Draft: Desire and Persuasion in Aristotle's Rhetoric

Are the goals that we aspire to achieve the result of our rational considerations and choice? Or, are we more closely akin to animals, pursuing only those goals determined by our non-rational desires? In his ethics, Aristotle is notoriously unclear about where he stands. At times he seems to conceive of humans as highly rational while at other times he seems to portray them as largely animalistic. By approaching these questions through the lens of the Rhetoric, a text little studied in philosophy, I propose a view that harmonizes Aristotle’s seemingly conflicting positions.

I maintain that desire is responsible for determining which ends we pursue, but that reason can prod and nudge those desires to pursue different ends. This account shows that the apparent unclarity in Aristotle is merely the consequence of a long standing prejudice that he must side with either a more rationalist or more animalistic conception of human beings. I show that these seeming contradictions in Aristotle can be understood as part of a single coherent account.

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