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Beyond the Horizon

An argument based on ideas differs from an argument based on people or things. In many instances, an argument based on ideas presupposes a frame of reference within which an evaluation can take place. An argument based upon people or things, however, requires no such assumption. One is asked to look, compare, and to draw conclusions based entirely upon what one has seen.

“The Progymnasmata attributed to Hermogenes (perhaps incorrectly) resembles many that were current in antiquity––that of Theon, for instance.  Hermogenes’ treatise is at once more compact and more exhaustive, however, and aims at a rather more expansive sort of eloquence than that in the comparable treatises by his predecessors. An example can be seen in his treatment of the exercise called the chreia. In addition to the standard definition, classification, and examples found in the other progymnasmata, Hermogenes prescribes a pattern for the ergasia, “working up,” of the chreia. After the statement of the chreia, Hermogenes says, must come some words of praise for it (enkomion), a paraphrase (paraphrasis), a rationale (aitia), a statement “from the opposite” (kata to enantion), one from analogy (ek parabolés), an example (ek paradeigmatos), a citation to some authority, and, finally, an exhortation (paraklesis).”

Depending on context, each of these elements has its place. “Words of praise” explain why one’s position should prevail. “Paraphrase” succinctly encapsulates the argument in a single sentence. A “rationale” provides the reasons why. A “statement from the opposite” sets up a contrast, showing why the opposing argument is weaker. An “analogy” brings common sense into play, using a similar circumstance as a means to illustrate or compare. An “example” demonstrates why the argument actually works, or, in the alternative, why the opposing argument fails. A “citation to authority” marshals additional support from a reliable source. The “exhortation” elevates sound, one’s sincerity displayed in gradations of volume, pitch, and tone.

“Hermogenes’ notion of argument is, to begin with, far broader than that of Aristotle, and takes us well beyond the Aristotelian enthymeme. In Book Three of On Invention, Hermogenes discusses headings, their kinds and sources; lyseis, or solutions to logical difficulties; epicheiremes and the topics from which they are derived; and the method of ergasia, the working up of arguments. Epicheireme in the Hermogenes does not refer to the five-part syllogism familiar to us from Cicero’s De inventione. It means, rather, the contention or claim being advanced about the question at issue, drawing support from the standard topics about persons––what they have said, what they have done––and things. These epicheiremes are backed up in ergasiai worked up by developing topoi: comparisons, examples, arguments from the greater and the lesser, from equal or equivalent cases, from opposites, and other lines of argument.”

“Arguments from the greater and the lesser”––these provide a means of comparison. If something holds true in a lesser circumstance, then surely it should hold true when circumstances are more favorable. The same set of natural (or other) laws are assumed to govern each, thus making the comparison valid. Topics about “persons” and “things”––these too can be seen as being governed by a universal metric. In addition, they can be used to craft enthymemes. An enthymeme is a syllogism with an unexpressed premise––they are effective since they shorten the mental steps required to reach a particular conclusion.

“Some idea of the shape of a Hermogenean argument may be gathered from an example he provides…: CLAIM PUT FORTH: (Lysis): Contrary to what my opponent has said, it will not be difficult to dig through the Chersonese. (ARGUMENT): for we shall dig earth and digging is child’s play [epicheireme, from kinds of persons and deeds]; after all, the king of Persia dug through Athos when he had to, and if he could do that, certainly we can [ergasia, from comparison, perhaps from an a fortiori argument]; and in any event, he had to dig through a mountain, while we only have to dig earth [enthymeme, pointing up crucial contrast], and he had to use recalcitrant slaves, while we shall employ free men [epenthymeme, from contraries].”

If others have accomplished the task in more challenging circumstances, then surely we can accomplish a similar task in more favorable circumstances. Demonstrate the difference so that others can see for themselves. This particular form of argument is resilient since it does not rely on a value judgment–-its validity is based upon a comparison with something that actually occurred, using universally agreed-upon assumptions. The comparisons accumulate, adding support and strength with each layer.

“In schematic form, then, a Hermogenean argument consists of the following elements: 1. The principal “point” (stasis issue); 2. Development by topoi concerning persons and things (the so-called peristaseis); 3. Development by “logical” topoi (e.g. contraries); 4. Enthymemes and epenthymemes drawn from peristaseis. Any “principal point,” moreover, can be developed along six separate lines of argument; and each line of argument can, in turn, be developed along a half-dozen subsidiary lines. Fully analyzed, in fact, any position may be supported by a total of two hundred or so arguments, Hermogenes claims…And a competent orator will have command of the entire abundant repertoire of arguments available from the various combinations of topoi and peristaseis.”

The important point is that these can be combined in a variety of ways. Most neglect to explore these “subsidiary lines,” believing that merely expressing the “principal point” is enough. Few recognize the hidden power and potential of combining topics pertaining to “persons” and “things,” giving rise to “two hundred or so arguments.” It is a rare advocate who sees that far beyond the horizon. Perhaps one initial approach is to ask: What can be used as a basis of comparison? In how many different ways can the comparison be made?

All quotations from Thomas M. Conley, Rhetoric in the European Tradition, Pps. 54-56 (University of Chicago Press 1990).

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