Deliberative Rhetoric

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

deliberative rhetoric
Senator Henry Clay arguing on behalf of the Compromise of 1850 in the Old Senate Chamber. As a consequence of Clay's deliberative oratory, he received much of the credit for the (short-term) success of the Compromise. (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Deliberative rhetoric is speech or writing that attempts to persuade an audience to take—or not take—some action. According to Aristotle, the deliberative is one of the three major branches of rhetoric. (The other two branches are judicial and epideictic.) Also known as legislative rhetoric or deliberative discourse.

Whereas judicial (or forensic) rhetoric is primarily concerned with past events, deliberative discourse, says Aristotle, "always advises about things to come." Political oratory and debate fall under the category of deliberative rhetoric.

"Deliberative rhetoric," says A.O. Rorty, "is directed to those who must decide on a course of action (members of the assembly, for instance), and is typically concerned with what will turn out to be useful (sumpheron) or harmful (blaberon) as means to achieve specific ends in matters of defense, war and peace, trade, and legislation" ("The Directions of Aristotle's Rhetoric" in Aristotle: Politics, Rhetoric and Aesthetics, 1999).

Use of Deliberative Rhetoric  

Etymology From the Latin, "balance"

Examples of Deliberative Rhetoric

Aristotle on Deliberative Rhetoric

  •   "[In Aristotle's Rhetoric,] the deliberative rhetor must exhort or persuade his audience, his speech is addressed to a judge of the future, and its end is to promote the good and avoid the harmful. Deliberative rhetoric concerns contingencies within human control. The deliberative orator addresses topics such as war and peace, national defence, trade and legislation, in order to assess what is harmful and beneficial. Accordingly, he must grasp the relationships between various means and the ends of expedience and happiness." (Ruth CA Higgins, "'The Empty Eloquence of Fools': Rhetoric in Classical Greece." Rediscovering Rhetoric: Law, Language, and the Practice of Persuasion, ed. by Justin T. Gleeson and Ruth Higgins. Federation Press, 2008)
  •    "[D]eliberative rhetoric is concerned with future events; its action is exhortation or dissuasion. . . . Deliberative rhetoric is about expediency, that is, it is concerned with the means to happiness rather than with what happiness actually is; the special topics which inform debate about this represent what can be described as the Good, with what brings happiness."  (Jennifer Richards, Rhetoric. Routledge, 2008) 

    Deliberative Argument as Performance

    • ​"A good deliberative argument is a carefully timed performance. Unlike a work of exposition, which allows, indeed often invites, the reader to pause and study some part of it at his leisure, a deliberative argument gives the illusion of a controlled, generally increasing momentum, and its effect can be ruined by an interruption. The speaker uses every possible means to jog our attention—exclamations, apostrophes, questions, gestures—and to spur us ever forward, not only with series of tapered expressions but also by means of stimulating suspensions. . . . Our speaker's purpose is not so much to induce or enable us to remember the parts of his argument as to inspire us to cast a favorable vote when hands are to be counted: movere [to move] rather than docere [to teach]." (Huntington Brown, Prose Styles: Five Primary Types. University of Minnesota Press, 1966)

    The Primary Appeals of Deliberative Discourse

    • ​"All deliberative discourses are concerned with what we should choose or what we should avoid. . . .
    • "Are there some common denominators among the appeals that we use when we are engaged in exhorting someone to do or not to do something, to accept or to reject a particular view of things? There are indeed. When we are trying to persuade people to do something, we try to show them that what we want them to do is either good or advantageous. All of our appeals in this kind of discourse can be reduced to these two heads: (1) the worthy (dignitas) or the good (bonum) and (2) the advantageous or expedient or useful (utilitas). . . .
      • "Whether we lean heaviest on the topic of the worthy or the topic of the advantageous will depend largely on two considerations: (1) the nature of our subject, (2) the nature of our audience. It should be obvious that some things are intrinsically more worthy than others."(Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 1999)

      Pronunciation: di-LIB-er-a-tiv