I'm not interested in what Aristotle or the stoics wrote; how did "common" people understand practical logic, especially as it relates to rhetoric?

  • 2
    Interesting question, but I think: off-topic. It doesn't seem to belong to the "history of philosophy", but to the history of the public understanding of philosophy/mathematics or the history of the appreciation of philosophy/mathematics, or some such historical (or sociological?) field. I suspect many philosophers/mathematicians will have an answer to the question, but not by virtue of being philosophers/mathematicians, but by virtue of knowing some facts about the history of their discipline.
    – Hunan Rostomyan
    Apr 12, 2014 at 5:11
  • It's definitely something I'd be interested in knowing about, but I think it's a difficult thing to answer. Most of recorded history is provided by the most educated people. I'm not saying an answer is impossible, but it's a tricky one. Have you considered history.SE?
    – Lucas
    Apr 12, 2014 at 5:33
  • One way to go would be to look into ancient authors and what they wrote about their contemporaries. I am pretty sure there are passages of Plato where he speaks in anger about the stupidity of his fellow athenians, and maybe even includes examples.
    – Lukas
    Apr 12, 2014 at 17:14
  • 2
    I think this question is fine. We allow reference requests and it's about logic (even if only the understand of logic) which is acceptable. That said, I doubt any ancient works exist, although modern ones probably do. The question does not specify a time period, and in my understanding the term "Greco-Roman world" refers to a region not a time period, so there are almost certainly modern works that describe how people of that region understand logic as compared to other regions of the world.
    – stoicfury
    Apr 30, 2014 at 20:09
  • I'm not sure what "practical logic" has to do with "rhetoric". My understanding of Greco-Roman Rhetoric is that it emphasized presentation, performance, and adherence to a common body of belief and a relatively small body of source material; this has nothing to do with logic. I think that including practical logic would have undermined the quality of rhetoric.
    – MCW
    May 1, 2014 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


You can see by G.E.R. Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science with Chapter 2 dedicated to Dialectic and demonstration, including : Early philosophical argumentation, The development of rethoric, The criticism of rethoric.

See also, by the same author :

The Ambitions of Curiosity: Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China

Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture

Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind.

But I suppose that you will never find investigations about the logic of "common people" in ancient Greece. Men without instruction scarcely write books; and very few books of ancient Greek philosophy and science survived (see Stoic books on logic).

Not specifically about Grekk-Roman world, you can see the studies of french anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, namely :

The "Soul" of the Primitive (reedited in 1965 with a foreword by E.E. Evans-Pritchard), ed or L'âme primitive (1927),

and :

How Natives Think ed or : Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (1910).


Rhetoric was in fact understood as an everyday, practical skill for common Athenian male citizens. They were expected to use it to defend themselves in court and to participate in the democratic process. The ability to deftly defend oneself against a lawsuit was a major reason for the popularity of formal schools of rhetoric.

Rome is actually a bit different, though. Philosophy and rhetoric split into different fields during the Roman Empire, known as the Second Sophistic

Unlike the original Sophistic movement of the 5th century B.C., the Second Sophistic was little concerned with politics.
They orated over topics like poetry and public speaking. They did not teach debate or anything that had to do with politics because rhetoric was restrained due to the empirical government’s rules.

The Romans did still use formal logic in rhetoric but not at all to the same degree as the Greeks had. They no longer believed it could uncover the truth through debate, so this emphasis was lost.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.