Tagged: Rhetoric

Aristotle Gave Rhetoric To All-Part 2

For the layperson, logos means logic; ethos, ethics/credibility; pathos, emotion.  The audience is more than aware that the most sound logical argument (logos infused), if made by an unsound person (wanting ethos) without some appeal to emotion (wanting pathos) will not be effective.  It is important to pause here and note that Aristotle was describing life as he saw it, not prescribing life as he thought it should be.  Think back to Plato.  Plato believed rhetoric was generally applicable only to the spoken word and that rhetoric was irrational.  Aristotle is distinguishing himself then.  And this is a subtle, but weighty distinction.  It is the key to understanding precisely why Aristotle is due all the credit he receives for his contributions to rhetoric.  In the specific case of pathos or emotion, unlike Plato, Aristotle does not see harm or irrationality.  Instead, he observes that emotional appeal is a part of any communication.  Since it is a part of any and every communication, he goes on to argue that it must be accounted for.  Aristotle writes that emotional appeal must be acknowledged.  And once acknowledged, emotional appeal begs to be studied and put to deliberate use.

Even a rhetorician’s actual ethical credibility, or ethos, is not objective or mathematical.  Today, if not during Aristotle’s lifetime, scholars note that a speaker’s ethical credibility can be faked with the skillful application of rhetoric.  Perception is reality, as the saying goes.  Basically if a speaker can convince an audience he or she is an expert, then in the audience’s eyes he or she is an expert (Moss 638).  Again, note that Aristotle does not recommend the deceit.  As before, he simply recommends that this ability, inherent to rhetoric, to influence the audience be acknowledged.

Given the thousands of years since Aristotle lived, there are plenty of opinions regarding his ideas.  Interestingly, most seem to still find his ideas challenging and applicable.  Of late, it seems that there may even be a bit of resurgence regarding the application of his analyses.  Michel Meyer suggests that people should think about Aristotle’s contributions to the study of rhetoric in the following way.  Meyer writes that he believes that Aristotle taught that rhetoric is the way people negotiate the distance between each other.  He is referring to the temporal distance that unspoken questions create.  For example, Meyer mentions a certain television commercial for Chanel no 5 (a fragrance).  He says the unspoken question is how can an image sell a scent?  The answer Chanel chose was to negate the problem.  The ad campaign developed a commercial which included very familiar problems being solved, to include Little Red Riding Hood taming wolves.  Implicit in this action is the association that Little Red Riding Hood miraculously tames previously dangerous wolves, just as Chanel no 5 solves the audience’s fragrance problem (Meyer 250).  The success of Chanel no 5 alone can be taken to prove that rhetoric is clearly involved in answering these unspoken questions.  In other words, the skillful application of varying amounts of logos, ethos, and pathos is both possible and effective.

In conclusion, this paper simply adds to the already well-established argument that Aristotle is the father of rhetoric.  In continuing a pedagogical tradition that Socrates began, Aristotle furthered the study of the tools available to a communicator, whether speaker or writer.  He didn’t seem to concern himself with prescribing what to do, instead just describing the options a rhetorician possesses.  Considering the practical desire to persuade other people each person has on a near daily basis, it seems that modern man should still be interested in reviewing the way which early man believed it was possible to do this.  Aristotle’s ideas captured in his book Rhetoric is the best place to begin.

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“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013 <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506&gt;.

Meyer, Michel. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Topoi 31.2 (2012): 249-52. Springer Link. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://0-link.springer.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/article/10.1007/s11245-012-9132-0/fulltext.html&gt;.

Moss, Jean D. “Reclaiming Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”” The Review of Metaphysics 50.3 (1997): 635-46. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20130074&gt;.

Aristotle Gave Rhetoric To All-Part 1

Rhetoric cannot be discussed without Aristotle; Aristotle cannot be discussed without rhetoric. Not just rhetoric, but Rhetoric, one of the many books he wrote.  A good way to begin talking about Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric is discussing his relationship to Plato.  Plato, himself a student of Socrates, taught Aristotle.  A moment spent marveling at the pedagogy of these three men cannot be a wasted moment.  What is known about Socrates comes from what Plato wrote.  That is to say, Socrates taught exclusively by speaking.  It should not surprise anyone, then, to learn that Plato taught that rhetoric was specific to the spoken word.  Aristotle dissented.  Here then is a starting point.  In what might be a direct reaction to Plato, Aristotle did not believe that rhetoric was “merely verbal and manipulative, and for that very reason, irrational (Meyer 249).”  Aristotle believed the opposite.  He believed that rhetoric had “a rationality of its own (Meyer 249).”

