Historical Rhetorics/The Big Aristotle/Halloran, S. Michael. "Aristotle's Concept of Ethos, or If Not His, Somebody Else's."

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Halloran begins his discussion of the importance of ethos in the composition classroom by addressing the work of Louis Milic, specifically his “Theories of Style and Their Implications for the Teaching of Compostion." Halloran connects Millic’s emphasis on style to E.D. Hirsch’s insistence that modern universities should completely separate composition from rhetoric. Hirsch’s contention that Milic’s assertions about style have “never been refuted” serves as the basis for Halloran’s discussion of ethos, in particular, rhetorical analysis, in general, and the place of rhetorical considerations in the composition classroom.

Halloran objects to Milic's emphasis on style because he claims it is anti-classical and anti-Aristotelian: “First, the sharpness with which he separates style from the substance of discourse looks suspiciously unlike what one finds in such classical theories of style as those of Cicero and Longinus. Second, the idea that rhetoric has nothing to do with the substance of discourse is a clear contradiction of Aristotle most importantly, and of a number of other classical rhetoricians as well. The theory of ornate form as Milic describes it is in fact not classical at all” (59).

Halloran suggests that a theory of ethos should replace Milic's theory of style and proceeds to define ethos for his reader: “In its simplest form, ethos is what we might call the argument from authority, the argument that says in effect, Believe me because I am sort of person whose word you can believe” (60; “Aristotle acknowledges ethos to be probably the most important” (60);“In contrast to modern notions of the person or self, ethos emphasizes the conventional rather than the idiosyncratic, the public rather than the private” (60);“To have ethos is to manifest the virtues most valued by the culture to and for which one speaks” (60). Halloran claims this theory of composition is preferable to Milic’s approach because it embraces the reality of personality as a part of writing as opposed to attempting, in vain, to exclude personality and individuality from the teaching of writing.

Collective ethos is a particularly important component of the theory of ethos that Halloran endorses:“ “Aristotle’s idea that habituation is the means by which ethos develops in the individual suggests a similar explanation for the development of ethos in its broader cultural sense: the ritual acts that manifest in our group identity or ethos are the very same acts that form it. A convention or a colloquium or a seminar is both an expression and a shaping of the professorial ethos” (63); “Of all the ritual acts by which our culture expresses and shapes it ethos, schooling is surely one of the most subtle and powerful. By the way we structure the curriculum and the way we arrange the furniture in our classrooms, by the clothing we are at school and the books we select for our courses—by these and the countless other choices we make, the world in which our students gather together is defined” (63).

Halloran endorses rhetorical pedagogy, which includes concerns about ethos and embraces the intersection between style and substance:“Implicit in all this is a theory of rhetorical pedagogy as a form of moral education or character development” (61); “If we adopt the view that a theory of ethos is an important need for teachers of composition, we take on responsibility for shaping the character of our student” (61); “If we attend only to technical matters of correctness and stule in the narrow sense, we in effect form our students as technicians” (61).

Halloran acknowledges, however, that Aristotle would be unlikely to endorse this view of rhetorical education: “[Aristotle] understood education to be a consciously rational process of imparting principles rather than a shaping of habitual modes of action; second, he did not regard rhetoric as a particularly significant mode of action” (61).