Inartistic Proofs (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

woman swearing on the Bible in a courtroom
To Aristotle, inartistic proof meant direct evidence not invented by the speaker, including the testimony of witnesses. (Fuse/Getty Images)


In classical rhetoric, inartistic proofs are proofs (or means of persuasion) that are not created by a speaker—that is, proofs that are applied rather than invented. Contrast with artistic proofs. Also called extrinsic proofs or artless proofs.

In the time of Aristotle, inartistic proofs (in Greek, pisteis atechnoi) included laws, contracts, oaths, and the testimony of witnesses. Also called extrinsic proofs.

Examples and Observations

"[A]ncient authorities listed the following items as extrinsic proofs: laws or precedents, rumors, maxims or proverbs, documents, oaths, and the testimony of witnesses or authorities. Some of these were tied to ancient legal procedures or religious beliefs. . . .

"Ancient teachers knew that extrinsic proofs are not always reliable. For instance, they were quite aware that written documents usually required careful interpretation, and they were skeptical of their accuracy and authority as well."

(Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 4th edition. Longman, 2008)

Aristotle on Inartistic Proofs

"Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not. By the latter [i.e., inartistic proofs] I mean such things as are not supplied by the speaker but are there at the outset—witnesses, evidence given under torture, written contracts, and so on.

By the former [i.e., artistic proofs] I mean such as we can ourselves construct by means of the principles of rhetoric. The one kind has merely to be used, the other has to be invented."

(Aristotle, Rhetoric, 4th century BC)

The Blurred Distinction Between Artistic and Inartistic Proofs

"Pisteis (in the sense of means of persuasion) are classified by Aristotle into two categories: artless proofs (pisteis atechnoi), that is, those that are not provided by the speaker but are pre-existing, and artistic proofs (pisteis entechnoi), that is, those that are created by the speaker." .

. .

"Aristotle's distinction between artistic and artless proofs is seminal, yet in oratorical practice the distinction is blurred, for artless proofs are handled quite artfully. The periodic introduction of documentary evidence, which required the speaker to stop while a clerk read, apparently served to punctuate the speech. Speakers could also introduce artless proofs not obviously relevant to the legal matter at hand in order to make broader claims, such as to show their civic-minded, law-abiding character or to illustrate the 'fact' that the opponent despises the laws in general. . . . Pisteis atechnoi could be used in other inventive ways not described in handbooks. From the early fourth century on, witness testimony was presented as written depositions. Since litigants themselves drafted the depositions and then had the witnesses swear to them, there could be considerable art in how the testimony was phrased."

(Michael de Brauw, "The Parts of the Speech." A Companion to Greek Rhetoric, ed. by Ian Worthington. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)

Contemporary Applications of Inartistic Proofs

- "An audience or listener can be motivated inartistically through extortions, blackmail, bribes, and pitiable behavior.

Threats of force, appeals to pity, flattery, and pleading are borderline devices albeit often very effective. . . .

"[I]nartistic proofs are effective methods of persuasion and legitimate insofar as they help the speaker attain his or her goals without undesirable concomitants. Speech teachers and rhetoricians do not customarily train students in the use of inartistic proofs, however. We assume that the natural processes of acculturation provide sufficient opportunities to develop skill at using them. What happens, of course, is that some people become very skillful at inartistic persuasions, while others do not learn them at all, thus placing themselves at a social disadvantage. . . .

"While there are some serious ethical issues raised by the question of whether or not to teach students to be able to intimidate or cajole, it is certainly important for them to know about the possibilities."

(Gerald M. Phillips, Communication Incompetencies: A Theory of Training Oral Performance Behavior. Southern Illinois University Press, 1991)

- "Inartistic proof includes things not controlled by the speaker, such as the occasion, the time allotted to the speaker, or things that bound persons to certain action, such as undeniable facts or statistics. Also important to note are tactics of getting compliance by questionable means like torture, tricky or binding contracts that are not always ethical, and sworn oaths; but all of these methods actually coerce the receiver into compliance to one degree or another instead of actually persuading them. We know today that coercion or torture results in low commitment, which results not only in the lessening of desired action, but a reduction in the likelihood of attitude change."

(Charles U. Larson, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility, 13th ed. Wadsworth, 2013)

Torture in Fiction and in Fact

"[A] new Fox television show titled 24 was aired only weeks after the events of 9/11, introducing a powerfully persuasive icon into the American political lexicon—the fictional secret agent Jack Bauer, who tortured regularly, repeatedly, and successfully to stop terrorist attacks on Los Angeles, attacks that often involved ticking bombs. . . .

"By the 2008 presidential campaign, . . . the invocation of Jack Bauer's name served as political code for an informal policy of allowing CIA agents, acting on their own outside the law, to use torture for extreme emergencies.

In sum, the world's preeminent power grounded its most controversial policy decision of the early 21st century not on research or rational analysis but in fiction and fantasy."

(Alfred W. McCoy, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Inartistic Proofs (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 3). Inartistic Proofs (Rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Inartistic Proofs (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 20, 2018).