Aristotle defines rhetoric “as the art, not of persuading–for the best of speakers may sometimes fail to persuade—but of finding what persuasive things there are to be said on a given side of a given question (The Contemporary Review 206).”  This publication (from the late 1800s) further elucidates that, “as a moralist, he [Aristotle] disallows any appeal to the feelings and passions of an audience; but as a rhetorician, he proceeds to give a long and very valuable analysis of those feelings and passions, explaining to us their nature, enumerating their ordinary objects, and suggesting how they may be most effectually aroused (207).”   This again helps clarify what exactly is meant by rhetoric, and why history rightly records Aristotle as the resident expert.

That Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric were a reaction to a man whose pedagogy he trained under should not weaken those thoughts.  In fact, taking into account their durability throughout history, Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric, themselves, are better suited to lose value in the debate.  That said, it is time to look at Aristotle’s contribution to rhetoric.   Aristotle convincingly taught humanity that there are three categories available for use during argumentation: logos, ethos, and pathos.  These three categories are all always present, only varying with regard to their ratio to each other.  In other words, logos, ethos, and pathos make up one hundred percent of an argument, whether 30-30-40 or 80-10-10.  It doesn’t matter what the exact breakdown is; the point Aristotle made was that all three were being used—whether intentional or not.

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“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013

<http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506&gt;.

Meyer, Michel. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Topoi 31.2 (2012): 249-52. Springer Link. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://0-link.springer.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/article/10.1007/s11245-012-9132-0/fulltext.html&gt;.

My Idea of Fun

I’ve been taking writing courses at UCD since January.  One class ended with a pass/fail writing assignment.  Failing would also mean failing the course.  Below is my passing paper.  The assignment was to convince the professor which grade we deserved using by analyzing our previous coursework.  It was a class in rhetoric, or the tools that a speaker/writer has at his/her disposal to persuade an audience.  The general topic the professor chose to use was the ever appropriate “Gun Control.”  We read and analyzed the rhetoric used in several articles including the chapter from Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics which correlated the legalization of abortion to falling crime rates 20 years later.  The three types of rhetoric we studied were 1. Logical- if A then B.  2.  Ethical – if I you are to be persuaded by me, I must demonstrate credibility to you.  3.  Pathetic – An argument can be more persuasive if it literally causes you to have a physical reaction, such as fear, crying, nausea etc.  With that said, enjoy the paper.  Oh, and I changed the professor’s name.  Enjoy.

I’d like you to close your eyes.  Visualize with me a day in the not too distant future.  The year is 2021.  It is Spring.  You arrive at the university as always.  You notice the air lacks the usually pervasive petroleum scent.  You excitedly think, “They did it.  They really did it.  Clean cars are everywhere.”  As you walk to the building, the sound of fabric flapping in the wind rouses you out of a pleasant daydream.  You find yourself staring at Old Glory.  Wiping away the start of a nostalgic tear, you overhear students discussing Hillary’s inauguration speech indicating to you that she has been reelected President.  A smile forms.  Nearing the building, you begin to notice several of the students and faculty looking at you and smiling.  Worrying first that they’re noticing a fashion faux pas; you give yourself a subtle once-over only to breathe a sigh of relief that everything is as it should be.  Walking further you notice the smiles have a certain quality to them; a level of envy, if you will.  “I could get used to this.,” you think.

“Is it true?,” one particularly stunning student asks.

“Uhh…,” you stammer.

“Is it true?,”  the student repeats, apparently star-struck.

As you search for some clue about what is going on, you see it.  How could you not see it?  A banner across the entirety of the building reads, “Admits Pete, the ‘Humble’, ‘I wish I could take the credit.  But the truth is I owe everything, the skills, the money -everything- to my first English Writing professor, John Smith, who can still be found instructing the art of writing at the University of Colorado Denver.’”

