Word Count: 499
In chapters 12-17 of book two in On Rhetoric, Aristotle discusses how a speaker should adapt to the moral character of their audience. According to Perseus, in a search for “character” in Greek, there were three terms that received the most number of citings within Greek texts. They are φύσις, meaning property or quality; τρόπος, meaning way, manner, or method; and ἀρετή, meaning excellence. These three terms could be combined to create the definition provided by Kennedy in the preface of the chapter. He explains that “[character] seems to refer to qualities, such as an innate sense of justice or a quickness of temper, with which individuals may be naturally endowed and which dispose them to certain kinds of action” (p. 163). I disagree with this definition because it implies that humans are born with one character and it does not change. This definition aligns with that of the literal definition of “character” from the Oxford English Dictionary – “A distinctive mark impressed, engraved, or otherwise formed; a brand, stamp.” This definition, like Kennedy’s, implies a sense of permanency that is bestowed upon something without choice.
Alternatively, though, the Oxford English Dictionary provides over 15 different definitions of “character” in the figurative sense. One particularly fitting definition is, “The sum of the moral and mental qualities which distinguish an individual or a race, viewed as a homogeneous whole; the individuality impressed by nature and habit on man or nation; mental or moral constitution.” In other words, character is dependent not just on morals, but also knowledge and lifestyle. Additionally, character is developed by combination of nature and nurture (“habit”).
This definition is much more applicable to Aristotle’s discussion of character in chapters 12-17 than Kennedy’s because Aristotle explains the character possessed by men in different stages of their life and contributes character to birth or luck (tykhē) as well as to lifestyle.
The character Aristotle seemed to detest most was that of young men. He writes, “In terms of their character, the young are prone to desires and inclined to do whatever they desire. Of the desires of the body they are most inclined to pursue that relating to sex, and they are powerless against this” (163). Oddly enough, this opinion is not far from how some people view young men today. In fact, a website, called the Art of Manliness, has been created as an attempt to change the ways of young men. The website provides tips and examples from the past in an attempt to teach men how to be “manly” and fulfill their roles as “men”.
While this website brings up a host of problems and is ripe for criticism, what it means for this excavation is that society still views the character of young men as not ideal. However, unlike Aristotle, instead of teaching others how to adapt their message to them, they are attempting to develop pedagogy for young men to develop better character, so they are more accessible to messages and, ultimately, better citizens.
1) Aristotle. On Rhetoric.
3)“Character.” Oxford English Dictionary.