Definition and Examples of Demonstrative Rhetoric

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

demonstrative rhetoric
Senator Edward Kennedy speaking at the requiem mass for his brother Robert, in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on June 8, 1968. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Demonstrative rhetoric is persuasive discourse dealing with values that bring a group together; the rhetoric of ceremony, commemoration, declamation, play, and display. Also called epideictic rhetoric and demonstrative oratory.

Demonstrative rhetoric, says American philosopher Richard McKeon, "is designed to be productive of action as well as of words, that is, to arouse others to action and to accept a common opinion, to form groups that share that opinion, and to initiate participation in action based on that opinion" ("The Uses of Rhetoric in a Technological Age," 1994).



See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "The scope of demonstrative rhetoric is not limited to specific social, legal, and moral questions: it extends, even in application to those initial problems, to the whole field of human activity and knowledge, to all arts, sciences, and institutions. . . .

    "Epideictic oratory and modern demonstrations are about the present, and the statements they employ are assertoric. Judicial rhetoric is about the past, and judgments about the past can be necessary; deliberative rhetoric is about the future, and its proposals are contingent."
    (Richard McKeon, "The Uses of Rhetoric in a Technological Age: Architectonic Productive Arts." Professing the New Rhetorics: A Sourcebook, ed. by Theresa Enos and Stuart C. Brown, 1994)
  • The Rhetoric of Praise
    "Unlike judicial or deliberative rhetoric, designed to persuade people in a courtroom or political assembly to choose a specific course of action, demonstrative rhetoric was designed to excite people and make a speaker's ideas emotionally as well as intellectually compelling. In this sense, it was less practical than metaphysical, and as a style of speech that was effusively eloquent, demonstrative rhetoric was easily linked to sacred excess."
    (Constance M. Furey, Erasmus, Contarini, and the Religious Republic of Letters. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Robert Kennedy on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    "Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black--considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible--you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

    "We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization--black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love."
    (Robert F. Kennedy, on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968)
  • Edward Kennedy on Robert Kennedy
    "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

    "Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

    "As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
    Some men see things as they are and say why.
    I dream things that never were and say why not."
    (Edward M. Kennedy, address at the public memorial service for Robert F. Kennedy, June 8, 1968)
  • Boethius on Demonstrative Oratory
    "In demonstrative oratory, we deal with what deserves praise or blame; we may do this either in a general way, as when we praise bravery, or in a particular case, as when we praise the bravery of Scipio. . . .

    "A civil question can take any of the forms [of rhetoric]: when it seeks the ends of justice in a court of law, it becomes judicial; when it asks in an assembly what is useful or proper, then it is a deliberative act; and when it proclaims publicly what is good, the civil question becomes demonstrative rhetoric. . . .

    "Anything treating of the propriety, justice, or goodness of an act already performed in a manner of public interest is demonstrative."
    (Boethius, Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric, c. 520)