Okay, now open your eyes.

How would you like to live in that future?  The university would surely give you a raise.  They’d also permit-not just permit-but expect you to capitalize on all the talk show invitations you’d surely receive.  There would definitely be a book deal.  Heck, maybe my future self would even be gracious enough to be your co-author to ensure you’re rewarded for all your efforts.

There’s a catch though.  My future self can’t possibly find it in his heart to pay back people who helped him achieve his dreams if they didn’t actually help.  As a professor of mine, there is only thing left for you to do in order to help me make my dream a reality.  I need my grade in your class to be a solid “A”.  Not a skin-of-my-teeth “A-“; not a what-exactly-did-he-do-to-deserve-it? “A+”; just an “A”.

There are only two data-points from CANVAS (the web-based syllabus) relevant to this discussion.  First, I actively participated in every assignment save one.  Not just participated mind you, but actively participated.  This was best demonstrated by my usually being the first person to post.  On top of that, the points that I brought up in student discussions caused people to actually think, while demonstrating that I actually had to think to develop them.  No “CTRL C” then “CTRL V” for me.  There was even one student who consistently praised my posts for their ability to make her think outside the box.  “Pete- Your post’s always stimulate other thoughts for me. I didn’t think about this approach to pathos.”  Second, my average to date is 85.9%.  If you run the numbers you’ll discover that even a passing grade on this paper leaves me in need of one percentage point in order to mathematically achieve the “A” I think I deserve.  Here’s where the 1% comes from:  This paper.  It is a demonstration of my command of ethical and pathetic rhetoric wrapped in a bow called logical rhetoric.  Assuming the paper clearly proves to you that I understand those two types of rhetoric, the only conclusion for you to draw is that I also understand logical rhetoric at an “A” level.   When you reach the end of this paper, ask yourself, could other than an “A” student have written this paper?   Seriously, to take just one example, could any self-evaluation of my Pathetic Analysis paper better demonstrate my understanding of pathetic rhetoric than this paper’s opening?  We’re in agreement then.

Returning to the task at hand, the way ahead, as I see it, has two paths.  First, stick to the description of this assignment you offered, in which I’d evaluate my previously demonstrated submitted works in defense of the letter grade argued for in this paper.  BO-ring.  Or second, accept the challenge you offered in those papers to develop a truly intriguing argument.  You see, in my training to become an instructor pilot I was taught that “learning” is defined as “a change in behavior based on experience.”   “Learning” therefore is about change, not past performance.  This definition is at odds with colloquial peanut-gallery commentary (a southern accent works best), “Ya’ larn somethin’ new every day, don’t ya’?,” isn’t it?  Higher education is about learning.  Accordingly, I’m choosing  to use my 2000 words “gloves off” to make the most persuasive argument I can that I deserve a solid “A”.

The fact that I nearly aced all the minor assignments, makes discussing the big three papers the appropriate place to start.  Scoring an 80% on the Logical Analysis gave us (you-professor and me-student) a baseline to work with.  That grade and the associated commentary taught me three key things which resulted in raising my respect for you.  One, you clearly were going to be reading my papers.  Two, you know what you’re doing.  Three, I clearly misunderstood the assignment.  Oh well.  In either case, I found myself very motivated to really try to impress you with my Ethical Analysis.

