Neo-Aristotelian Criticism Essay Sample

For the first formal critical essay of the semester, an artifact will be analyzed using the lens of the Neo-Aristotelian criticism. The purpose of this particular method is centered around the effect of the speech itself, and the elements used to deliver the message.

A well-planned (and unconventional) example of this method is within an advertisement for a particular type of cat food. A major brand of cat products has released a number of ads for such things as food and litter, using a voice-over narration from a cat’s point of view. The particular video used for this analysis can be found through this link.

A few elements are to be identified using the assigned method:

  1. rhetor, 2. audience, 3. topic, 4. purpose, 5. context

1. Although, Sonja Foss’s definition of rhetoric states that “rhetoric is limited to human rhetors as the originators or creators of messages,” this particular ad gives a cat that role because of the communication from the older cat to the new kitten in the house. His authority is from being in the house for a number of years, and because he was once trained by the “head of the household.” The authority has been passed down from cat to cat, so to speak. “I must do my duty and educate you on your new surroundings, as Maxamillion once did for me. Rest in peace.”

2. The audience intended for this ad is the kitten as the title suggests. The older cat is not only using his authority (or ethos) to convey his message, but as a direct result of that message, there is an element eluding to cat owners, to buy the specific food to please both older cat, and the new kitten with “wet-food.” Of course, when the fourth wall is broken, (so to speak) near the end of the ad, with the main focus on the “humans” buying the product as advertised, the intended audience becomes two separate entities.

3. The video would be defined as a “common topic” by Aristotle’s standards. This ad heavily relies on cause and effect qualities, the indirect relationships between the cat’s point of view, and that of the audience, and many other ideas that are not categorized as “special.”

4. Purpose in this case boils down to the cat persuading the humans to always feed him and his companion the right type of food. This purpose is an indirect discourse of the cat, who is speaking to a fellow feline, but communicating his favoritism of the particular type of food food found in “little armored metal casings,” to those humans watching the video.

5. The context of the video is simply a clever advertisement that that gives a different point of view than that of a person saying that their cat eats this particular type of food. The approach is much more creative, and gives a cat a human-like appeal, thus allowing for a cat to practice rhetoric in his own way-as silly as that may sound

These aspects of the Neo-Aristotelian Criticism are but a few of the concepts that will allow for close examination of the artifact. The 5 Canons of Rhetoric are also a big part of shaping the identification of the purpose and effect of any type of persuasion.

Further development on this first formal critical essay will follow.

~ by Chelsea Smith on February 5, 2016.

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What is Neo-Aristotelian Method of Rhetorical Criticism?

Neo-Aristotelian is one of the original methods of rhetorical criticism; named after Aristotle, it is also known as neo-classical or traditional criticism. As may be inferred from these names, when you analyze an artifact (artifacts can be anything from political speeches to advertisements to novels to public service announcements) using this method, you consider traditional rhetorical concepts, as originally posed by Aristotle—context, the five canons, and the effects. Your ultimate goal is to learn about how the context and construction of a document or speech affected the audience for whom it was created.

Review the graphic here or read the larger text below to learn how to conduct a neo-Aristotelian analysis.


  • RHETOR | Determine who created the artifact you’re evaluating. Don’t focus entirely on their personal biography, per se, but reach further to learn about the political and environmental climate that motivated them. Consider their reasons for creating this artifact, their experience and training in doing so, and other key elements as defined by the rhetor themselves.
  • OCCASION | Evaluate the occasion in which the rhetor produced the artifact. What was the time or season? What was the historical context? Consider the impetus behind creating the artifact: were they motivated by politics, environment, finances, family pressure, delusion, or something else? Understand the occasion in which the artifact was produced.
  • AUDIENCE | What do you know about the person or people to whom the rhetor was trying to communicate? What would persuade them? What do they care about? What were their feelings toward the rhetor at the time the artifact was produced?


Review the artifact with strict focus on how the artifact was created and how it was or is presented to the audience. See the five canons page for more explanation.

  • INVENTION | How was the artifact and argument built? Is its focus on logic, emotion, or credibility?
  • ARRANGEMENT | How is the artifact organized and arranged? What is the structure and does it work?
  • STYLE | What is the language and tone being used? Is it creative, dull, professional, avant-garde, or other?
  • MEMORY | Does the rhetor seem to be in control? Are they fully aware, knowledgeable, and capable?
  • DELIVERY | How was the artifact presented? Consider its visual appeal, confidence, quality, and so forth.


You, the critic, are in control of analyzing the effects. With a firm understanding of the rhetor, occasion, and audience, and after thoroughly reviewing the components of the artifact using the five canons, you can make assessments about how effective the artifact was or what effect(s) the artifact had on the audience. There is rarely, if ever, a single conclusion that can be made about how an artifact affected an audience, But you can look at the immediate and long term effects and trace them back to the components of the message as evaluated by the context and canons.


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