Socrates, Aristotle, Plato… and what 2,000-year-old guys have to do with public relations today?

The PRSA Houston September luncheon focused on “The Socratic Approach to Effective Organizational Communications.” Alan Hilburg, President and CEO of Hilburg and Associates, taught us how the 2000-year-old Socratic Method can be used to structure and deliver more effective organizational communications to both internal and external audiences. More specifically, we learned how to use the Socratic Method to increase personal and departmental brand equity with colleagues and stakeholders, and how to transform how organizational communications is valued within our organizations. See the @PRSAHouston tweets from the luncheon for details.

Applying Socrates thought to PR reminded of what I recently read in Dr. Robert Heath’s book, “Handbook of Public Relations.” In it, the UH Professor cites the ancient Greek philosophers as the founders of the rhetorical roots of public relations’ two-way symmetrical model.

It was Aristotle, not Socrates, who concluded that rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” So, what did Aristotle consider the source of the persuasiveness? “A statement is persuasive and credible either because it is directly self-evident or because it appears to be proved from other statements that are so.”

Aristotle believed that “persuasion is achieved by the speakers’ personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

According to Aristotle people rely on “good sense, good moral character, and good will” to draw conclusions from debated matters. Conversely, he also thought, “false statements and bad advice are due to one or more of the following three causes. (1) Men either form a false opinion through want of good sense; or (2) they form a true opinion but because of their moral badness do not say what they really think; or finally, (3) they are both sensible and upright, but not well disposed to their hearers, and may fail in consequence to recommend what they know to be the best course.”

Now Plato would have argued – Does a world of knowledge and sound choice exist independent of the rhetorical process? Is the rhetorical process (dialogue) engaged by ethical people the best means for discovering truth and making sound judgment?

To which, Aristotle believed that the ends of social discourse was social good.

Heath wisely concluded that, “ethics arise from the process. The end is not predetermined but rather forged through the process. If an priori conclusions exists, then rhetoric is not needed; it operates in the realm of the contingent – of decision making. When a rhetoric recommends a conclusion or an action, he or she does so ‘on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm.'”

So, in a final retort, Aristotle would blog, “if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any others, and at the highest good.”

Contributed by Karen Naumann Blanchard, APR, president of Naumann Blanchard, LLC , and PRSA Houston Board Member.

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