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Learning More about the Intellectual Tradition of Public Speaking.

Some people are surprised to discover that the study and practice of public speaking

rests upon a rich intellectual history that extends back over two thousand years to

the ancient Greeks the same people credited with introducing democracy to Western

civilization. In an age long before the printing press, Internet, and 24-hour

cable-news service, public speaking served as the major means of disseminating

ideas and information, resolving legal disputes, and debating political issues. Oratory

even served as popular entertainment.

In those long-ago years, there were no professional lawyers and politicians, and citizens

were expected to speak for themselves in legal proceedings and as active participants

in the deliberations that shaped public policy. Most of all, the Greeks considered

the power and eloquence of the spoken word as necessary to virtuous behavior.5 One

of their greatest leaders, Pericles, reflects this attitude in a much celebrated speech:

For we alone think that a man that does not take part in public affairs is

good for nothing, while others only say that he is minding his own business.

We are the ones who develop policy, or at least decide what is to be done, for

we believe that what spoils action is not speeches, but going into action

without first being instructed through speeches. In this too we excel over

others: ours is the bravery of people who think through what they will take in

hand, and discuss it thoroughly; with other men, ignorance makes them brave

and thinking makes them cowards.6

We are heirs to this tradition and shall draw upon it constantly in this book. We are

concerned especially with two themes: first, the effort to understand the nature and

Public speaking is vital to the maintenance of a free society. The

right to assemble and speak on public issues is guaranteed by the

Bill of Rights.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 1 Public Speaking and You 9

practicality of communicating through the public speech, and second, the ethical

issues that can arise in connection with the public speech.

The ancient Greek who organized and systematized the study of public speaking

was the famous philosopher Aristotle. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle described the

type of reasoning used in public speaking. He recognized that unlike pure logic, reasoning

on public problems usually involves uncertainties and probabilities. Thus,

the public speaker helps her or his listeners arrive at an informed judgment on

issues. On such issues, the speaker works from what we call responsible knowledge.

Responsible knowledge is not perfect or exact, but it is the best that might reasonably

be expected given the situation.

Aristotle described three prominent forms of speaking: political, legal, and ceremonial.

We still write about and teach these forms today. Finally, he identified

three major forms of persuasive proof: appealing to reason, appealing to audience

emotions, and appealing to the speaker s own personal qualities of character, competence,

and good will. Again, we still discuss these forms today.

Aristotle s Rhetoric laid the groundwork for the Romans, who would further

explore the role of public speaking in legal and then religious settings.7 Cicero, one of

the most celebrated orators of antiquity, described rhetoric as an art made up of five

great arts. In his greatest work, De Oratore, he concentrated on how to think through

and defend positions, how to arrange and organize arguments, how to use language

effectively, how to store ideas in the mind for recall during speaking, and how to present

a speech effectively.8 He stressed that the ideal speaker would be broadly educated

and would understand the culture and values of those to whom she or he speaks.

Raphael s painting shows The School of Athens where rhetorical

skills were part of the basic curriculum.

The second great theme of the ancient intellectuals is concern for the power

of public speaking and how it should be managed ethically. Here the leader was Plato,

who wrote two classic dialogues that deal specifically with the power of the public oration.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

10 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking


LearnMore 1.2

Classical Origins of Public Speaking

Aristotle s Rhetoric


The first, and some still think finest, comprehensive inquiry into how public speaking can shape the public

mind. The W. Rhys Roberts translation of the full text of this document is made available through the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Plato s Phaedrus


Offers Plato s vision of the ethical foundations of rhetoric. Also offers his account of the art of the

oration. The B. Jowett translation is made available through the University of Pennsylvania.

Plato s Gorgias


Plato s dark reflection of the public speaking he saw practiced around him in the Athens of his day.

Offers disturbing similarities to some of the public communication of our own time.

Rhetoric and Composition


Offers a variety of resources relevant to classical rhetoric, including texts of Plato s Gorgias and

Phaedrus, Aristotle s Rhetoric, and selections from Cicero. The Gorgias is Plato s scathing indictment of

the public mind and how it distorts the search for truth.

Quintilian s Institutes of Oratory


Offers the masterwork of the greatest teacher of speech of the Roman world and perhaps of all

time. Quintilian developed his thoughts on educating the ideal orator from cradle to old age in

twelve books.

The first, the Gorgias, expresses Plato s dark vision of the subject. He noted that the

statesmen of his time too often pandered to the ignorance and prejudices of the masses

instead of advancing their own visions of what was right. These orators too often told

their listeners what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear in order

to advance the speakers own self-centered and often tragically misguided agendas.9

The second dialogue, the Phaedrus, paints Plato s ideal of the virtuous speaker,

one whose words will help his or her listeners become better citizens and people.10

But how can one avoid the cynical, depressing reality of the one vision and nurture

the second ideal into being? Plato left this question as a puzzle and challenge for the

ages that would follow.

Quintilian, perhaps the greatest speech teacher of all time, offered one answer

to this challenge. This Roman writer insisted that immediate effect and gratification

fade quickly, and the career of the speaker who builds on such shifting sands will

soon collapse. To be a good speaker whose influence endures, he argued, one must

also be a good person.11 We strongly agree.

These two themes from antiquity, focusing on What works? and What s

right? , will occupy us throughout this book.

Expanding Cultural Horizons. A third personal growth benefit is what you

gain from direct exposure to various cultures and lifestyles in the public speaking

classroom. Today s typical classroom audience is increasingly diverse, often offering

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Old wisdom is sometimes the best wisdom, especially when it has been

tested repeatedly and confirmed time and again in human experience.

Here are ten gold nuggets of advice for the public speaker, mined from

ancient writings:











If you want to convince listeners that you have a good message for

them, you must first convince them that you are a good person.

If you want strong commitment from an audience, you must engage

strong feelings.

If you want commitment to last, you must be able to show that your

arguments are based on sound, logical interpretations of reality.

When speaking on matters of guilt or innocence, you must emphasize

the morality of past actions.

When speaking on matters of future policy, you must stress the

practical advantages of proposed plans of action.

When celebrating great achievements, you must emphasize the

values that make them great.

Your speech should be based on a thorough investigation of a topic,

so that you have the widest possible range of choices as you select

ideas and materials for emphasis.

You should follow an order of ideas that leads listeners to greater

illumination and stronger conviction as you speak.

The right words will make your points come to life in images that

your audience will easily remember.

The more you can speak in a direct, conversational way from a

pattern of ideas imprinted in your mind, rather than by reading a

prepared text or reciting a memorized script, the better the quality

of communication you will achieve.

Chapter 1 Public Speaking and You 11

a sampling of various races, religions, and cultural backgrounds. We have much to

teach each other!

What barriers may stand in the way of expanding our cultural horizons as we

listen to others in classroom speeches? Problems may originate, as Shakespeare

observed, not in our stars, but in ourselves. One such problem may be

ethnocentrism, the tendency to presume that one s own culturally defined way of

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