The 80% I received on the Ethical Analysis could communicate that I didn’t learn from before, but that is not how I interpreted it.  This time I was mentally arguing with your stated reasons for the 80%, rather than thinking, “Wow.  I totally misunderstood the instructions.”    Nothing to do with changing that grade, but rather persuading you that I demonstrably performed at an “A” level in this class, I’d like to discuss your feedback to my Ethical Analysis paper a bit.  You wrote, “In the end, I have a hard time seeing how these two threads (he’s wrong, but he’s incredibly persuasive) come together.”  The truth that your comment captured was not that these two threads are irreconcilable.  Levitt can indeed be wrong or irrelevant on the whole, and at the same time a master of ethical (/logical/pathetic) rhetoric.  Where I failed in my analysis was in spelling out that there were two different categories.  See the difference?  In the first paper, I didn’t understand that there were different types of rhetoric.  My previously acquired logical abilities carried me to an 80%.  Paper number two showed I still had far to go, but I now understood that there were several nuanced types of rhetoric.  In order to develop an intriguing thesis in my analysis of Levitt’s use of ethical rhetoric, I needed to venture to a more abstract analysis of Levitt’s argument than ethical rhetoric.  That I did so without explanation is reflected in my grade.  In the film “Boondock Saints,” there is a scene where a mob-peon is trying to convince two newly-vigilante brothers that they should let him help them track and kill the bad guys because his position in the mob has given him intimate knowledge of the bad guy’s lifestyles.  As he makes his case, he erupts with such passionate reasoning that he starts buying wholesale into the idea himself.  In a moment of unmatched hilarity he has the epiphany, “We could kill everyone!”  It’s a funny moment precisely because it’s illogical.  Killing everyone wouldn’t leave anyone to enjoy the new crime-free society.  Similarly, Levitt implies (he is never assertive regarding how his conclusions should be used) either that abortion is okay because it acts as a crime-reduction strategy, which is totally contradictory; or that we need to really make sure that we make babies only when we can care for them according to some standard.  This second reason being nothing more than what various groups of people have been saying since the beginning of time.  My conclusion remains, Levitt is wrong.  Yet, his status as an author of a best-selling book-turned-movie proves he is a master of at least ethical rhetoric.  (Along with all the reasons we can single out in an analysis of his use of ethical rhetoric).  To be clear, I am not attempting to persuade you that I am right about Levitt here.  Instead, my point is that despite the same 80% number grade, I argue that your commentary responding to my analysis of Levitt as “wrong but persuasive” inherently demonstrates that I changed my behavior due to the experience of reading your feedback to my Logical Analysis.  Put more simply, your commentary revealed that I had learned.

Then there’s the recently graded Pathetic Analysis.  89%.  Oh, and on top of the fact that you thought it nine points stronger-a-paper than the other two, you even wrote, “I do think this is easily your best paper yet.”  The result of you teaching is me learning.

How to most effectively use my remaining 500-ish words?  One way might be to point out that I am more than aware that this entire paper has been about me.  While I’d like to, I can’t take full credit for this.  The assignment is to persuade an English Writing professor what grade I’ve earned this semester.  I am more than aware that I am taking a tremendous leap of faith by challenging the posted standards for grading this assignment.  Just the same, it is worth highlighting that everything in this paper is still applicable even if the student wasn’t me.  In fact, I would argue this is one feature of the online English Writing program that I find to be ingenious.  I don’t know if anyone thought it through beforehand, but the value of a professor grading a student purely on the student’s written word in an English Writing class is priceless.  Over the course of the semester you probably have come to imagine that I am a charismatic, charming and good-looking man.  Guilty, all true.  And I cannot deny that I normally take full advantage of these qualities in attempting to get what I want in life.  I’d be a fool not to, right?  But with this online format all those qualities are nullified.  I’m left with my words.  Throughout, I have only been pleasantly surprised to receive immediate feedback from you and students alike, saying that points I took to be obvious, to my chagrin, actually need explanation.  For the first time ever, this grade is not about me, but instead the submitted written words.  Therefore, I am totally disinterested in the grade.  You must acknowledge that you really don’t know for sure who is writing the words.  What if all the words you thought were coming from a human, were actually submitted by a new breakthrough in artificial intelligence called P.E.T.E. or a Persuasive Electronic Typing Entity?  Again, this simply illustrates that this grade really isn’t about me.  It’s about the work.

That brings us back to square one.  After careful self-evaluation, I, Pete or P.E.T.E., am convinced I learned the types of rhetoric, how to analyze other’s use of rhetoric, to purposefully use rhetoric in my own writing, and self-evaluate.  I learned this due, in no small part, to the planned content of this course and the individual attention of an expert, you.  Could I have performed better on each and every assignment?  Always.  In the same breath, what grade do I deserve?  An “A”.  Why?  Well, if you don’t know by now, I guess I totally missed my mark.  Did I mention the banner will be HUGE?