What is Judicial Rhetoric?

judicial rhetoric
Rich Legg / Getty Images

According to Aristotle, judicial rhetoric is one of the three main branches of rhetoric: speech or writing that considers the justice or injustice of a certain charge or accusation. (The other two branches are deliberative and epideictic.) Also known as forensic, legal, or judicial discourse.

In the modern era, judicial discourse is primarily employed by lawyers in trials decided by a judge or jury.

See the observations below. Also see:

Etymology: From the Latin, "judgment."

Judicial Rhetoric in Ancient Greece and Rome

  • "Anyone reading the classical rhetorics soon discovers that the branch of rhetoric that received the most attention was the judicial, the oratory of the courtroom. Litigations in court in Greece and Rome were an extremely common experience for even the ordinary free citizen--usually the male head of a household--and it was a rare citizen who did not go to court at least a half a dozen times during the course of his adult life. Moreover, the ordinary citizen was often expected to serve as his own advocate before a judge or jury. The ordinary citizen did not possess the comprehensive knowledge of the law and its technicalities that the professional lawyer did, but it was greatly to his advantage to have a general knowledge of the strategies of defense and prosecution. As a result the schools of rhetoric did a flourishing business in training the layperson to defend himself in court or to prosecute an offending neighbor."
    (Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 1999)

Aristotle on Judicial Rhetoric and the Enthymeme

  • "[J]udicial rhetoric promotes justice and identifies injustice by appealing to the law. 'Forensic speech accepts as given the laws of the polis,' so the section on judicial rhetoric uses enthymemes to adjust 'particular cases to general laws' (Aristotle's Rhetoric). Aristotle addresses accusation and defense as well as the sources from which their enthymemes should be drawn, investigating 'for what, and how many, purposes people do wrong . . . how these persons are [mentally] disposed,' and 'what kind of persons they wrong and what these people are like' (On Rhetoric, 1. 10. 1368b). Because Aristotle is interested in causation in order to explain wrong-doing, he finds enthymemes particularly useful in judicial rhetoric."
    (Wendy Olmsted, Rhetoric: An Historical Introduction. Blackwell, 2006)

The Focus on the Past in Judicial Rhetoric

  • "Judicial rhetoric concerns only past fact and the application of uncontentious moral principles, so that it affords the ideal Aristotelian orator no grounds for uncertainty. But perhaps deliberative rhetoric, since it concerns future contingencies and the more or less likely outcomes of alternative policies, is a better prospect for comparison with dialectic."
    (Robert Wardy, "Mighty Is the Truth and It Shall Prevail?" Essays on Aristotle's Rhetoric, ed. by Amélie Oksenberg Rorty. University of California Press, 1996)

Prosecution and Defense in Judicial Rhetoric

  • "In judicial rhetoric, prosecutors often try to evoke assent to the truth of a statement such as the following: 'John killed Mary.' That is, prosecutors try to 'persuade' their audiences to agree with their representations of reality. Some form of resistance to their arguments is implicit in their situations because opposing arguments are expected from the defense. Aristotle emphasized the notion of dispute or debate inherent in judicial rhetoric: "In the law court there is either accusation or defense; for it is necessary for the disputants to offer one or the other of these" (Rhetoric, I,3,3). This sense of the word persuasion is among its more common senses."
    (Merrill Whitburn, Rhetorical Scope and Performance. Ablex, 2000)

The Model for Practical Reason

  • "While contemporary students of practical reasoning rarely think about rhetoric, judicial reasoning is the model for modern practical reason. We typically assume that practical reasoning has to proceed from rule to case and that the point of practical reasoning is to justify our actions. . . . For Aristotle deliberation is the model for practical reason because there the Aristotelian combination of the personal and the moral is real and fundamental, while in judicial rhetoric that combination is only created by the speaker."
    (Eugene Carver, "Aristotle's Practical Reason." Rereading Aristotle's Rhetoric, ed. by Alan G. Gross and Arthur E. Walzer. Southern Illinois University Press, 2000)

Pronunciation: joo-dish-ul

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What is Judicial Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/judicial-rhetoric-term-1691207. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What is Judicial Rhetoric? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/judicial-rhetoric-term-1691207 Nordquist, Richard. "What is Judicial Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/judicial-rhetoric-term-1691207 (accessed June 10, 2023).