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Rhetoric

What is Rhetoric? Rhetoric is the study and art of speaking or writing effectively and persuasively while often utilizing figures of speech and other compositional methods.

The website eHow has a page on “How to Freestyle Rap” (“Difficulty: Moderately Challenging”), and I’m trying to figure out what I think about it. On one hand, it seems like it would be against the ethos of an authentic rapper to use a page like this to brush up on freestyle skills. After all, the page is hosted on a corporate website owned by Demand Media, Inc., the same people behind, among other things, a golf site.

But on the other hand, the advice seems solid. The eHow page encourages me to follow an easy, seven-step model

No better time to use appeals to kairos in your persuasive writing exists. If this term and/or topic are completely new, read “Kairos.” Every day, writers who understand and effectively incorporate kairos into their writing have an advantage: they can creditably connect their message to the audience’s sense of place and time.

An effective writer appeals to kairos by considering, and taking advantage of, the moment into which one’s writing will enter. Ask these questions:

  • Where will my writing be read?
  • When will my writing be read?

To view the Rhetorical Appeals table, please open the full article.

By now you know that all arguments operate according to an internal logic. No matter which of the four rhetorical appeals the author uses, her thesis will succeed or fail based on the soundness of her argument. In classical logic, an argument is sound only if all of its premises are true and the argument is valid. And an argument is valid only if its conclusion follows logically from the combination of its premises. For example, Plato’s classic syllogism, “All men are mortal; Socrates is a man: therefore, Socrates is mortal” is both valid and sound. Its premises are true, and the conclusion is undeniable given an understanding of the definitions of the terms.

There is also, however, the credibility that comes from saying or writing something that the audience already believes or that reinforces the audience's experience. We should treat this kind of ethos with a healthy dose of suspicion. Just because something sounds right to you or makes you feel good about what you believe does not mean that it is true.

Take, for example, the idea that the Founding Fathers of the United States were Christians. Many well-known commentators and politicians have made this claim, and it has been generally accepted as the truth. The statement has the authority that comes from being the conventional wisdom. The problem, however, is that the Founding Fathers weren't all Christians. Some of the most prominent members of this group, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were actually Deists. They didn't believe that Jesus was God, which is a central tenant of Christianity, and wrote extensively about their Deism. (Refer to Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings, edited by J. A. Leo Lemay, and David Holmes's The Faiths of the Founding Fathers for information about this.) There is a lesson in this for both audience and speaker. It's dangerous to accept something just because it sounds true. Credibility can't be established just by saying what the audience wants to hear.

  • Ad Hominem (Argument to the Person): Attacking the person instead of the argument. For example, "You say I shouldn't drink so much, but you drink every day." The validity of the argument (drink less) can't be based on the behavior of the person making the argument. Instead, the validity of the argument should be evaluated on its own terms—separate from the person making the claim.

  • Argument by Dismissal: Rejecting an idea without providing a reason or explanation for its dismissal. For instance, there is a tendency to cry "socialism" when faced with calls for a single-payer system in the ongoing health care debate. Such a dismissal of the single-payer system may include the observations, "This is America!," or, "You are free to live elsewhere if you prefer."

Sometimes, though, a speaker or writer doesn't have enough of her own credibility to convince the audience. What should she do then? Well, this is usually when a rhetor borrows credibility from somebody else. That's one of the reasons it's important to know how to cite credible sources. The sources we use when we write give us some of their credibility. As the Yale University Writing Center encourages students, "Incorporating other people's ideas into your writing allows you to stand on their shoulders as you explore your topic." [1]

Think, for example, about the way I quoted Aristotle earlier in this discussion. I'm a teacher, so I have some authority. You're reading the information in an open textbook, and that also gives me some credibility, but those two things combined may not be enough to convince you that I'm an authority on the subject. So, I borrowed credibility from the man who first wrote about ethos. I used quotes from Aristotle's most important book on rhetoric, and those quotes help establish my own credibility on the subject at hand.

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[1] Yale Writing Center. "Why Cite?" The Writing Center. Yale University. 2009. Web. 4 July 2010.

  • Appeal to Nature: Suggesting a certain behavior or action is normal/right because it is "natural." This is a fallacious argument for two reasons: first, there are multiple, and often competing, ways to define "nature" and "natural." Because there is no one way to define these terms, a writer cannot assume his or her reader thinks of "nature" in the same way he or she does. Second, we cannot assume that "unnatural" is the same as wrong or evil. We (humans) have made lots of amendments to how we live (e.g., wearing clothes, living indoors, farming) with great benefit.

"Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and we obey them without realizing it."
– Vincent Van Gogh

Remember those after-school specials that aired on TV when you were a kid? They always had some obvious moral (like "don't drink and drive"). And they were often really emotionally driven. 

At the end of the show, the camera would pan out, showing the protagonist alone and suffering for the poor decisions that he or she had made.

  • Red Herring: Introducing irrelevant facts or claims to detract from the actual argument. For instance, our invasion of Iraq was predicated, in part, upon the connection between the attacks of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. The war was described by some as an appropriate response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but in reality, the connection between Iraq and Saddam Hussein was a red herring. Hussein was not connected to Al Qaeda, the terrorist network that perpetrated the attacks, or 9/11.

"Logic is the anatomy of thought."
– John Locke

"Logos" is the appeal to logic. Logos isn't logic like the formal logic in math, philosophy, or even computer science; it is the consistency and clarity of an argument as well as the logic of evidence and reasons.

In formal logic, in abstraction, the following is the case: if A is true and B is true and A is an instance of B, then the repercussions of B will always be true.

I've always wondered why candidates have to "approve this message"; I mean, if President Obama is on camera talking about himself, then can't I assume he approves the message? Why does he have to state that he approves it at the end?

There's certainly a law that governs what must be said at the end of a political advertisement, or else President Obama wouldn't say exactly the same thing as every other politician at the end of an ad, but there's also an element of persuasion at work here. 

"This is the right time, and this is the right thing."
– Sir Thomas Moore

"Kairos" is an ancient rhetorical concept that has gained importance in different disciplines over the centuries. So what is it? Kairos is knowing what is most appropriate in a given situation; for our purposes, let's think of it as saying (or writing) the right thing at the right time.

Why use rhetorical appeals in persuasive writing? Using rhetorical appeals in persuasive writing increases a writer’s chances of achieving his or her purpose. Any rhetorical purpose must be connected to an audience, and rhetorical appeals have been proven to successfully reach and persuade audiences.

Successful writers write to win. Whether a writer wants to achieve a particular grade on a paper, persuade a specific audience to adopt an argument, or obtain an interview with a company, a writer writes with a purpose that he or she aims to fulfill. Using rhetorical appeals, particularly in persuasive writing, is a powerful way to persuade an audience.

Moreover, rhetorical appeals work. For example, in “Reductions in smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption associated with mass-media campaigns,” authors Karen Friend and David T. Levy examine state and local mass-media anti-tobacco campaigns that endeavor to change social norms, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs regarding smoking.

Incorporating appeals to pathos into persuasive writing increases a writer’s chances of achieving his or her purpose. Read “Pathos” to define and understand pathos and methods for appealing to it. The following brief article discusses examples of these appeals in persuasive writing.

An important key to incorporating pathos into your persuasive writing effectively is appealing to your audience’s commonly held emotions. To do this, one must be able to identify common emotions, as well as understand what situations typically evoke such emotions.

As a citizen and a scholar, I use rhetorical analysis to sort out questions about politics and relationships. In everyday life, rhetorical analysis is a valuable tool for understanding and preparing to engage in the world.

I hadn’t thought much about the word “help” until the summer day I strolled along the beach with my boyfriend. A young man on the boardwalk struggled with something—tying a kite maybe? collapsing a stroller?

Write more effective documents and save time by considering the audience, purpose, context, and media for a document. Adjust your voice, tone, and persona to accommodate your communication situation.

For every writing project, you can best determine what you want to say and how you want to say it by analyzing the components of your rhetorical situation (which is sometimes called your communication situation). Learning to think rhetorically is one of the most important benefits of an education.

Use Burke's Pentad to interpret human events, stories, and movies.

In A Grammar of Motives, philosopher and critic Kenneth Burke presents a model for analyzing written and spoken language to better understand and even predict human behavior. His model, the pentad, can be used to understand or interpret human behavior and to develop ideas for stories. The pentad assumes people can have ambiguous, conflicting, and complex reasons for acting. It attempts to avoid simplistic explanations.

Writers must have a clear sense of to whom they are writing (the audience) and what the audience's values and/or opinions related to the topic are.

Imagine a history professor who opens her lecture on the Victorian era by asking her undergraduate students, "Did you see the Victorian-era furniture on Antiques Roadshow last night?" Can you imagine how many in the class would raise his/her hand? Can you hear the confused silence?