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Kairos in Aristotle's Rhetoric

Kairos in Aristotle's Rhetoric

Abstract

Many authorities have come to recognize the critical importance of the Greek notion of kairos (right timing and due measure) in contemporary rhetoric. But Aristotelian scholars have generally ignored or demeaned Aristotle's use of kairos in his rhetoric, often contrasting it especially to Plato's full treatment in the Phaedrus. This lack of attention has been partially due to faulty indexes or concordances, which have recently been corrected both by Wartelle and programs like PERSEUS and IBICUS. Secondly, no one has hitherto attempted to go beyond the root kair- and examine the concept as expressed in other terms. This article will attempt to meet both of these concerns. It will first examine carefully the 16 references to kairos in the Rhetoric and show that the term is an integral element in Aristotle's own act of writing, in his concept of the pathetic argument, and in his handling of maxims and integration. There are also important passages using kairos in his treatment of style, often in conjunction with his use of the notion of propriety or fitness (to prepon). Possibly the two most important indirect uses of the concept of kairos can be seen in his definition of rhetoric and in his treatment of equity in both the Rhetoric and in the Nicomachean Ethics, probably the two most important treatments of the concept in antiquity.
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