Historical Rhetorics/The Big Aristotle/Kinneavy, James L., and Catherine R. Eskin. "Kairos in Aristotle's Rhetoric."

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In this essay, Kinneavy and Erskine deplore the lack of critical attention to the presence of kairos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. They also condemn the omission of that term from many reference sources. This neglect, they argue, is inexcusable because kairos is a concept that permeates virtually every aspect of philosophy and rhetoric. Generally, the term means “the right or appropriate time to do something.” The authors also point out that appropriateness may be situational as well as temporal. To support their contentions, they offer several examples from Aristotle’s work.

The first comes from Aristotle’s postulation that equity is “justice beyond the written law.”(Book I Chapt. 13, P.99). According to Aristotle, the written law should not be rigidly applied to every case, but each case should be decided based on all its attending circumstances, so a just result can be reached. Here, the kairos is situational. In his discussion on politics, Aristotle notes that we must “learn what kinds of governments are suitable to what kinds of people”(Book I Ch. 13 P. 1360 36-40). Again, the focus is on the situation.

The great value of this essay is that it serves to remind us of the central role that kairos plays, not only in Aristotle’s work, but in all aspects of modern life. By freeing the term from catechisms like carpe diem or “when the moment is right,” this essay challenges us to consider the infinite possibilities of time and situation.


“Kairos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric”

• The essay “Kairos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric” by James L. Kinneavy and Catherine R. Eskin discusses the absence of research on the term kairos in relation to Aristotle’s On Rhetoric; they highlight the absence of the term kairos in indexes and rhetorical reference books, as well as the terms relationship to Platonic rhetoric.

• The authors offer several definitions of the term kairos which all relate to a specific time or occasion which relies on fitness and appropriateness; for example, Kinneavy defines kairos as the “right or opportune time to do something, or right measure in doing something” (433), which the authors give the modern term “situational context.”

• Kinneavy and Eskin use the remainder of the essay locating specific areas within Aristotle’s Rhetoric where kairos is present; the authors locate the actual term kairos in Aristotle’s discussion of 1) deliberative rhetoric; 2) the treating of kinds of government; and 3) virtue and vice.

• Kinneavy and Eskin begin with locating kairos within Aristotle’s two definitions of rhetoric (Book I, chapter I, 14, pp. 135b13 and Book I, chapter ii, 1, pp. 1355b25-26); in both cases the authors refer to both the original Greek of each quote along with their translations, and the authors conclude that “the Greek and the translation both emphasize the application of the general rules of the art to the individual case or situation” (434).

• Finally, the authors find areas within the text where notions of kairos influence Aristotle’s understanding of rhetoric, including within his discussion of the three forms of rhetoric (deliberative, judicial, and epideictic), the three forms of proof (ethos, pathos, logos), style and organization; in all of the mentioned categories, the authors detect an emphasis on time and the individuality of an occasion.