Aristotle's Artistic Proofs as Applied to the "Declaration of War" Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Francheska Sanchez
Professor Mary Mathis
ENGL 101C-H1
November 2, 2006
Aristotle's Artistic Proofs as Applied to the "Declaration of War" Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt Aristotle, although having lived thousands of years ago, continues to make an impact in our society with his contribution to Western thinking and his famous "art" of rhetoric. He remains to this day, one of the most influential philosophers in the history of rhetorical study. One of his most prominent works is his "Rhetoric", a book that "confronts scholars with several perplexing questions" (Herrick 74). "Rhetoric" is divided into three books that discuss the "domains of rhetoric, the rhetorical proofs that Aristotle is so famous for and matters of style and arrangement" (Herrick 74). One of the most important contributions of Aristotle's "Rhetoric" is his idea of artistic proofs, which are used to persuade an audience. Since developed in the fourth century BC, these proofs still continue to be utilized by rhetoricians to this day through the Aristotelian method. There are three components that comprise the artistic proofs. These are "(1) logical reasoning (logos), (2) the names and causes of various human emotions (pathos), and (3) human character and goodness (ethos)" (Herrick 82). Although all parts of his work are instrumental to rhetoricians and scholars everywhere, I will focus on the profound impact of Aristotle's "artistic proofs" to the art of rhetoric and use Franklin D. Roosevelt's December 8, 1941 "Declaration of War" speech as an example of how they're put into practice as a persuasive mechanism in today's postmodern society. Roosevelt used the artistic proofs in his emotionally charged speech to persuade the nation that it was worth going to war with Japan. He used all three rhetorical components in his rhetoric. Within the speech were (1) a concise and logical argument, (2) an appeal to the emotions of the people by Roosevelt, and (3) his credibility as the President of the United States to persuade the American people in his favor. The situation that necessitated an immediate response was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, off the island of Oahu, Hawaii, by Japanese military forces. This event took place on the morning of December 7, 1941 in a surprise attack that almost completely destroyed the American Pacific Fleet and killed more than 2,300 military officers. The United States had remained a neutral force in the war despite the many other countries fighting amongst themselves. However, the United States had severed financial and political ties with Japan because of Japan's actions in the war, their recent invasion of China and their alliance with Germany and Italy. The U.S. still was in the process of negotiating with Japan up until the moment the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. It was this single catastrophic event that pulled America into World War II ("Pearl Harbor Attack"). It was this event that caused Roosevelt to seek action and necessitated the need for this speech. Therefore, it had to be a speech that was forceful, emotionally charged and persuasive enough that the entire nation would put their faith in Franklin Roosevelt's hands. The first key component that Roosevelt's used in his "Declaration of War" speech was "logos" or the logic of a sound argument. Logos can be defined as "the study of arguments typical of the reasoning employed in practical decision making and in particular of the enthymeme (rhetorical syllogism)" (Herrick 82). Roosevelt needed to provide a strong argument in order to persuade congress and the citizens of the United States that it was absolutely necessary for us to go to war with the Japanese. Roosevelt's speech ended with the statement, "I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire". But just what led up to this conclusion? How did he persuade the American...
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