Where . . . . (topoi)

topos aristotle  The Topoi of “Where”*


Simply, “topoi” are ways to generate content in a speech or in an argument.

They help you mentally generate ideas.  They help generate ways to develop an idea, an application, a principle, a truth, a point, an illustration, or an argument.

Last time we examined the “topoi” called “what.”

Let me identify a second “topoi” — a second “place” to mentally go to — in order to . . . .

  • help build content,
  • develop an idea,
  • expand a concept,
  • broaden an application,
  • push an argument,
  • add meat to the bone
  • flesh out a biblical principle
  • broaden the understanding of a biblical truth
  • etc.

. . . .  It is the topoi called —  “WHERE.”


It may be best understood by example . . . .


“Where” – Sample Generating Statements:  The following statements are but some of the thought-provoking sentences which can begin the process of generating thoughts in regards to the topoi called –  “where”.

  • Where do you find this?


  • This is where you find it.


  • Where will you find this taking place?


  • Where you will not find this is in / when _______?


  • Where does this usually show up?


  • Let me tell you where this will typically be seen.


  • Where this doesn’t happen  – doesn’t show up is . . . .



As you are working on a message or speech, if you need help you can “mentally-flip-through-a-list” of topi –

“What” is just one of them.**

“Where” is another.

Over time, after using these various “topoi,” your mind will begin to fall into a pattern of automatically thinking of these various topoi and how to use them as you work on . . . .

  • your introduction, or
  • the development of a biblical concept, or
  • the applications of your message, or
  • fleshing out of a principle, or
  • a main point, or
  • illustrating an idea, or
  • etc.


You can “brainstorm” using this topoi called — “Where.”

Example:  Let’s take an easy example with which to apply the topoi of “where” — King Saul.  Here goes – (this example is really easy ) . . . .



“As we have seen in I Samuel 17 & 18 — David has taken down Goliath.  Jonathan has come to admire David — and  Jonathan has personally befriended David after but a brief time of hearing David and his father – King Saul – talk in the court shortly after killing Goliath.  Saul has now made a decision to promote David and David was given the responsibility of forming his own fighting force to be used against the Philistines.

This is where everything begins going wrong — turning south!  Although Saul may not have realized that appointing David over a fighting force would lead him to become jealous of David, that is what happened — and that jealousy — that envy controlled Saul throughout the rest of their relationship – throughout the life of Saul — until the day Saul died.   But this is where it all began –  Jealousy! – and it never ended.

Let me tell you WHERE jealousy and envy begin appearing — Where you will see it — where it shows up in the lives of God’s people.

It shows up where people are in competition.  You see there was no envy or jealousy when it came to Jonathan.  He never saw himself in competition with David, but saw himself as a fellow soldier  — Jonathan saw David as a fellow giant killer in heart (I Sam. 14:1ff) . . . . .

It shows up where people are in perceived competition.  David was never jealous of King Saul’s position, power, throne — however, Saul thought David was — Saul perceived David to be (I Sam. 18:8) – though he perceived it all wrong. . . . .

It shows up where people don’t admire the heart and actions of others.  Jonathan loved the heart of David after seeing David stand up to Goliath — Saul never got there — It says that Jonathan’s heart was knit — not Saul’s . . . . .

It shows up where others begin to publicly praise the activities and actions of others.  As soon as the successes and victories of David were publicly recognized — that where jealousy began rearing its head . . . . .

Where? — where the successes of others begin to outstrip one’s own successes.   It wasn’t that King Saul had no victory.  Saul had slain his 1000’s — not a bad military record.  However, where the rub comes is — when someone else passes the 1000’s mark and sets a new record . . . .

Where we want to be known for being successful — The area of life we want a reputation.  That is also where it shows up.  Saul wasn’t jealous of David in the taking down Goliath.  In fact, Saul brought David into the highest level of the military complex because of David’s renown for taking down Goliath.  Saul never sought the fame of David in regards to being a giant killer.  David was welcome to that acclaim because Saul had no interest in fighting Goliath. . . .

Where will it show up in our lives?  The same places. . . .

  • Where we are in a competitive relationship
  • Where we perceive we are in a competitive relationship
  • Where people are being praised — in public — or in our hearing — or in our presence
  • Where we want to be successful in that area, and others already are
  • Where a co-worker is being praised by our supervisor
  • Where we want to be the best in this-or-that field or endeavor
  • Where others are not admired by us for their abilities and skills
  • Where we don’t see others as fellow soldiers
  • Where others handily outstrip our successes
  • Where others are asked to perform before us
  • Where others are publicly praised for a talent we also possess
  • Where someone new has been brought in and he or she . . .
  • etc. . . . . .

— Ted Martens



Now, there is still more that could be done, but it illustrates how the topoi of “where” gets you thinking about “where will you find this.”

As you can see (and probably have already thought) the word “when” could also be used.

  • — “when” implies a time
  • — “where” implies a place

It depends on how you want to talk about — or frame — the concept, principle, truth, application, point, etc.

“When” is another topoi, as also is “what.”**  Sometimes they overlap in our use of words, but all three words have a slightly different nuance which they bring “to the table of our minds.”


So as you are working on a passage, application, biblical concept, main point, biblical principle, illustration, etc. you want to say to yourself —

Where does this happen?

Where does this take place?

Where will you find this?

Where will you not find this?

And on, and on with thinking about the “Where”


“Let me tell you WHERE you see that happening . . . .

  • in families . . . .
  • in churches . . . .
  • in the office place . . . .
  • in the business world . . . .
  • between siblings where there is a struggle for acceptance and . . . .
  • tangilbe success is the standard for accomplishment . . . .
  • people are striving to get ahead . . . .
  • etc.


* If you want to read more about the rhetorical techniques which all revolve around the concept called “topoi” you had better get ready to dig deep into the three books which Aristotle wrote called “Rhetoric” and/or his work called “Topoi.”*

I hope that I can present a simplified understanding of “topoi” in the coming weeks which you can use in your message preparation.  The classical rhetorical concept called “topoi” is one of the most valuable, yet untapped concepts by public speakers and public speaking teachers

There are many articles written about “topoi” and some of them completely miss the nature and import of this Aristotelian concept because they lack any serious classical rhetorical background. Aristotle taught his students to be able to argue a position, both for and against, on the spot and the means for doing that was to call up “topoi” or “places” one could find arguments which were persuasive.  Not physical “places” but “in-their-mind-places” where was stored ways to argue a case.

The concept of “topoi” lack complete clarity and one wishes that he had provided greater delineation.**  Those who have a grasp of this concept generally differ and assume one of two positions:

#1) that they are accepted logical argumentative structures (i.e. — The Greater to the Lesser / The Lesser to the Greater), which were accepted in the Greek culture of Aristotle.

#2) that they are patterns of thinking about subjects which could be called up when examining or presenting an argument.

Because both camps have significant and persuasive arguments for their position, the conclusion seems to be obvious — It included both.

“The notion of a topos is a difficult one to define. The very nature of topos, the ti esti of topos, is – as has been noted by several commentators — left undefined by Aristotle in the Topics itself.” — Joseph Novak, “Aristotle and the Topoi



** see previous posting on the topoi of “What”

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