want more than less


Aristotle wrote extensively on the art of persuasion. He easily makes the distinction that rhetoric is not the same as science. Rhetoric is not a scientific demonstration, and rhetoric typically does not try to persuade facts, since facts are understood without any persuasion needed. Aristotle definitively writes: “The function of Rhetoric, then, is to deal with things about which we deliberate, but for which we have no systematic rules […] we only deliberate about things which seem to admit of issuing in two ways […].” [1] He also named three appeals employed to persuade an audience to a particular point of view: pathos: emotion, ethos: character, and logos: logic.

Let’s briefly look to an example of low-brow rhetoric in use today, a bumper sticker. The message is: WANT LESS. The rhetoric is logically [2] implied as: one should curb spending, quell your hunger for material goods, get rid of your over consumption, etc. The assumed rational message targets a consumer, as it also suggests an ascetic ideal, implying that it’s better to be less desirous than to be overindulgent.

Want is a part of our lives. To ‘want less’ is to tacitly suggest that all wants are to be harnessed. Therefore, to be better people, we essentially need less wanting in our lives. A mixed message arises when we logically inquire about the quality vs. quantity of our wants. All wants are not worth reducing. For instance, should we want less out of our lives? Should we want less well being? These questions are answered with an emphatic NO! This quickly leads us the other side of the argument with worthwhile questions about our over/consumption. We can then look at how intrusive these basic wants of ours affect the lives of others we cannot see or know—e.g. how our purchasing power indirectly affects (potentially) exploited third-world laborers.

Logically speaking, want is not something we can get rid of, nor should it be lessened—in and of itself. What’s at stake here is for us to try to better understand our wants and desires, more than less. Only then can we begin to educate ourselves to continually prefer a broad range of wiser choices that progress rather than regress our basic fundamental urge to want more. Our new bumper sticker should then read: WANT MORE, a logical step from having less wisdom to wanting more wisdom.

Aurelio Madrid

want more

[1] Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric (ΤΕΧΝΗ ΡΗΤΟΡΙΚΗ),trans. J.H. Freese, Cambridge: Harvard U. P., 1967, 1357b 12-13.

[2] The basic logic used for our rhetorical example is identified as an enthymeme. An enthymeme is closely related to a formal syllogism, with a part of its premises missing. The missing premise is to be assumed by the audience. Aristotle names an enthymeme as being closely related to the syllogism rhetorically rather than in a strict scientific logic—re: a ‘rhetorical syllogism’ persuades more with commonly held beliefs, rather than with scientific proofs.

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