Plato was one of the first philosophers to discuss the importance of the way in which a message is presented. Plato developed his method of coming to truth, and he called it dialectics. Dialectics is a process of coming to truth in which two opposing sides, thesis and antithesis, are presented by two people in the form of argumentation.
Every person states their opinion and supports it with arguments. In the end of a dialogue or a debate, the truth is supposed to emerge from the clash of the two opinions, and the defeated one is morally obliged to accept the force of a better argument.
In this process, logic or reason is crucial. Plato believed that each of the persons in a debate has to obey logic, and can examine the logic of the opponent’s argumentation, and if any contradictions or fallacies are found, they can reveal them, thereby winning the argument.
Since reason is very important to Plato, he strongly opposed the use of any other rhetorical devices. He claimed that appeal to emotion in an argument is not only wrong but dangerous. For that reason, he is known for saying that poets have no place in an Ideal state.
Aristotle realizes Plato’s idea of rhetoric expressed in “Phedre”. This idea, for Aristotle, still corresponds to dialectics. Which means that persuasion has to have its foundation in logic. However, there is a difference between rhetoric and pure dialectics in that the former is concerned with style and the latter with the truth. In Aristotle’s works, the two are not mutually exclusive but complementary.
The differences and similarities between rhetoric and dialectics open up the problem of language and thought. Plato and Aristotle solve this problem favoring thought. They claim that thought can always find a word through which logos and truth will speak.
In that light, language has to emancipate itself from myth, and be subordinated to logos. Aristotle, however, finds that this task is impossible; language has an inseparable mythic element to it. In speech, this mythic component gives strength to what is said.
In the end, he claims that there is no separation of argumentation and style, and a person has to incorporate style into the delivery of a message. It is, nonetheless, crucial to respect the logos, without which any sort of style is vacuous.
Dante was an Italian poet, who lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The period in which he lived is important because it is the period of renaissance and the rebirth of Ancient Greek ideas.
In his view on rhetoric, Dante is closer to Aristotle, he believes that wisdom without rhetoric and eloquence is worth little, but eloquence without wisdom is worse. It is crucial to utilize all the potentials of language as a means to deliver the truth to the masses.
In this immense potential of language to appeal to human emotions, Dante recognized a real threat and danger. For that reason, he found a place in his Inferno for those who use language to take advantage of people. That place was in the eighth circle, alongside thieves and falsifiers.
He also placed poets like Horace and Ovid in this circle, and admitted that they are his likes. One can find the influence of Plato in these claims. From this ambivalence, it is evident that he was struggling with the problem of language and thought just like his great masters Plato and Aristotle.