rhetorical canons

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

rhetorical canons
The five canons of classical rhetoric. (Getty Images)


In classical rhetoric, the rhetorical canons (as defined by Cicero and the anonymous author of the first-century Latin text Rhetorica ad Herennium) are the five overlapping offices or divisions of the rhetorical process:

The rhetorical canons (also called the canons of oratory) have stood the test of time, says G.M. Phillips in Communication Incompetencies (1991). "They represent a legitimate taxonomy of processes. Instructors can situate their pedagogical strategies in each of the Canons."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "In De Inventione, Cicero advances what is probably his best remembered contribution to the history of rhetoric: his five canons of oratory. He admits, however, that these divisions are not new with him: 'The parts of [rhetoric], as most authorities have stated, are Invention, Arrangement, Expression, Memory, and Delivery.' Cicero's canons provide a useful means of dividing the work of the orator into units."
    (James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric. Allyn and Bacon, 2001)
  • "Since all activity and ability of an orator falls into five divisions, . . . he must first hit upon what to say; then manage and marshal his discoveries, not merely in orderly fashion, but with a discriminating eye for the exact weight as it were of each argument; next go on to array them in the adornments of style; after that keep them guarded in his memory; and in the end deliver them with effect and charm."
    (Cicero, De Oratore)
  • The Disconnected Parts of Rhetoric
    - "Over the centuries, various 'parts' of rhetoric were disconnected and linked to other branches of study. For example, during the 16th century it was common to view the province of rhetoric as exclusively style and delivery with the activities of invention and arrangement transferred to the realm of logic. The impact of this shift still can be seen today in the tendency of many European scholars to view rhetoric as the study of tropes and figures of speech, disconnected from more substantive concerns such as argument (there are, of course, exceptions to this tendency)."
    (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Sage, 2001)
    - "This separation of the classical canons of rhetoric exists today as logic is taught in philosophy departments, and rhetoric is studied in speech, communication, and English departments in most of our colleges and universities."
    (James L. Golden, The Rhetoric of Western Thought, 8th ed. Kendall/Hunt, 2004)
  • Oral Cultures and Literate Cultures
    "[Walter] Ong (1982) has distinguished, compared, and contrasted the cultural and value systems linked to oral, literate, and electronic communities. In terms of the classical rhetorical canons, for example, an oral culture fosters and reinforces delivery and memory; the literate culture emphasizes style and arrangement; the electronic culture highlights invention. Thus, in Ong's view, media systems constrain human interaction, feature only certain rhetorical activities, and reflect, create, and sustain particular kinds of cultural systems."
    (James W. Chesebro and Dale A. Bertelsen, Analyzing Media: Communication Technologies as Symbolic and Cognitive Systems. The Guilford Press, 1996)
  • Contemporary Applications of the Five Rhetorical Canons
    "In the classical education, students studied the five parts, or canons, of rhetoric--invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Today, English language arts educators tend to focus on three of the five--invention, arrangement, style--often using the term prewriting for invention and organization for arrangement."
    (Nancy Nelson, "The Relevance of Rhetoric." Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts, 3rd ed., edited by Diane Lapp and Douglas Fisher. Routledge, 2011)
  • Rhetorical Memory
    "The academic rediscovery of rhetoric in the 1960s did not include much of an interest in the fourth or fifth canons of rhetoric, as Edward P.J. Corbett notes in his Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (1965). Yet these two canons probably contribute the most to any understanding of a cultural and cross-cultural rhetoric, especially rhetorical memory and its relation to invention. Unlike historical traditions of rhetorical studies, memory receives little attention in schooling today, and unfortunately the subject has been largely given over by English and rhetoric departments to biology and psychology studies (Glenn, 2007, p. A14; Schacter, 1996)."
    (Joyce Irene Middleton, "Echoes From the Past: Learning How to Listen, Again." The SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies, ed. by Andrea A. Lunsford, Kirt H. Wilson, and Rosa A. Eberly. Sage, 2009)
  • "The canons of rhetoric are a model, to my mind the most efficacious, for any interdisciplinary study."
    (Jim W. Corder, Uses of Rhetoric. Lippincott, 1971)

"Reading to Write: The Reading/Writing Dialectic," by Dr. Elizabeth Howells

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Nordquist, Richard. "rhetorical canons." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/rhetorical-canons-1692054. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). rhetorical canons. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/rhetorical-canons-1692054 Nordquist, Richard. "rhetorical canons." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/rhetorical-canons-1692054 (accessed March 2, 2021).