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Aristotelian Approach to Rhetoric

By sunrise3850 Jun 07, 2012 1027 Words
Aristotelian Approach to Rhetoric

Basically, every argument persuades on the basis of three elements:
Ethos
Pathos
Logos
Some arguments rely more on one than another. As you read the following, consider, not only how the arguments we are reading in class use ethos, logos, and pathos, but the extent to which you rely on these in your own arguing, written and otherwise. Think of the sermon you heard this Sunday in church: which of these persuasive tools did your pastor use?

Ethos
This is the credibility and authority of the speaker or arguer. For example, we might be persuaded by a pastor because he is famous, or because she has a Ph.D. Aristotle says that three elements, “inspire confidence in the rhetor’s (arguer’s) own character – the three, namely, that induce us to believe a thing apart from any proof of it: good sense, good moral character, and goodwill” (Henning). This is the essence of ethos: we won’t be persuaded by an arguer we don’t trust, or can’t come to trust through the argument. There are two kinds of ethos:

Extrinsic: that which comes from outside what you have to say. For example, if Tommy Lasorda speaks on baseball, we are inclined to accept his opinion because of his extensive experience and reputation (unless, of course, you’re a Giants or Yankees fan; if that’s the case, you have our prayers).

Intrinsic: that which comes from within what you say. For example, an ordinary person – an elementary school teacher, for example – might speak on baseball. Although she or he has no apparent expertise, as the teacher speaks, reciting statistics, referring to historical teams, and explaining obscure rules, it becomes clear that we are dealing with an individual with extensive knowledge of the sport. Thus intrinsic ethos is established (Williams).

How do you establish ethos? Most undergraduate students have yet to accrue a great deal of extrinsic ethos. However, any writer can develop intrinsic ethos by writing carefully:
Use appropriate language and vocabulary
Present your subject in a sincere and fair-minded way
Demonstrate good grammar
Use sources well and responsibly (Callaway)

Pathos
This is the appeal to emotion. We can all recall the sermons that have moved us emotionally, but, upon further reflection, didn’t have a lot to say. Rather, they were preceded and followed by dramatic music, and contained a number of touching anecdotes. Pathetic appeals are the most easily misused and manipulated of the three.

How do you use pathos to enhance your argument? Again, language use is key:
Vivid descriptions
Emotional narrative examples
Figurative language (Callaway)

Logos
This is the appeal to logic, or reason. Academic writing depends heavily upon logos. Discussions of induction, deduction, logical fallacies, and the like are all explorations of logos. In a sense, this is the actual argument. Well-used ethos and pathos may increase its persuasiveness, but this is what the argument is actually built out of. A logical sermon might cite scripture, clarify terms in the original Greek or Hebrew, and reference a few theologians in the discussion. Aristotle distinguished between two major reasoning patterns:

Induction: in this case, one considers several examples and abstracts a general principle from them. I might notice that a biology major in one of my classes writes particularly well. Then I might notice another, then another, then another, all of whom are fine writers. From this, I might conclude that biology majors write well. The scientific method is essentially inductive reasoning (Henning). I may not actually be correct, of course. I may just be lucky in terms of the biology majors who come through my class; I may teach in a way that appeals to biologists, or I may just have many poor writers, and the biologists seem talented in comparison.

Deduction: In this case, we move from general ideas to specifics. For example, I may present the following syllogism: All biology majors write well. Joanne is a biology major. Therefore, Joanne writes well.” In a syllogism, the first premise describes a category, the second premise puts someone or something in that category, and the conclusion applies the characteristics of that category to the person or thing.

Again, it is possible to deduce incorrectly. Either one can make mistakes in the progress of the premises, or, and this is more common, one may begin with false premises. This is something to watch out for: even if an argument begins with a false premise, it may still be logical, and we may find ourselves persuaded. I might argue: “All Christians are Republicans. Doug is a Christian. Therefore, Doug is a Republican.” Although this argument is built on a false premise, it does still follow the rules of deductive logic, and is formally “valid.” Conscious questioning of premises is akin to sensitive awareness of Toulminian warrants.

Reliably logical and reasonable writing is the essence of academic discourse, and you can appeal to logos in the content of your argument:
Provide definitions of terms
Use academic diction
Cite expert authorities
Provide reliable facts and statistics
Demonstrate a knowledge of historical contexts and issues (Callaway)

Conclusion
Keep in mind that these are not mutually exclusive categories: the most successful arguments often contain all three elements, although in varying proportions. Back to that imaginary sermon: the pastor with the Ph.D. may cite the original Greek of the Biblical passage, quote Luther in German, and tell a touching story about her grandmother, establishing ethos, logos, and pathos as she makes a persuasive sermon.

If you choose to use an Aristotelian approach for your argument analysis, you will want to consider the ways in which the writer establishes ethos (both types), appeals to pathos (too much? too little?), and demonstrates logic (deduction or induction?).

Works Cited

Callaway, Micheal. “Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.” Arizona State University. 11 January 2006. 14 February 2006. http://www.public.asu.edu/~macalla/logosethospathos.html

Henning, Martha L. “Friendly Persuasion: Classical Rhetoric-Now!” Draft Manuscript. August, 1998. 14 February 2006. http://www.millikin.edu/wcenter/workshop7b.html

Williams, George H. “Three Rhetorical Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, Logos.” UMKC English Department. 14 February 2006. http://w.faculty.umkc.edu/williamsgh/dialogues/225.rhetorical.appeals.html.

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