly beginning in the mid-20th Century, the discipline's understanding of rhetoric as a means of persuasion (or even manipulation) passed down from our ancient roots began to shift to a sense of rhetoric as matters of ethics and a concern for the other. It begs the question: As a discipline, how did we get to a point where ethical concerns have increasingly entered the rhetorical conversation?

With a theoretical focus, this study traces and examines how rhetoric's relation to ethics has transformed over the past 60 years from our discipline's Aristotelian/Platonic/Socratic inheritance to the introduction of multiple new perspectives and voices. In suggesting that the goal of rhetoric is more than persuasion--a major focus of the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition dominant in the field of rhetoric and composition in the early 20th Century--this study traces a "turn" within our discipline from "confrontational" rhetoric to "invitational" rhetoric. It suggests that invitational rhetoric challenges a strict definition of rhetoric as persuasion seeks instead to understand rather than convert, support camaraderie and mutuality (if not unity) instead of reinforcing dominant power relationships, challenge the speaker as much as the audience, and privilege listening and invitation over persuasion when appropriate. Rhetorical ethics is defined as the ethical decisions made in the everyday interactions that constantly invite us to make rhetorical choices that inevitably have consequences in the world. The study examines kairos/sophistic rhetoric, identification, and responsibility to establish a potential framework for rhetorical ethics, as well as listening and acknowledgement as methods for enacting this model. The ambition is a rhetoric of ethics that attends to everyday situations; accommodates different, often "silenced," voices; and offers the possibility of an ethical encounter with others.

The study offers several possible conclusions about the nature of rhetorical ethics. Significant areas of continued study include issues of voice, agency, and marginalization--even invitational rhetoric does not guarantee that quieter or disadvantaged voices will be heard. In all, an(other) rhetoric is both a ripe topic for continued disciplinary attention, as well as a necessary component of everyday interactions with others that long to display love over hate, listening over silencing, inclusion over exclusion, and acceptance over rejection.