Aristotle believed that if a rhetorician’s actions didn’t support their words, they would lose credibilityby Joanna George / May 28, 2020 / Leave a comment
Dominic Cummings is not usually a man who fails in the art of political persuasion. In recent years, he appeared unstoppable in his quest to pierce the Westminster bubble, and for a time, with victory after victory, he persuasively did—even if he left a clutter of controversies in his wake.
But since news broke of Cummings’s multiple trips during lockdown, the nation has not restrained itself from letting him know what it makes of his behaviour: his neighbours, in a now-infamous video, heckled the adviser, branding him a “hypocrite.” Integrity, conviction, respect and leading by example have always been important characteristics in leadership, but especially in politics. Coronavirus has now made those characteristics no longer just important—they are as critical as oxygen is to breath, as people listen to and watch members of the government advising us all to “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.“
More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle outlined a formula on how to master the art of persuasion in his treatise Rhetoric. One of the key tools that Aristotle identified was ethos—a set of beliefs and ideas that the rhetorician lives by which grounds their moral character. Aristotle believed that if a rhetorician’s actions didn’t support their words, they would lose credibility. This would ultimately weaken their argument and in turn, their character. The Cummings scandal is unique because he is not an elected official, nor is he a public representative—he is simply an operator behind the Downing Street door, a man who is deeply tied to Boris Johnson. Johnson, meanwhile, is the popularly elected rhetorician, yet any damaging behaviour displayed by Cummings directly damages Johnson’s ethos and credibility as if he himself were the perpetrator.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher discusses the concept of “utility friendship,” which appears to be the type of relationship that Cummings and Johnson have. Aristotle argued that this friendship, based on mutual benefit from common association, is inferior to the friendships of pleasure and virtue. This can lead to one person willing to act in the other person’s best interests—regardless of their own welfare. In this case, the relationship between Cummings and Johnson appears to be mutually dependable to a certain…